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Kuala Lumpur: After being accepted into the Asian Football Confederation in 2005, Australia officially joined at the beginning of 2006 and promptly qualified for the following year’s AFC Asian Cup.

It’s now 10 years to the day since the Socceroos made their first appearance in the continental competition when, on July 8, 2007, Graham Arnold’s men faced off against Oman in Bangkok.

To mark the occasion, the-AFC.com looks back at the three editions of the tournament involving Australia since they became a fully-fledged member of the AFC.


A slow start

It’s fair to say Australia didn’t set the continent alight when they made their AFC Asian Cup bow in Southeast Asia in 2007, despite boasting a star-studded squad that had reached the last 16 of the previous year’s FIFA World Cup before being eliminated by Italy in controversial circumstances.

Reputations counted for nothing when they took to the pitch at Rajamangala Stadium in their tournament opener, when they needed an injury-time equaliser from Tim Cahill to draw 1-1 with Oman.

Five days later, a 3-1 defeat to Iraq left the Socceroos on just a point from two games and facing an early exit, but Mark Viduka’s brace in a 4-0 victory over co-hosts Thailand then ensured Arnold’s team qualified for the last eight.

But just as it seemed things were picking up, Australia crashed out as Naohiro Takahara cancelled out John Aloisi’s opener in the quarter-finals as the Socceroos and holders Japan went to penalties. Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill missed from the spot and Australia were unable to recover as Japan advanced and the newcomers were sent packing.


Onwards and upwards

By the time 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar rolled round Australia were ready for the challenge and Cahill’s brace against India helped Holger Osieck’s team to a 4-0 winning start.

Mile Jedinak then leveled in a 1-1 draw with Korea Republic, before the midfielder scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory over Bahrain as the Socceroos advanced as group winners.

Four years earlier in Thailand, Iraq had got the better of Australia en route to the most memorable of AFC Asian Cup victories, but in the 2011 quarter-final in Doha, revenge was on the cards.

Iraq had long since been known for their stubborn defence and with the game deep into extra-time Australia had yet to find a way through, until Kewell headed home with two minutes remaining to secure victory at the death.


It ended in tears

A game away from their first Asian final, Australia were now in full flow and an Uzbekistan team making their maiden semi-final appearance were brushed aside with ease.

Kewell opened the scoring early on while Robbie Kruse closed it seven minutes from time; the Socceroos had bagged four in between as the 6-0 scoreline proved the biggest of the competition.

Australia then went into the final having conceded just once, but up against a Japan side that had won two of the previous three tournaments and had eliminated them on penalties four years earlier. The game would again prove to be tight, with 90 minutes unable to separate the teams.

Then, with another shootout just 11 minutes away, Yuto Nagatomo’s cross from the left was volleyed home by the unmarked Tadanari Lee as the Samurai Blue clinched victory to break Australian hearts.


Aussie hospitality

Having been part of the AFC for just shy of a decade, Australia won the right to stage the 2015 edition of the continental competition, with Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Newcastle chosen as the host cities.

Now under the watchful eyes of head coach Ange Postecoglou, the Socceroos were paired in Group A alongside Korea Republic, Kuwait and Oman.

Australia posted eight different scorers in 4-1 and 4-0 wins over Kuwait and Oman respectively as old head Cahill and new boy Massimo Luongo were both among the goals to help the hosts qualify for the knockout rounds with a game to spare.

But Lee Jung-hyeop’s solitary strike in Brisbane secured the Koreans’ third successive 1-0 victory as the East Asians topped the standings and Postecoglou’s men had to settle for second place.


Socceroos surge

 

The defeat didn’t dent the Aussies’ confidence, though, as they remained in Brisbane to face a China side that had posted a 100 percent record in qualifying from Group B.

Playing as a lone striker, Cahill proved the hero, scoring just after half-time and then adding his double with 25 minutes remaining to book a semi-final date with the United Arab Emirates, who had beaten holders Japan on penalties in the last eight.

With momentum now building and the support of a nation behind them, Australia got off to a flying start in the last four as Trent Sainsbury opened the scoring on three minutes with his first goal for his country.

Jason Davidson then added a second before the 15-minute mark as the Socceroos progressed to a second consecutive final and a rematch with Korea Republic.


Continental kings

 

Sydney was the setting for the continent’s biggest game and more than 76,000 spectators crammed into Stadium Australia to witness what would be a gripping finale.

The tournament’s MVP Luongo opened the scoring from distance on the stroke of half-time and all seemed to be going swimmingly for the hosts until Son Heung-min popped up in stoppage time to level in dramatic fashion and force an additional 30 minutes.

But then, with 105 minutes on the clock, James Troisi reacted quickest when goalkeeper Kim Jin-hyeon palmed out as the substitute found the back of the net from six yards and sent the crowd into raptures as the hosts held out to win 2-1.

Nine years on from joining the ranks of the AFC, Australia claimed the continent’s greatest prize. The Socceroos will undoubtedly be among the favourites when the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 comes around in less than two years’ time. 

Photos: Lagardère Sports

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