For those of us who attended every Melbourne based game of the Asian Cup that we could, we got more than our money's worth regardless of where we sat, and yet still left wanting more. The atmosphere in the stadium ranged from the parochial (Australia vs Kuwait), to glorious support for the relative underdog (Uzbekistan vs Saudi Arabia) to the raucous (Iran vs Bahrain). The games, with the odd mismatch noted (Jordan vs Palestine and large portions of Japan vs Jordan) were for the most part highly competitive affairs. The play was unusually free of the cynical diving and time wasting efforts we've come to associate with Asian soccer.
The different teams for the most part, even when they were clearly outgunned talent wise, still sought to try and score, which provided a huge amount of entertainment. Many of the games, while lacking a certain tactical cynicism and occasionally awful and foolhardy defending, at least provided plenty of heady attacking moments to savour. Some of the vision and movement off the ball by almost every team was glorious to watch, and Uzbekistan's perhaps most of all, as they went from dizzily uncoordinated defending to scintillating once touch football in the blink of an eye.
The last game at the Bubbledome for this tournament, the quarter final match between South Korea and Uzbekistan had so much of what made the previous six matches so special. A dominant and vocal number of the better known nation in the stands; enough people at opposite end, whether actual supporters of gleeful local hangers on, willing to add a counter voice; and plenty of neutrals just hoping for a great game. And what a game it was, despite the poor finishing from both sides.
While some people left at the end of the regulation 90 minutes in order to get to a television in time for the Australia game, most of the crowd stayed to watch the rest of the game: the inconsolable Uzbek defender who knew he should have just cleared the ball instead of being daring, and the goalkeeper who just couldn't keep the ball from crossing the line, both of which happened right in front of us; the way the South Korean player who streamed forwards and instead of going into the corner to kill off the game, set up the second goal; and palpable joy on the faces of the two Korean blokes sitting behind us, who were in tears with the result. And to think there are a small band of cynics out there trying to downplay the tournament's meaning, just because it's not the Euros.
We've made the semi-finals, so let's all have a parade
Of course going to extra time made getting home in time for the start of the Socceroos game impossible. Sure, I could have watched the game at a pub or something, but by the time I get home from the city, especially if that game also went into extra time... more annoying was when I got picked up at the station by my dad, I tried putting the radio on to the local ABC station in the hopes of at least an update of the scores, hopefully via a live radio broadcast of this important match, only to find that they were broadcasting Lleyton Hewitt's match instead. Right priorities as one particular member of the Twitterati likes to say; and aside from that, whoever thinks tennis on the radio is a good idea, has serious rocks in their head.
The second half was watched on free to air television, as nature intended, and even enjoyed because of Tim Cahill's heroics rather than anything his team mates managed to achieve, as well as the mostly mediocre Chinese opposition; though having to deal with Andy Harper's public orgasms is something I wondered how people dealt with on a week to week basis. One wit suggested alcohol; another a sort of learned selective hearing due to having children. Neither of those suggestions were much help to me. Anyway, the game won it was time to go the panel in between flicking between the two channels showing tennis, because I am such a huge tennis fan don't you know.
At one point during this panel, the reanimated corpse that is Gerard Whateley compared the Socceroos and/or Tim Cahill to now holding as much prominence and/or adoration with the Australian public, especially children as [Olympic hurdler] Sally Pearson and [Test cricketer] Steve Smith. Now Whateley obviously means this to be a compliment to Cahill and the Socceroos, but there's also a problem with this (perhaps offhand) analysis - and that's the fact that the Socceroos and Cahill have long been in the public consciousness as national icons, more recognisable than Pearson or Smith. Regardless of your thoughts on everything that's happened post-Crawford, the Socceroos' sporting stature has been secure since the Uruguay qualification match in 2005, and Cahill's on field reputation was secured soon afterwards.
What irks me about this issue is the need of certain people in the media feeling the urge to anoint the Socceroos as legitimately part of the elite (and therefore mainstream) Australian sporting pantheon. It speaks more to the fact on how far behind the times they are, and how out of touch with the actual sporting interests of the Australian public they are, than any serious consequences of their commentary. With particular emphasis on Whateley, I've always wondered how he gets it so wrong. I say this after years of watching him on Offsiders, where the end of each show is capped off by him doing the rounds of the horse racing news. And I'm thinking, if it wasn't for the twice yearly let's dress up and get pissed events, horse racing's interest lies only with the group of derros that hang out at the Borrack Square TAB (and their type across the country), and those who because they have smartphones can hide their derro-esque nature behind a mid-price label polo shirt, new pair of khakis and shoes that weren't better off being slung over the top of power lines in front of the house that has drugs in it - because everyone knows that's the like the Golden Arches of drugs.
Having said all that
It's been a tragedy that this tournament has not been on free to air, except for the very limited and delayed coverage. Here's a tournament that was predicted to be a lemon by impossibly conflict of interest affected media man, it's had a lot of goals and excitement, and had much better than expected crowds to most of its matches - crossing boundaries of old soccer, new football and even non-football people - and yet the interest generally has been low in the mainstream media. Outside the parochial Socceroos interest and the actually excellent writing of those in the print media - even from some of those writers I don't particularly have time for - there's been little traction. Now I can complain and cast conspiracies about the media being behind the times (see above), but there's an element of doubt that creeps in as well. Maybe they know something we don't? Maybe they have access to market data that shows that while soccer may have some worth as a niche product, that it's just not big enough to merit mainstream coverage, and that perhaps Paul Keating's dream of Australia seeing itself as being an Asian country is some time off yet. Or maybe it's the soccer people who are so ahead of the curve that it's going to take a long time for the straight and narrow world to catch up.
Saddest thing of all is that it wasn't on free to air for everyone to enjoy. That's the kind of game that wins new fans. #IRNvIRQ #AC2015That Iran-Iraq game was so much fun to watch. It had everything that a great game should, and generated a lot of interest among people on the net, those who had pay TV, and those like me willing to break the law (a massive crime against the human rights of corporations who have paid lots of money to show the game) to watch the game on a live stream. But what of those who don't have pay television? What about the casual sports enthusiast, the one that may actually be won over by a game like that, notwithstanding my personal belief that it's better off seeing a sport at its most mediocre and then being intrigued with it, rather than getting the big pay off. I don't know. I guess I should be glad that I got to see it at all, and that I should be grateful to those members of the American military industrial complex that made such breaches of copyright possible.
— Paul Mavroudis (@PaulMavroudis) January 23, 2015