Watching Saudi Arabia beat Indonesia 2-1, scoring in injury time, there can be no doubt that there is very high quality football in Asia.
I admit that my experience before the Asia Cup had made me think it was going to be all inexperienced refing and stretchers. I believed our press that we were favoured to win. But no, now I think it will be at least as hard for Australia to qualify for the World Cup as it was just having to beat the 5th team in South America over just 2 rounds.
We haven't heard of many of the players. Few of them would have the connections or visa rights to get themselves in European countries early in their careers. But some appear to be just as good as many Socceroos. And they have the advantage, except for say Iraq, of playing in the same leagues as their team mates. The teams are coached by former European stars. Most know, and been selected for their ability to play in, oppressive conditions.
The greatest irony is the weather. Australia also offers hot and humid conditions. Our cricketers play in the full heat of the summer day for up 6 hours for up to 5 days with 30 degrees and 50% humidity. In this sport, our fast bowlers are the world's fastest in these conditions. And they have won in worse conditions in India. If they can't play in these conditions they get found out quickly.
The Asia Cup was promoted as being about promoting the Australian game in Asia and Australia in general. I would like to understand a bit better what the FFA have in mind. If you want to do business in another country, first you must pay your respects to that country, get the audience on side. Again, cricketers Allan Border and Steve Waugh have shown the way. Both are revered in India. Yes for their skills (which they were able to demonstrate in front of Indian audiences) but largely because of they charity work. Steve in particular is a major fund raiser for Indian charities.
Contrast this to the promotion of the Socceroos. 'Hi we're the Socceroos, we play in Europe and we are here to win.' Even the FFA stated that its funding of the Singaporean preparation camp was worth the extra expenditure because winning in Asia was so important. The Socceroos have a dis-respectful approach to the Asian game. And if they hadn't lost we may never have noticed - but Asia would have.
Perhaps the FFA didn't know how good football was in Asia, or they believed the only good teams were regular world cup qualifiers Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Perhaps it was considered that if the Asia Cup was promoted as a difficult event that Australia would struggle in, then the public would lose interest in football. But most likely they believed we would make the final and that Asia would be turning on their tellies to watch our boys.
Given they probably won't be, where does this leave the Socceroos and the A-League? Well the Socceroos have a lot of learning to do. We need to get players into the Asian leagues to learn these conditions and teams - mmmmm Given the dollars in Europe this seems unlikely. However, maybe FIFA's four foreign player rule will push platers in this direction. My understanding is that in a number of Asian countries talented players already earn more than the A-League offers plus their lack of exposure would stretch A-League clubs to try them. In any case, while we now play in summer, it is still out of step with the Asian calendar and we play in the cool of night and out of our testing conditions. It is the extra stamina of these players that we need to emulate.
I hope that the Socceroos efforts do not rebound on version 3 of the A-League. I believe that the plan - the 3rd leg after the world cup, establishing the A-League - was renewed interested from an Asian audience in the A-League and Australian players - and more dollars into the sport. Plus a win in Asia was to swell Australian crowds in version 3. It will be interesting to see how that pans out.