Okay, so the Socceroos aren’t really trying to join Africa’s federation, but Australia’s 6-0 (!?!) semifinal (?!?) drubbing of Uzbekistan today was a reminder of the infamous 31-0 massacre of American Samoa. That match forced FIFA to recognize that Australia were just too good for Oceania, which led to Australia being reclassified as Asia. While the Aussies annihilation of Uzbekistan was nowhere near as humiliating as that of American Samoa (thank goodness for small miracles), the six goals scored by six different players are a tacit indication that Australia is too good for most of Asia too.
Not only was this the biggest rout of the tournament, it nearly doubled Australia’s previously underwhelming goal total; the Socceroos scored seven goals before today, and four of those seven came against India. The most impressive stat of the Socceroo’s tournament thus far though, is not the number of goals scored (after all, Uzbekistan kind of imploded in the second half), but the number that the Aussies have allowed: one, to South Korea.
It has been fairly clear for some time now that the top teams of the AFC are Japan, Australia, and South Korea. Australia may be the best of those three–certainly they think they are. Four years ago, the Socceroos went to the Asian Cup positive that they would win, only to suffer a mediocre group stage and a humiliating quarterfinal exit (to Japan on penalty kicks.) Since then, Australia dominated Asian World Cup qualification. The Socceroos are a very solid squad, even if at the World Cup Germany showed them exactly how much of a gap exists between the best Asian sides and the best European sides.
I fear this is the Australians’ last hurrah. The Socceroos are an aging squad. Their two most recognizable players, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill, are 32 and 31 respectively. While calling the current Socceroos a golden generation would be dramatically overstating the case, they may well be the most successful team produced by what until recently had been an underachieving football nation–most likely because until recently the Australians love for the sport was somewhat less passionate than Americans’ love for it. In four years the Asian Cup will be in Australia, so we shall see if a new generation can rise up (from the ashes of a Wellington Phoenix?)
In the other semifinal, Japan broke the hearts and hopes of South Koreans everywhere, after Samurai Blue beat the Taegeuk Warriors on penalty kicks. The match, which was far more intense than Australia’s ritual sacrifice, ended at 2-2. It’s a cliche I know, but this was a game of two halves; Japan was better in the first half, South Korea in the second. Nevertheless, at penalty kicks time South Korea lost its nerve and all three players who took kicks missed while all three Japanese players made theirs.
Japan v. South Korea is quite possibly the fiercest rivalry on the continent (and in a continent that has the Middle East that says a lot.) Certainly it is the highest quality rivalry in Asia. A lot was at stake; I think the souls of the entire population of South Korea die a little every time an athlete or team (or anything really) from Japan beats them in something. Additionally, this continues what is now 51 years of South Korean hurt in the Asian Cup. Japan will try for its record 4th title.
Before today I would have said the final will be a high powered clash between Japan’s dynamic attack and Australia’s impervious defense. However, one cannot overlook the offense of any team that wins a semifinal by a six goal margin.
Australia desperately want this trophy to prove themselves to the world. They will not be happy until they win the Asian Cup. Their defense is far more solid than Japan’s, and their attackers can turn it on when they need to. Japan is also the squad that eliminated them last time. This is a grudge match and a chance for redemption for the Socceroos–both for the 2007 Asian Cup and last year’s World Cup (and outside of football, for dual humiliations of the Ashes and the Tri-Nations rugby tournament.)
I predict that Australia will win over Japan and South Korea will come in third–a confirmation of the hierarchy of Asian football. But I’ll bet with your money only.
Music I listened to: Red Baraat Concert