Australia should share recipe of recent success to help improve standard of Asian football

The success of the Australian football team and its federation should be helped to further improve the state of the game in Asia, writes Omar Al Raisi.
Australia are the fourth highest ranked team in Asia and recently won the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil. Mal Fairclough / AFP
Australia are the fourth highest ranked team in Asia and recently won the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil. Mal Fairclough / AFP

Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2006, after it left the Oceania confederation. This was meant to be a win-win move for the Aussies as well as the AFC.

As a member of Oceania, Australia had endured tough qualifying roads to the Fifa World Cup. They qualified only once in 10 attempts over 40 years, losing play-offs to Argentina in 1994, Iran in 1998 and Uruguay in 2002 before breaking through against Uruguay in 2006.

By moving to the AFC, Australia were able to pursue one of four Asian berths; no more of the “half-berth” handed to Oceania. The new surroundings worked wonders.

Australia qualified out of Asia for both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. In 2011, the Socceroos were runners-up in the Asian Cup; in 2015, they won it.

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Also, A-League club Western Sydney Wanderers won the Asian Champions League last season, and the Australian women’s team has advanced from Asia to play in three straight Fifa Women’s World Cups.

Australia’s Asian experiment made competition tougher for the rest of the continent, including the Gulf nations, and rumbles began to be heard that some AFC members wanted Australia removed from the confederation.

Just before the Asian Cup final, in January, Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa confirmed to Al Ittihad newspaper, sister publication of The National, that he was aware of sentiment inside his organisation to have Australia expelled.

Last weekend at a meeting organised by the Football Association and in the presence of Yousef Al Serkal, the FA president, the general secretary of the Sharjah Sports Council, Ahmed Nasser Al Fardan, said: “The decision to have Australia in Asian football is unjust and non-beneficial to the continent and the AFC should reconsider this.”

“If Australia were not a part of the AFC, then the UAE national team would have reached the final of the Asian Cup,” Al Fardan added, referring to the Emiratis’ 2-0 loss to the hosts in the semi-finals.

Critics say the relationship has Australia benefiting hugely from their Asian involvement without giving much in return.

Federations in the Middle East now find themselves trying to catch up to Australia, as well as South Korea, Japan and Iran, the quartet who have appeared at the past two World Cups. Australia, the new boys, often are seen as a country “taking away” a place from Asia’s other sides.

What does Australia contribute to the AFC?

It is one of the top five markets for television rights in the continent. It brings an example of standards and practices to a federation where those qualities cannot be assumed. It is a multi-cultural society.

Do they make the confederation stronger? Yes. Their example as tough competitors across competitions could, over time, prompt other Asian federations to lift their own game.

During the past two decades, when Japan were a dominant force in Asia, they organised conferences and forums with other Asian federations to showcase “how it is done”.

When asked why they should share their secrets, the Japanese responded: “We will get better only if others around us improve and challenge us.”

Australia can do the same for Asian football, setting the bar high, requiring others to rise if they are to displace them.

The AFC could take advantage of Football Federation Australia, just as it did with Japan, by arranging conferences and forums to show “how it is done” down under.

sports@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Published: March 19, 2015 04:00 AM

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