Asian Cup 2011: Australia's Path To The Final

Goal.com looks at how the Socceroos got to the Asian Cup final...
The most notable result of Australia's qualifying campaign for the 2011 Asian Cup was a 1-0 defeat at home to lowly Kuwait on March 5, 2009.

That Socceroos side was made up entirely of A-League players and was a PR disaster for the fledgling competition, with virtually all those in an Australia jersey looked entirely out of their depth on the international stage.

Qualification was eventually secured thanks largely to back-to-back victories over Oman, as well as a hard-fought 2-2 draw in Kuwait.

At the tournament itself it is a mark of how things have changed within the national team set-up that Matt McKay is now considered the key player heading into the final against Japan.

The Brisbane Roar captain was part of the side that lost to Kuwait in Canberra but now lines up alongside names such as Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer and Harry Kewell and looks entirely at home.

His services have only properly been utilized in the quarter and semi-final stages though, where Australia first beat Iraq 1-0 and then Uzbekistan by a whopping six goals.

During those two matches McKay provide four assists, including a delightful angled cross for Harry Kewell's late winner against the defending champions.



McKay has been Australia's ace
card in Qatar.
To kick off the campaign, Tim Cahill netted a brace in a routine 4-0 win over India, though Holger Osieck's side didn't particularly impress against the minnows.

Their next game against South Korea was a completely different test and after a poor first half display, the Socceroos rallied and outplayed the Koreans during the second, finding an equalizer through an unlikely source in defensive midfielder Mile Jedinak.

One of the lesser-known members of the Australian side, the Turkey-based 26 year-old popped up to net a superb winner against Bahrain, securing the team's place in the knockout stages.

Mark Schwarzer was the standout against the West Asians though, pulling off a string of good saves to preserve Australia's lead and make sure they finish ahead of South Korea in their group.

It meant a rematch with Iraq, who stunned the Aussies on their way to their famous 2007 Asian Cup triumph.

Four years ago Nashat Akram tore apart an overconfident team in a 3-1 victory for Iraq though there was to be no such repeat in Qatar, where his impact on the match was minimal.

Kewell's late header in extra time saw Australia through to the final four, though that performance was also the Socceroos' best of the tournament until that point, significant given Iraq have been a difficult opponent in the recent past.


Jedinak's two goals have been
crucial.


Galvanized, Kewell netted the first goal in a 6-0 thrashing of the tournament's form team Uzbekistan in the semi-final, though a red card to Ulugbek Bakaev helped exarcebate the scoreline.

In truth though it was reflective of the gulf in quality and professionalism between the two sides on the night and the result gives Osieck's men plenty of momentum.

Only sporadically has this team looked like Asia's top-ranked team on the way to the final, whether in qualifying or at the tournament itself, though it has been enough.

Australian fans will be hoping on this occasion that the mark of champions is indeed a team that wins when not at their best.


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