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With two countries left to examine, Goal.com takes a look at the state of play Down Under after an exciting year in both domestic and international terms for the Socceroos

SPECIAL
By 
Ben Somerford

INTRODUCTION
After the twin disappointments of 2010, where Australia exited the World Cup at the group stage and missed out on winning the hosting rights for the 2022 tournament, 2011 delivered more positive news for the game Down Under. Chiefly, the Socceroos' run to the final of the 2011 Asian Cup was a great ride, while Brisbane Roar emerged as one of the greatest teams in Australian sporting history, in any code, as they broke all sorts of records. The A-League, too, received a timely boost, with the return home of Socceroos stars Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton injecting new life into the competition following the ugly demise of North Queensland Fury.

NATIONAL TEAMS

The Socceroos started the year with a journey to the final of the Asian Cup, where they were agonisingly beaten 1-0 in the final by Japan thanks to Tadanari Lee's extra-time volley. It was a painful finale for Australia, who had their chances in the final, having romped past Uzbekistan 6-0 in the semi to reach the decider. Australia's success was built around their organised back line who conceded just once on their way to the final, before Lee's late winner.

Meanwhile, Australia would go on to enjoy a famous friendly win over Germany later in the year, before a smooth campaign in the third round of 2014 World Cup qualifying saw the Socceroos progress to the final round with a game to spare. Matt McKay, Brett Holman and Joshua Kennedy certainly emerged as key figures, while coach Holger Osieck's reputation skyrocketed in 2011.

DOMESTIC LEAGUES AND CUPS

Brisbane Roar were the story of the A-League in 2011, brushing aside all before them to become the premiers and champions in incredible circumstances. Ange Postecoglou's side had gone through the 2010-11 season having suffered just one defeat before they trailed 2-0 to Central Coast halfway through extra-time in the Grand Final. In one of the greatest sporting comebacks in history, the all-conquering Roar responded with two late goals, before a stunning shootout victory to clinch the Australian title. Brisbane's feats of 2011 didn't finish there, either, as they completed a remarkable Australian sporting record of 36 consecutive games unbeaten.

Meanwhile, high-profile Socceroos Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton moved to Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, respectively, for the 2011-12 campaign, in a major boost for the fledging league which had seen expansion club North Queensland Fury fold earlier in the year. Kewell's return, in particular, has been a huge boon for crowds around the country, while he has added plenty of headlines for the game too.

PLAYERS ABROAD

As per usual, there is no shortage of Australians doing good things abroad, however, it is hard not to single out the achievements of Joshua Kennedy, who won the Golden Boot in Japan's J-League after 19 strikes for runners-up Nagoya Grampus.

Brett Holman emerged as a key player for AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie, playing a big part in their early 2011-12 season success, which sees them sit at the top of the league at the winter break. Holman's movement and energy have made him one of the league's star players.

In England, Mark Schwarzer has had another typically consistent year with Fulham, while Everton's Tim Cahill has not been in such solid form, going a year without a goal for the Toffees. Elsewhere, a number of big-name players moved to Asia, including Lucas Neill and Mark Bresciano as well as Kewell and Emerton, who returned home.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR | Matt McKay, Rangers and national team

The former Brisbane Roar skipper played a major role in their run to the 2010-11 A-League double, while he establishing himself as a key Socceroo during the calendar year. McKay's performances during the 2011 Asian Cup, in particular, made him a certain starter for Osieck, who was bold when he decided to put his faith in a player competing in the lowly-regarded A-League.

McKay's transition into the national team has opened doors for many more players in Australia's top flight. The 28-year-old has since gone on to sign with Scottish champions Rangers, where he has yet to completely settle in. However, he remains a key figure for Australia as an adaptable and reliable player.

MOMENT OF THE YEAR | Brisbane roar their way to A-League triumph

It is hard to forget Brisbane's stunning 2010-11 A-League Grand Final triumph when it seemed that they would fall at the final hurdle after a near-perfect season. In fact, there are stories of fans heading for the turnstiles with the team trailing 2-0 halfway through extra-time before their remarkable fightback. First it was Henrique to make it 2-1 in the 117th minute, before Erik Paartalu headed in an 120th-minute equaliser from a corner. The 50,000-plus fans inside Suncorp Stadium on that night rocked the arena with joy, before the party continued on as the Roar won the title 4-2 on penalties. It truly was a magical evening.

WISHES FOR AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL IN 2012
Brisbane's domestic success has seen many pundits label them the best footballing team in Australian history. Whether or not that is true, their success has been the catalyst for a lot of optimism that they can break through as an Australian club in the 2012 Asian Champions League (ACL). Runners-up Central Coast, too, are billed as a side capable of giving the ACL a shake after years of struggles for A-League clubs in the continental competition. Such success would show how far the game has come in Australia. Indeed, many people hope that the resurgence of the A-League in the second half of 2011 can continue into 2012. Crowds and media attention are up, but whether the game can build on the impressive start remains to be seen.

On the national-team front, the transition of young and old continues for the Socceroos with the team looking to begin their fourth round of 2014 World Cup qualification. It is only early on, but Osieck will be keen for a good start in fourth-round qualifying to help set his side on the road to Brazil 2014.

Check out other countries in the countdown:
South Korea, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia

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