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Australia enters Asia's elite following tournament of goodwill

English.news.cn   2015-02-01 14:40:30

MELBOURNE, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) -- Following 32 matches, 85 goals, inspired individual performances and impressive team showings, Australia's first taste of hosting the Asian Cup has proved a massive success.

Across five cities on Australia's east coast, bumper crowds were treated to a spectacle of Asian football that delivered on its promise to live up to the hype.

Average crows reached over 34,000 throughout the knockout stages, while a sellout crowd of 76,385 attended the final in Sydney on Saturday evening, taking the tournament average to more than 20,000 per game and proving Australia's love and commitment to sport, in particular football.

Their team did make them proud.

After a nervous 120 minutes of pulsating football, Australia finally secured their first piece of major international silverware with a 2-1 victory over South Korea in the final.

Massimo Luongo, the Asian Cup's Player of the Tournament, was impressive in attack and influenced the match greatly from midfield. Meanwhile Mat Ryan, the Goalkeeper of the tournament, was again rock solid in defence.

Not deterred by a late South Korea equalizer in the final, Australia regrouped and found a deserving late goal from James Troisi, one that would forever etch his name in the history books.

South Korea was gallant but, despite having one the best defensive records in the tournament, failed to achieve their first Asian Cup triumph in 55 years.

Instead, they were left lamenting a final that featured an abundance of missed opportunities for the South Koreans, as Australia celebrated joyful success.

It was a tournament of upsets, with neither of Asia's No. 1 or No. 2 ranked sides progressing past the quarterfinal stages of the competition.

Instead, Iran and Japan were swept aside by Iraq and the United Arab Emirates respectively, as both continued to stamp their authority on the Asian Cup and give supporters a glimpse of what they are capable of in years to come.

Iraq, led by veteran striker Younus Mahmood and the creative influences of Yaser Kasim in midfield, were hardly expected to survive a group that consisted of Japan, Jordan and Palestine.

But, after navigating a tricky first match against Jordan and surviving with a 1-0 victory, a repeat of their 2007 heroics suddenly beckoned, as did a highly anticipated quarterfinal tie with fierce rivals Iran.

Following a pulsating 3-3 draw, Iraq would prevail on penalties, advancing to the semifinal. Ultimately, their dream would end there at the hands of South Korea, but they left Australia carrying the respect of the continent.

The United Arab Emirates, another team with high ambitions entering the tournament, showcased the rise of football in the gulf region with fluid and promising attacking displays throughout the Asian Cup.

Led by diminutive attacker Omar Abdulrahman and lethal finisher and Golden Boot winner Ali Mabkhout, the United Arab Emirates caused the tournament's biggest shock when they sent Japan packing via a penalty shootout in the quarterfinal.

However, not even the individual talents of Omar could inspire them in a semifinal against Australia, which the Socceroos won 2-0 on their way to ultimate glory.

China was another to surprise throughout the group stages. A young squad, led by Alain Perrin, was exceptionally well-organized and defeated Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and DPR Korea on their way through to the knockout stages.

Despite a gallant showing, Australia proved too strong in the final eight. But, capitalizing on the growth of domestic football within China, Perrin's side appears destined to go from strength to strength in the near future.

Palestine may not have picked up any points from their first ever major international tournament, but they did meet many well-wishers along the way. Hitting five-figure crowds in every match, they will leave Australia with vital lessons learned in establishing a strong legacy for football within the country.

But where there are good news stories, there are bound to be lamentable campaigns along the way, and none more so than that of Japan and manager Javier Aguirre.

Coming into the tournament with a shadow cast over Samurai Blue due to speculation regarding Aguirre's future, not even a squad packed with household global names could find an extra level once out of the group stages.

The class of Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa may have been enough for Japan to qualify for the quarterfinal without dropping a point, but the desperation and energy of the United Arab Emirates proved too difficult to overcome in the knockout phases.

It was a similar story for Iran. Swathes of fans had followed Carlos Queiroz's side, who entered the Asian Cup with the best ranking in Asia, but instead they appeared lethargic throughout the tournament.

A defeat to rivals Iraq will leave them with a bitter taste in their mouths on the return home.

But there won't be many sides feeling similar after a tournament of goodwill that has well and truly solidified Australia's place among Asia's elite.

Editor: Yang Yi
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