Australia are playing their first-ever Asian Cup final against Japan on Saturday and hope to take the trophy home ahead of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup set to be hosted Down Under.
Australian players celebrate after scoring the opening goal against Bahrain
Before the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, many had questioned if such an old squad like Australia's could make it up to the final. But experience has been one of the strengths of the Aussies especially when under pressure. Their defense has been rock solid with the team only conceding one goal in their five matches, while in their attack, the floodgates finally opened in the semifinal against the Uzbeks (6-0) after Australia had missed chances galore in their earlier games.
The Socceroos are coached by seasoned German coach Holger Osieck. The 62-year-old's biggest achievement was winning the 1990 FIFA World Cup with Germany as assistant to Franz Beckenbauer. Osieck has coached the Canadian national team, besides club sides VfL Bochum (Germany), Fenerbahce Istanbul and Kocaelispor (Turkey) and Urawa Red Diamonds (Japan). He has also had a stint with the FIFA Technical Study Group and is respected as a coaching expert in world football.
Harry Kewell (r) fights for the ball with Iraq's Ali Erhaima during their Asian Cup quarterfinal
The 2011 AFC Asian Cup is most likely the last big tournament for Australia’s "golden generation" as the 2014 FIFA World Cup looks a little too far away for these 30-plus footballers. The oldies have been the key performers in the Australian squad: midfielders Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell along with captain Lucas Neill at the back and goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.
English Premier League star Tim Cahill has been the engine of the Australian game. The Everton midfielder hasn’t been fully fit for most of the tournament, but his commitment like the rest of the team has been incredible. The Aussies have apparently learned their lessons from the last Asian Cup, when they came into the tournament as if they had already won it.
Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer during a training session at Al-Wakrah stadium in Doha
Cahill’s colleague Harry Kewell surely isn’t as good as he used to be in his Liverpool days, but the now Galatasaray player has scored some classy goals here in Qatar.
At the back, 38-year-old keeper Mark Schwarzer has been trying to keep his goal clean, only conceding once against South Korea. And the Fulham keeper did come under pressure numerous times in the tournament, especially against South Korea, but also against Bahrain and Iraq where he kept his cool and showed his class.
Tournament so far
The Australians topped the group of death, Group C. They opened with an easy 4-0 against India, were lucky to hold South Korea to a one-all draw before winning their crucial final game 1-0 against Bahrain. Then came the match-up of German coaches in the quarterfinal against defending champions Iraq, which Osieck’s side won 1-0 in extra-time. This was followed by the 6-0 demolition of Uzbekistan in a one-sided semifinal. Now Japan are waiting for them in the final.
Author: Arunava Chaudhuri (Qatar)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein