Asia needs Australian win

Soc­ceroos suc­cess against Hon­duras would be good for re­gion

Arab News - - SPORTS -

Per­haps the great­est dan­ger is — apart from a lapse in con­cen­tra­tion giv­ing an away goal — is over­con­fi­dence. Hon­duras did not im­press at home, giv­ing rise to the ex­pec­ta­tion of vic­tory from Aus­tralians. If any coun­try should un­der­stand the un­pre­dictabil­ity of World Cup play­offs, how­ever, it is the Aussies af­ter the heart­break of Iran in 1997 and the ec­stasy of Uruguay eight years later.

Should the re­sult go the way of the Soc­ceroos, there will be the usual con­grat­u­la­tions from the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion (AFC) but will the of­fi­cial state­ment re­flect the gen­eral sen­ti­ments around the con­ti­nent as a whole?

It is not a given. East and South­east Asia have been more open to the new kids on the block. In West Asia, there is more skep­ti­cism.

Fans in West Asia may have for­got­ten the comments made back in 2006, af­ter Aus­tralia joined the AFC, by Sheikh Talal Al-Fa­had Al-Sabah, head of Kuwait’s Olympic Com­mit­tee, but those in Aus­tralia have not.

“We are against Aus­tralia join­ing the Asian con­ti­nent, even in soc­cer,” said Sheikh Talal. “This is the big­gest mis­take made against Asian soc­cer. This will kill the am­bi­tions of Asian soc­cer.

“What are we go­ing to ben­e­fit from Aus­tralia’s soc­cer team? Is it the ex­pe­ri­ence. We might play with them once every four years.”

It is un­der­stand­able that there was re­sent­ment in some cir­cles. Since Aus­tralia en­tered the con­fed­er­a­tion, no Ara­bian team from West Asia has qual­i­fied — un­til Saudi Ara­bia man­aged it this year.

With the con­ti­nent hav­ing just four au­to­matic spots to the world’s big­gest sport­ing event, im­port­ing a strong na­tion from out­side did re­sult in greater competition for places. Saudi Ara­bia just missed out in 2010 and had there been no Aus­tralia, per­haps it would have been dif­fer­ent.

It’s not just about that. Aus­tralia could cer­tainly have done more to en­gage with the rest of Asia, es­pe­cially the western half. It was al­ways go­ing to take time, ef­fort and pa­tience but talk to of­fi­cials from Saudi Ara­bia be­hind the scenes and they com­plain that Aus­tralia has been slow to help other coun­tries in as­pects of the game where they lead, such as sports sci­ence.

UAE of­fi­cials say that the 2015 Asian Cup hosts could have been quicker to come for­ward to give the ben­e­fit of their ex­pe­ri­ence, with the 2019 tour­na­ment fast ap­proach­ing. The sense that Aus­tralia is happy to take from Asia, see­ing it as a po­ten­tial gold mine to be ex­ploited, rather than a con­ti­nent to en­gage in deep and mean­ing­ful mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial re­la­tion­ships, still ex­ists.

Yet it can go both ways. Fans in West Asia should be get­ting be­hind the Soc­ceroos as a fel­low Asian na­tion. A lit­tle con­ti­nen­tal sol­i­dar­ity would ben­e­fit all in­volved.

Aus­tralia are the Asian cham­pi­ons. The side is try­ing to give Asia five teams at the 2018 World Cup. Hav­ing more rep­re­sen­ta­tives there can only in­crease the chances of AFC get­ting past the group stage and that will, among other things, raise the reputation and stand­ing of Asian foot­ball and, in time, it could in­crease chances of Asia get­ting an­other slot at fu­ture tour­na­ments. That’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion for all.

It’s time the Soc­ceroos. to get be­hind

The sight of Aus­tralians with their hands on their heads is not one West Asian fans should wish to see if they want more Asian World Cup spots. (Reuters)

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