Here are some things you may have missed from the 2011 AFC Asian cup:
1. A good look at Qatar
The tournament, hosted by Qatar, gave us a little preview of what we could see in 2022. I was furious when I found out the World Cup would be hosted by Qatar in 2022, but I have learned to accept it based on its impending occurrence and the success of this year's Asian Cup.
Aside from that, this cup serves as a reference point for FIFA when deciding on the time of year in which the 2022 World Cup will be played: summer or winter. The Asian Cup is usually played in the summer, as many other cup finals are, but since Qatar is basically a desert, the tournament was played over this past month, amid 60 - 70 degree weather. I would say that was probably for the best, when thinking about the possibility of 110 degree weather during the summer months. Dry-heat? Get off of it.
A final point to note is the success of the hosts in the tournament. When I heard Qatar would be hosting a soccer-related event, I wasn't even sure if they had an able team. The Asian Cup disproved this thought. Qatar had an excellent showing in this tournament, progressing to the quarterfinals.
2. The emergence of 'other' Asian sides
Australia, Japan and South Korea normally grab the headlines in the Asian footballing world, but this year, there were a few other sides that sparkled. I mentioned dark horses and Uzbekistan is as dark as they come. The Uzbeks, who were a very outside chance in this tournament, made an unbelievable run to the semifinals and eventually settled for fourth place. Not bad for a country ranked 108th in the world by FIFA. Qatar's progression in the tournament was just as impressive, given their 105th ranking in the world. The play of these teams added value to a typically powerhouse controlled cup.
3. Incredible efforts
This year's Asian Cup was rife with incredible efforts. Particularly beginning in the quarters, Australian hitman Harry Kewell sent his country into the semis with an extremely late goal in extra-time against Iraq. On the same vein, South Korea raced into the semifinals with a goal in extra-time to sink Iran.
|Harry Kewell celebrating his winner|
The cagey final between Australia and Japan also brought us another moment of magic in extra-time. Japan's Tadanari Lee, a late sub enjoying his 2nd cap, scored an incredible volley that left Mark Schwarzer rooted to the spot and won it for the Japanese. Check out this sensational goal, here.
4. Continual growth of the Asian talent pool
It is clear that Asian footballers are emerging as top players. Aside from this exciting tournament, over the past few World Cups, Asian teams have steadily become threats to top countries. This is the direct result of an increase in ability of Asian footballers. Some major talents include Japan's Keisuke Honda (by far the coolest name in the world), Shiniji Kagawa, and Yuto Nagatomo (a wanted left back in the market). South Korea's Ji Dong-Won and Koo Ja-Cheol also raised their profiles after exceptional performances during the tournament.
Some old guards that make us smile include Australia's Harry Kewell, who had a great tournament, and everyone's favorite South Korean, Park Ji-Sung, who retired from international play after the cup.
I wouldn't be surprised if we saw some of these players packing their bags for Europe in the next few days. Undoubtedly, we will see more and more Asian players emerging in top sides as the years progress.
5. Awesome nicknames
Asian teams have awesome nicknames: the Socceroos - Australia; the Blue Samurai - Japan; the Lions of Mesopotamia - Iraq (my personal favorite); the White Wolves - Uzbekistan. Country's around the footballing world need to adopt the Asian way of naming themselves. Les Blues? Azzurri?? Italy and France: your squad names both mean blue. Consider "Blue Warriors" or "Blue Fighting Carabineri" or something.
|2011 AFC Asian Cup winners Japan, with consolation fruit bowls|