The 2015 AFC Asian Cup will be the 16th edition of the AFC Asian Cup, an international football tournament organised by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). It is scheduled to be held in Australia from 9 to 31 January 2015. The winners of the tournament will earn the right to participate in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, which is to be hosted by Russia.
From Australia trying to prove its mettle as a genuine football nation to regional heavyweights Japan and South Korea wanting to lay World Cup ghosts to rest, plus the emotional début of Palestine … the 2015 AFC Asian Cup has no shortage of sub-plots as the 16th edition prepares to kick-off on Jan. 9.
For trivia fans the first Asian Cup was played in 1956 in Hong Kong and was won by South Korea with Israel as runners-up whilst the tournament itself (like the Africa Cup of Nations and the Copa América) is older than the European Championships. Japan is the most successful team in the history of the competition winning the title four times and are the defending champions. Saudi Arabia and Iran are the next most successful sides winning the trophy three times each followed by South Korea who have only won the cup twice.
Dutchman Pim Verbeek, who coached Australia in the 2010 World Cup, believes that this Asian Cup is as open as any feeling that a number of teams have realistic hopes of winning the tournament.
Defending champions the Blue Samurai are being tipped to retain their trophy. Indeed they’ve come a long way and now have a number of their best players based in Europe. 10 of their squad of 23 ply their trade in a European league.
Australia’s form hasn’t been much to shout about going into the Asian Cup winning only once since the World Cup beating fellow AFC side Saudi Arabia 3-2. They have drawn against the UAE and lost to both Qatar and Japan.
Uzbekistan have always threatened to but never have quite established themselves as Asian footballing giants. They may not have the quality to win the tournament but they will be a side that most teams will want to avoid.
The start of 2015 will go a long way to deciding if it will turn out to be a good or bad year for Australian football.
In the first two and a half weeks, the Socceroos will play their three Group A matches of the AFC Asian Cup, beginning with Kuwait on Jan. 9. The last 10 days of the month will see the knockout stages, including the Sydney final on Jan. 31.
They went close at the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar before a Tandari Lee goal in extra time in the Doha final handed Japan their fourth regional title. They were also FIFA Confederations Cup finalists in 1997 towards the end of Terry Venables’ reign as national coach. That seems like a lifetime ago, in the days of old soccer.
On home soil, getting to the semifinals is minimum requirement. Making the final for the second consecutive tournament would be a step forward. But to win the whole thing could help Australia break through the glass ceiling as a football nation.
The domestic competition has made impressive strides over the past 12 months. With a regular season average crowd of just under 15,000 per match, the A-League is now only around one thousand fans below the National Rugby League. That is a remarkable achievement for a championship that has been around for just a decade.