The first major international soccer competition of this year, the 16th Asian Cup, was, for the first time, held on Australian soil. Among the 10 Arab countries that participated, United Arab Emirates achieved the best results, winning 3rd place over Iraq. Australia, the host, won the Cup while South Korea was the runner-up.
Sixteen countries in total competed in the 2015 Asian Cup. For East Asian countries, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China were qualified to participate. The 10 Arab countries that successfully landed in Australia were: Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine. Uzbekistan represented Central Asia. Australia joined the Cup as the host. This Asian Cup was also the debut of Palestine’s team.
Australia, South Korea, Oman, and the 4th pot Kuwait joined Group A. Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, China and North Korea were placed in Group B, and Group C was filled with Arab countries – Iran, U.A.E, Bahrain and Qatar. Jordan joined Group D with Japan, Iraq and Palestine. When the groups were announced, it was time for soccer journalists and specialists to predict the final champion. Japan and Australia were the popular candidates. Although they returned with unsatisfactory results from the World Cup, nobody could deny that they stood the closest to the championship. South Korea was also looked favorably upon, but the change of the team’s manager lead to many worries concerning the organization of the team.
The group stage of the 2015 Asian Cup took place from 9th to 20th of January. The 1st and 2nd place of the group could advance to the knockout stage. In Group A, as the majority expected, South Korea and Australia made it to the quarter finals. South Korea scored only 3 goals but won 3 games, while Australia scored 8 goals and came in as second place in the group. Having the high wall of Australia and South Korea standing in front, Kuwait and Oman were sadly disqualified. Like South Korea, China won 3 games and achieved the 1st place of Group B, and the only Central Asian country – Uzbekistan – was the runner-up. Saudi Arabia and North Korea were one step away from the quarter finals, but were unfortunately stopped at the gateway. In Group C, Iran and U.A.E were qualified for the quarter finals without any surprise. The host of 2022 World Cup, Qatar finished the group stage as 4th place, leaving nothing but regret with Bahrain. Japan, marching at a steady pace, easily entered the quarter finals with Iraq. Jordan finished the group stage as third, failing to qualify with Palestine. This Asian Cup’s group stage was pretty interesting, with no ties in all 24 games.
The first game of the quarter finals was South Korea against Uzbekistan. Many footballers expected South Korea’s easy victory, as South Korea had displayed absolute superiority to Uzbekistan. However, that was not the case. Although South Korea won 2:0, the 2 goals were made during the second half of overtime. Uzbekistan truly showed off their power, but failed to defend South Korea’s star player, Son Heung-Min. The rivals of Middle East, Iran and Iraq had an extremely intense game. Iraq won 7 to 6 in the penalty shootouts, as the Iranian player Vahid Amiri missed a shot. While the score was 3-3 before the penalty shootouts, few were able to successfully predict the final result. Australia beat China 2:0, with the top star Tim Cahill scoring two beautiful goals, stopping China from their dream of winning the Cup. The most amazing variable of the Cup was made by U.A.E, as they beat Japan in the penalty shootouts, 4-5. U.A.E led the game in the first place, scoring the first goal at the 7th minute, but Japan caught up at 81st minute. In the penalties, two stars of Japan, Honda and Kagawa missed their shots, regretfully giving the ticket to semifinals to the U.A.E.
The game between South Korea and Iraq repeated their history from the 2007 Asian Cup semi-final. Eight years ago, Iraq beat South Korea in the penalty shootouts. However, this time, South Korea showed their power by scoring two goals. The new forward of South Korea, Lee Jung-Hyun, and defender Kim Young Gwon presented beautiful goals for South Korea, while the team kept its record of not letting any of its opponents knock open its goal, and the new record could have be written if they were to win Australia with a clean sheet. The final was played between South Korea and Australia.
The 3rd place was given to U.A.E, by beating Iraq by 3-2. Khalil scored two goals. For the final, many of the footballers expected a harsh game, and that came to be true. Australia, breaking the defense of South Korean goalkeeper Kim Jin-Hyun, won 2-1 in the overtime. Luongo was the first man to score against South Korea, scoring a goal at 45th minute. South Korea caught up dramatically, having Son Heung-Min score at the extra time of second half with his left foot. However, the miracle did not continue for the East Asian country. At 105th minute, Australia gained an additional score. That goal was the final goal of the game, and Australia successfully became the winner of the Asian Cup.
Although Australia was the final champion, the top scorer of the Cup was Ali Mabkhout from the U.A.E. Scoring 5 goals, he was followed by Hamza Al-Dardour of Jordan and Ahmed Khalil of the U.A.E. In the Best Eleven of this competition, there were 4 Australians, 4 South Koreans, two Emiratis, and one Iraqi.
Throughout the 2015 Asian Cup, many Arab nations were praised for having teams with great potential. New players were discovered and the star players proved why they are called ‘The Stars’. The Asian Cup 2015 concluded with enormous national pride for all. Coming up next is the African Nations Cup, which will provide another good time for football fans.