Review: AFC Asian Cup 2015 Australia
Kuala Lumpur: With a year to go until the 17th edition of Asia’s marquee national team competition kicks off in the United Arab Emirates, we wind the clock back three years to reflect on the previous chapter of the tournament: AFC Asian Cup 2015 Australia.
Mile Jedinak raised the AFC Asian Cup trophy into the Sydney night sky as tournament hosts Australia capped a remarkable 23 days in January 2015 with victory over Korea Republic in the final of the 16th edition of the continental championship in front of a sold-out Stadium Australia.
The Socceroos’ victory in extra-time over the two-time champions was a fittingly dramatic end to a tournament that boasted high-quality football, sold-out venues, record-breaking media coverage and – finally – a new champion.
James Troisi scored the winning goal for the Australians after Son Heung-min cancelled out Massimo Luongo’s opener in second half injury time, taking proceedings in to extra-time and setting up a grandstand finish.
The 2015 AFC Asian Cup win was Australia’s first since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, and saw the men’s team match the achievement of the country’s women, who won the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2010.
With their success, the Socceroos joined Japan – the defending champions going into the 2015 edition – Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Korea Republic, Kuwait, Iraq and Israel on the AFC Asian Cup Roll of Honour.
Defeat in the final was the first loss of the tournament for the Koreans, who were chasing their first AFC Asian Cup title since 1960, with Uli Stielike’s side losing out in what was the nation’s first appearance in the final since losing on penalties to Saudi Arabia in 1988.
With the two eventual finalists seeing off Oman and Kuwait to emerge from Group A, it was Uzbekistan and China PR who progressed from Group B to take their places in the quarter-finals.
While Uzbekistan – semi-finalists in 2011 – were expected to advance, it was China who topped the group to reach the last eight of the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since reaching the final on home soil in 2004.
The pair saw off three-time champions Saudi Arabia, who had another disappointing tournament, and AFC Challenge Cup 2012 winners DPR Korea, while in Group C Gulf Cup champions Qatar and Bahrain were eliminated as Iran finished top ahead of the United Arab Emirates.
Defending champions Japan, meanwhile, cruised through Group D with three wins out of three, to be joined by 2007 winners Iraq as the involvement of Jordan and tournament debutants Palestine came to an early end.
China’s fairytale run was ended in the quarter-finals thanks to a pair of spectacular Tim Cahill goals in Brisbane as the tournament hosts set up a surprise semi-final against the United Arab Emirates after Mahdi Ali’s side saw off the Japanese in a penalty shootout in Sydney.
In the other half of the draw, Iran succumbed to Iraq in a pulsating clash in Canberra that was also decided in a penalty shootout, with the winners meeting the Koreans after they had defeated Uzbekistan 2-0 in extra-time thanks to a pair of goals from Son.
Iraq’s hopes of a second appearance in the final of the AFC Asian Cup, however, faded quickly against the Koreans, who ran out comfortable 2-0 winners in Sydney to book their first final showing in 27 years, while the Australians scored two early goals to see off the UAE.
The UAE, though, eventually finished third after beating Iraq 3-2 in an entertaining play-off a day before the final.
The AFC Asian Cup was a defining milestone for host nation Australia as well as Asia’s sporting history. It was the most watched AFC Asian Cup ever, since the first event was played in 1956 and won by Korea Republic.
Fifty-nine years later, the clash between the Koreans and Australia smashed all viewership, attendance and social media records.
Across 32 matches in 23 days, fans showed up in full support, colouring the five stadiums in vibrant shades of 16 national teams.
The fairytale finale was the eighth sell-out of the tournament, pushing the aggregate attendance to a staggering 650,000. By January 31, 2015, the event had reached a worldwide television audience in excess of one billion.
In Korea Republic, an overwhelming 28 million (57 percent of the population) watched part of the final live, making that game one of the most watched football events in history on Korean television.
In China PR, close to 100 million, a record number of viewers tuned in to watch the quarter-final starring their nation’s select versus Australia. It was a viewership figure not seen for a football game in a decade. Even for the final not featuring the Chinese national team, over 50 million viewers in China tuned in to the match.
Album: 10 stars who sizzled at the AFC Asian Cup 2015 Australia
Over on social media, the AFC Asian Cup dominated the conversation of fans the continent over with 13 million minutes of event action watched on the official YouTube channel while the event’s official #AC2015 Twitter hashtag had a reach of 3.5 billion.
By any measure, the AFC Asian Cup 2015 in Australia on-and-off the field was a resounding success.