Asia wins as Australia win the Asian Cup of 2015

01 February 2015

Match Report, Asia’s Reaction, FIFA’s Reaction and Asia’s Future

31/01 Sydney: Korea Republic 1 – Australia 2 (1-1 FT)

The Asian Cup of 2015 needed the gripping final that it got to cement itself as the greatest moment in Australian football. It’s been a marvellous tournament, with thrilling football, big crowds and seamless organisation. The fact that the entire football community could so readily engage in the competition, especially to see games live, the tournament was so friendly, and that all the teams were our fellow Asian friends, made it more enjoyable, as a whole, than recent World Cups. Winning the championship surpasses Australia’s previous best triumph on home soil of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. That was just a one-off game, whereas the Asian Cup was a proper tournament that required sustained high achievement over six games.

The final itself, just like the group game against Korea, could have gone either way. The Koreans had the three best chances of the first half, including an open header from a free kick, while Australia could only muster one decent shot on goal, that from Tim Cahill on a tight angle. Distinct from all previous opponents, Korea did not allow Australia to play its dominant possession game, pressuring high up the pitch, almost to the point Australia’s style collapsed. Australia’s opening goal, just before half time, ironically came from a deep pass direct from Trent Sainsbury to Massimo Luongo through one of very few channels the Koreans allowed. Even then, the pass needed Luongo’s deft skill to quickly turn past his marker, and then shoot quickly from 20 metres out. The “Luongoal” came out of nowhere, surprising everyone. It was fitting that Luongo, the man of the tournament, broke open the game with a stunning strike.

Korea dominated the second half, as you’d expect for a team chasing the game. They kept Australia’s defence busy as the match’s pattern became a sense of could Australia hold on. These were the critical moments of the match that ultimately caught Australia out. Even though the defence, in their defence (!), were superb, managing to repel almost everything, facts are that over an entire half, Korea would always create a few chances regardless of Australia’s defensive integrity. It ultimately became a matter of when Korea did, or whether Australia could exploit the open space available. Weaknesses in such situations were already observed in Australia’s previous two games and such profligacy would be punished against Korea. That Korea took until 91 minutes to slip a ball through for an equaliser, only made it heartbreaking for Australia, not undeserved for Korea

Reputedly, coach Ange Postecoglou told his players that extra time would be about making the Asian Cup story even better. Australia came out stronger and scored just before the end of the first period of extra time. It was a tenacious effort by Tomi Juric, who scrambled after a ball, was then doubled teamed on the goal-line, managed to flick the ball through the legs of a defender and then cross it low for James Troisi to slam home the spillage from goalie’s interception. The second period was part 2 of Korea on the press and Australia continually fluffing chances going forward. For some reason, players, when double teamed or even triple teamed, want to flick the ball through somehow. Fine if there’s no choice; terrible when you have a teammate on both wings in the clear, as was the most galling example by Juric really late in the game. 3-1 and you kill the game. Even when cramped in space, there still seems the obsession to pass it to other players tightly marked, rather than look for the obvious route out of a free play that there must be if the opposition is crowding you. This caused constant turnovers and must be the next step of Postecoglou’s development with the team. The two goals Australia scored were closer to a freak nature than of any great breakdown of the Korean defence.

The only disappointment with the final was the television coverage of the winning moment. With a camera still focused on Mathew Spiranovic after he repelled Korea’s final attack, those at home missed the moment of the referee’s whistle ending the game and missed seeing the jubilation of all the players on the field at once. Spiranovic seemed to have an eternity of coverage, then Postecoglou, then various players. Even the commentators missed the moment.

Asia’s Reaction

The Asian Football Confederation are ecstatic with this edition, with one official labelling it the best ever, and AFC president Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa glowing in his endorsement: “The tournament itself has been tremendous. Filled with quality and excitement, it was a fantastic festival of football that the whole of Asia can be proud of. As such, allow me to congratulate Australia for hosting such a memorable AFC Asian Cup. The whole world was presented with a competition that has been remarkable in spirit and in passion, and we have Australia to thank for that.” The biggest endorsement and validation and has come from Australia itself. Not just with words, it came with action.

All the garbage you read about Australia being “racist”, especially when the subject of dealing with illegal immigration is raised, this tournament showed the entire world the inclusive and welcoming nature that is modern day Australia. It’s doubtful any other Asian nation could showcase such a vibrant and passionate feel that this nation did for almost every single game. Crowds at just over 650k are the third highest ever, only behind China 2004 (1.02m) and South East Asia 2007 (690k). Cricket’s World Cup starts shortly, and if you want an idea of a true “lemon” on the global sporting scene in terms of general worldwide interest, local interest and crowds, look to that.

FIFA’s Reaction

FIFA President Sepp Blatter was in town for the final and also remarked on the amazing staging of this Asian Cup. He surprised no one when he lamented that no World Cup had yet been held in Australia, saying it’s “an unfortunate omission in sporting history because very few countries boast such a rich sporting culture and long list of champions” and that “we can say with confidence that it would be more than deserved if Australia were to stage the World Cup at some point.” Empty words by a sly and sleazy politician leading an even more sly and sleazy organisation. The World Cup bid was a debacle and if Australia has learnt one big lesson, it’s that any future bid must be foremost about football. Because of the over-reliance on oval grounds, the proposal for 2022 benefitted Australian Rules the most. Also the time of year, with Qatar 2022 certain to be staged in the northern winter, FIFA must formalise a flexible schedule so that a bidding nation can showcase the sport at its best.

With both the Asian and African Cups on in January, European clubs can clearly cope with this time of year, especially when most have winter breaks. The World Cup is only an extra week over those two continental ones. Even then, once the knockout stage started, Australia revived its A-League schedule during the Asian Cup. Therefore it’s only 3 weeks, maybe four, that the few European leagues not on a winter break (name England’s) might need to shut down. One or two leagues might need to re-schedule a few matches depending on the teams in the late stage of a World Cup. Note that this would happen only once every 16 years (at worst) and if it can’t be managed, then the entire notion of “world” in the World Cup needs to be re-examined.

Asia’s Future

Some unsavoury, older, comments emerged during the week about West Asia’s discomfort with Australia in the Asian confederation. It’s quite understandable considering many of them see it as Australia taking a World Cup spot without the region gaining much else in return. West Asia probably couldn’t care that much that the Asian Cup was such a success because, again, there’s no direct benefit to them. The reality is that strong teams make other teams stronger and that wallowing within your own little construct will only keep you down. We see that manifest with most Arab nations left behind at international level because their leagues have stagnated. Of the 10 Middle Eastern teams in Australia, seven went home after the group stage, with two of the 3 survivors coming out of a group of four Middle Eastern teams.

The World Cup situation has a simple answer. Rather than reduce competition (ejecting Australia has almost zero chance anyway), or contemplate the farcical notion of splitting West Asia entirely from the rest, Asia should embrace more competition. When Australia joined Asia, the expectation was that Asia’s final spot would be a playoff with Oceania. That occurred in 2010 when Bahrain lost to New Zealand, only to be dropped for 2014 when FIFA decided the two inter-continental playoffs should be randomly drawn. Asia copped South America where Jordan lost to Uruguay. Now is the time Asia seize their destiny and guarantee a full fifth spot by bringing Oceania into the fold. It’s a joke of a region, containing only New Zealand and 10 tiny Pacific island nations. There’s a reason Australia were desperate for decades to leave. With the Asian Cup expanding to 24 teams for the 2019 edition, and an expanded qualifying path for the 2018 World Cup, it makes even more sense to add Oceania to the mix to make a broader confederation representing all of Asia and the Pacific.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

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Qatar not the “mistake”, negligence of other bidders the mistake

18  September 2013

FIFA president Sepp Blatter stunned the world last week by declaring Qatar as host for the 2022 World Cup that “we made a mistake at the time”. This adds to his comment in May that a summer World Cup is “not rational and reasonable”, and Executive Committee member Theo Zwanziger in July calling it a “blatant mistake”. The mistake being that the weather in Qatar’s fierce summer is just too hot and for some reason FIFA didn’t realise this at the time. Forget that the Qataris believe the can cool the stadiums; you can’t cool an entire country. The real mistake is, especially knowing the corrupt nature of FIFA, is why the other bidders didn’t twig to this reality of an impossible World Cup in Qatar’s summer and the future shenanigans that FIFA would play. Qatar was always certain to win the bid for the simple reason that if weather was the issue, FIFA would have told them much earlier not to bother bidding at all.

From the Socceroo Realm prior to the World Cup announcement:

The only real conspicuous negative for Qatar is the weather. Qatar speak of air-conditioning all venues. That’s pointless for most of the other time when fans are not at games. The heat is debilitating, and would virtually kill any outdoor activity. It’s a wonder that FIFA just didn’t tell Qatar straight out to not bother. That’s unless the World Cup will be played in January. Nowhere have FIFA ruled out a proposition of a January World Cup, only citing that it is hot in June. That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t already been some backroom deal that January is OK. It almost defies logic that Qatar would attempt a bid knowing that a June World Cup is impossible with the heat. Remember, a January World Cup is not at all impractical. Many leagues are closed for winter. Other leagues can easily adjust by suspending their league for 4 weeks and extending it into early June. It actually makes so much sense. With FIFA, nothing would surprise if they announce Qatar as a winner and the idea is to play it in January.”

The only error in that pre-announcement analysis was FIFA not immediately announcing a winter World Cup. Obviously the furore would be huge, so FIFA allowed the idea to cultivate on its own through various consorts and media to the point it became so compelling that FIFA would be seen as derelict in duty if it not propose a switch. While it was expected FIFA may wait a few more years for a regenerated Executive Committee to really propel the idea under the guise of fixing the past mistake of others, the mood is so strong and media rights both domestic and internationally need to be sorted that the time is now. Blatter will propose the move to the Executive Committee, which effectively guarantees the switch. Not so much because of Blatter’s input; the ExCo will make the change as it was always the plan and now is the perfect time to take advantage and lock it in.

Qatar is remaining silent in this controversy, as it should, as the move is always a FIFA initiative. It’s also perfectly allowable in FIFA’s agreement with the bidder to change many aspects as it wishes, including the schedule. The real issue is that such an idea was not readily known, or that bidders believed they could realistically plan their bid at a period any other than June and July and be successful. Bizarrely, only now, and on behalf of Qatar and other nations, Blatter raised the idea of discrimination if the World Cup can’t be moved…

“If we maintain, rigidly, the status quo, then a FIFA World Cup can never be played in countries that are south of the equator or indeed near the equator. We automatically discriminate against countries that have different seasons than we do in Europe and we make it impossible for all those who would love to host the world’s biggest game in a global tournament to ever get the chance to do so. I think it is high time that Europe starts to understand that we do not rule the world anymore and that some former European imperial powers can no longer impress their will on to others in far away places and we must accept that football has moved away from being a European and South American sport. It has become the world sport that billions of fans are excitedly following every week, everywhere in the world.”

Ironically, if Qatar had used this themselves as an argument they would have gained broader sympathy. More relevant would have been the consequences for Australia’s bid. Stymied by a crowded calendar of domestic football codes and a recalcitrant AFL, Australia had no hope. If it wasn’t enough the lack of unity for the bid with the AFL, much of the resources into new stadia would leave the greatest legacy for Australian Rules football, not the round ball code. Perth’s Subiaco, Adelaide Oval, Gold Coat’s Carrara and Geelong’s Kardinia Park all get upgrades, when it should have been a new stadium in Perth, with Hindmarsh, Robina and Bubble stadiums upgraded in the other cities. If renovating AFL grounds was to appease the AFL, it clearly didn’t work, and would have sent strange signals to FIFA about the organisation truly running the sport in this country. Is it the FFA or the AFL? Add to that the appalling presentation video of cartoon kangaroo and tacky and irrelevant icons of Hoges, Freeman and Thorpe, it was a disaster. Getting one vote was simply a message of thanks for participating, not an endorsement of any facet of the bid.

Consider had their been an open schedule then Australia would have suggested March, as the Socceroo Realm always proposed. Nicer weather, cricket over and domestic football yet to start. No need to appease the AFL or anyone. In hindsight, its critical benefit would have been to hold FIFA accountable to their traditional June schedule. No doubt Australia would have been knocked back on interrupting the club season. If so, then absolutely no avenue to consider Qatar then or now for a January tournament. The big problem was that Australia, as the immature amateurs stepping brazonly into the world of FIFA slime and sleaze, chose to play that game, and lost. Had it marched with integrity and a March schedule and boasted of a brilliant World Cup wrecked by a discriminatory scheduling tradition, then already FIFA could have opened the schedule or slammed it shut.

Right now FFA CEO Frank Lowy is demanding compensation for the $43 million spent on the bid. Australia’s definitely owed something in that it was forced to make a compromised bid. That won’t be money as FIFA has already snubbed the idea, reaffirming that “as part of the bidding documents all bidders accepted that the format and dates, though initially expected to be in June/July, remain subject to the final decision of FIFA”. While not compromised on a technical matter, as there’s nothing stating a World Cup must be June (it’s there as tradition), the compromise was ethically, as the scheduling flexibility was not transparent. Had it been, even Qatar would bid on a winter Cup, along with its summer Cup proposal, leaving FIFA to decide its preference.

Australia’s best case now for compensation could only be to argue for the bidding to be re-opened. Remember, this was an unusual process with two World Cups decided at once. Normally 2022 would be decided late 2014. Of course, if FIFA decided to re-open the bidding and for an openly flexible schedule, they’d probably still choose Qatar, using discrimination as Blatter just described as an advocacy tool, and also discrimination of fairness in that it’s not Qatar denying it can’t host a summer Cup or even demanding a change of schedule for the World Cup, it’s FIFA driving the change. With the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 World Cups proudly boasted as spreading the game to new territories, FIFA will just be more resilient to hold it in Qatar, especially now without high temperatures – the key flaw of Qatar’s initial bid – a problem no longer existing.

The best thing for Australia is actually Qatar does have its World Cup, and hosts it successfully. That means Australia can target a friendlier schedule itself for a future bid. Despite much criticism from clubs and commentators that domestic leagues will be ruined by two months of a shut-down and players will be burnt-out, that’s nonsense, and a World Cup easily slotted into January. First of all, it’s not much more than two weeks between the end of the domestic leagues and the World Cup starting in its traditional June slot right now, so the preparation period needs only be two weeks, and when you consider that it would start on a Monday after a weekend’s round, only one actual round is skipped pre-tournament. During the Cup itself, only four teams make the final week, so it’s no problem for the world’s leagues to resume after 3 weeks. Of course, the A-League could resume after two weeks, or not close at all if the Socceroos is primarily overseas based. The maximum season break is four weeks, and easily accomodated by extending the season by two or three weeks and adding a midweek round or two. Note, this break mid-season only applies to leagues that do play through the winter. Most have a winter break through January so a winter World Cup is zero effect.

All FIFA need to do is set the dates and let the individual leagues and competitions decide how to manage their scheduling. For only a few clubs in a few leagues to be affected, and for such a rare occasion, it really is snobbery to the highest degree that they can’t make one small sacrifice in the interests of the broader world of football. So many of these elite clubs talk about a fair go for minorities, and even FIFA has their “fair play” edict. How about acting it?

For a full chronicle of events surrounding Australia’s World Cup bid:
socceroorealm.com

Media bias against football? Gee we’re a precious bunch

Australia produces a rubbish World Cup bid, Melbourne Heart fans destroy 170 seats at Docklands Stadium, flares are constantly lit at A-League grounds: guess the problem? The media! Time and time again when reading football blogs and feedback, this constant theme arises. There’s even calls for the media to “educate” talkback radio callers. It’s nonsense. The big problem with media bias is that those claiming media bias are actually the most biased people themselves. Politics is the worst example. Football is not far behind. Those events described at the top, they all happened. The reporting is not a fabrication. They happened. Yet, suddenly that’s media bias.

Looking at those events, the World Cup bid failed because there were too many oval stadiums and it left no legacy left for the sport. Geelong, Adelaide, Perth and Gold Coast would all get new or improved stadiums and it was all for AFL to benefit. Then there was the final presentation that proved a total farce. FFA played the game of sleaze to win the bid and when that failed, they blamed the game of sleaze. Fans in return blamed the AFL, then the media. The media did nothing other than report the facts. The AFL made it difficult, reported. The stadia a problem, reported. The presentation a joke, reported. With the constant problems at A-League matches, fans destroy 170 seats, reported. Fans whinging about the media, reported. Socceroos qualify for World Cups, reported. Classic A-League Grand Finals, reported. Superb 2013 A-League season with crowds and viewers up, reported. Gee, we don’t mind the good stuff reported, right? If we don’t like the bad stuff reported then it’s up to us not to provide the material to report. We need to move on from this juvenile level of self-victimisation.

Ironically, when it’s our own mob slamming the sport, there’s no claims of bias there. SBS and TWG and Pim Verbeek were running down the A-League for years. During Central Coast’s recent ACL game, TWG’s Philip Micallef criticised the poor crowds and questioned whether Australia deserve the two spots that they want. None of this was in any mainstream paper. Had Micallef published there, no doubt we’d be slamming it as biased and hateful. As for the World Cup bid, it was the most inept and wasteful endeavour committed by this Frank Lowy regime. If anything, the media went too easy. TWG’s best attempt to “investigate” was Les Murray’s lap-dog interview with his sleazy mate and chief bid consultant, Peter Hargaty. Even the federal government did nothing to account for the wasted millions. The World Cup bid should never have proceeded with the stadium troubles and without unity of other sports. That’s FFA’s gross dereliction of duty, not the AFL. Instead of upgrading AFL grounds like Adelaide Oval, Gold Coast, Subiaco and Geelong, FFA should have upgraded Hindmarsh, Robina, built a new rectangular stadium in Perth, and upgrade Melbourne’s Bubble (AAMI) rather than the AFL ground in Geelong. Then you stuff the AFL and actually leave a legacy for football.

Nor is it the media’s job to educate anyone. That’s our job. It’s our sport that drives the narrative. If we don’t like the reports emanating from it, we change the narrative. With football’s steeped history in hooliganism and flares and vandalism, when it occurs at A-League matches it’s just natural to be reported, and it should be reported. Being in Melbourne and reader of the HeraldSun daily – a paper under the News Corp banner like Sydney’s Daily Telegraph that is often cited for bias – I see no bias. The only “crime” that could be cited is the sensationalist headlines. Since the newspaper does that on every topic, it’s not bias, just their style. Any opinion pieces that emerge, more typically in the DT, they are exactly that – opinion pieces. That’s freedom of speech. Often these are on topics that irk us anyway, like diving and poor refereeing. We just want such right to criticise to be restricted to our own realm. That’s ridiculous.

Again, it’s OUR job to educate. That should be first among ourselves, to stop the problems, rather than whinging on talkback radio and trying to condone the behaviour as that of a rowdy few. In fact, if it is just a rowdy few, then it should be easy to stop, as these people are typically active members of the club in the cheer squad. So far the only response by fans to halt this poor behaviour is Melbourne Victory’s and Western Sydney Wanderers’ churlish protests at their most recent respective home games trying to defend these cretins and blaming the clubs and FFA for not sticking up for them. Only when we stop being so precious and start being accountable for our own actions then we won’t see such stuff in the media. Because there’ll be nothing to report.