Article by Peter Swallow
2005 is perhaps the most pivotal year in the history of Australian football, for it was the year that the ‘Socceroos’ had their request to join the Asian Football Confederation approved. At the time it was assumed that Australia had outgrown Oceania, since then however, the fact and the fiction have been clearly separated. The fact was Australia had become far too grandiose to feature in Oceania, however the assumption that Australia would instantly sit atop the Asian footballing pantheon was pure fiction.
Since that moment the aim of Australia’s national football team has been two fold. Firstly, to qualify for major tournaments and secondly, to win the constant battle which would justify their position in the Asian football scene.
The question of justification hardly seems fair, after all their shift from Oceania to Asia has not only strengthened the development of the national side and the A-league, but also the quality of the Asian confederation as a whole as well as giving smaller nations in Oceania a chance to flourish.
Had Australia still been a stalwart of the OFC, Tahiti would never have featured in the 2013 Confederations Cup. Australia’s Oceania departure fits perfectly into FIFA’s rhetoric of improving football’s exposure in all corners of the globe. Simply put, it has proven beneficial for all parties, even if Australia’s expected dominance has yet to come to fruition.
Indeed, the 2007 Asian Cup should have been Australia’s demonstration of her quality, but a quarterfinal exit at the hands of Japan did little to convince the Australian public that the move was worth it. In Oceania they had been constant, unequivocal winners, in Asia they found that glory was a far more entity to achieve.
2011 almost saw the ‘Socceroos’ justified, defeat in extra-time of the final againstJapan is nothing to be ashamed of, but 6 years after they joined the party, Australia were still yet to be the last man standing. They were eating at the big boy’s table, but were still receiving children’s portions.
As such, Thursday’s quarter-final against China is pivotal, not only because Ange Postecoglou and his side must prove they’re capable of polishing off plate-fulls of Asia’s finest but also to see if this whole laborious move will final bear any tangible, physical fruit.
Australia has finally embraced football, it can be seen by the feverish reception to the tournament, and the selling of tickets is on target for the 500,000 that the organisers had hoped for. As such, it’s understandable that there would be a slight over-exaggeration to the ‘Socceroos’ first two victories in the tournament; a 4-1 win against Kuwait and a 4-0 win over Oman.
The bubble of expectation was somewhat dented by a 1-0 defeat by South Korea in an entertaining and even match, but the air of invincibility that was beginning to appear in the minds of Australian fans was shattered. The host’s although impressive, can be beaten.
Furthermore it is not out of the question that China could be the ones to do it. Having previously won their opening match in the past two tournaments, a repeat this time hardly signified progress. However in the 2015 iteration of the tournament they’re 3 for 3 and can legitimately be counted as Dark Horses.
The general notion amongst Asian football fans and pundits is that Japan will make up one half of the final and the rest of the tournament is a battle to join them. Such an assumption is understandable but somewhat premature.
Should Australia be the lucky ones to join the Blue Samurai in the final, it would represent the perfect opportunity to put the demons of Asian failure behind them. As painful as the wait has been: every passing second, every painful moment would be worth it if Australia could win their first Asian Cup on home soil.
Judgement day is coming, but it remains to be seen if Australia can add their name to the illustrious list of previous Asian Cup winners. The reality is that they may never get a better chance to do so, but failure at this point would be far more painful than any previously experienced. Advance Australia Fair as they say.