It has been a tournament to remember this year thanks partly to some great games but also down to the way the fans have embraced this multi-cultural event. Before the tournament many doubted Michael Brown’s, CEO of the Organising Committee, plan to sell half a million tickets especially with some group stage games not exactly starring the best of Asia. But the tournament has exceeded all expectations with 649,705 people watching the games inside the stadiums.
This is thanks to the many Australians getting behind some of the less popular countries such as North Korea and Palestine. Apparently, there are only 69 North Koreans living officially in Australia but over 12,000 people turned to watch them play against Uzbekistan, one of the least glamorous ties of the tournament. Also well supported were the Palestinians. They had to go through quite an ordeal just to make it to the tournament after one of their players was denied the right to travel by the Israeli authorities and a new coach had to be appointed at the last minute as the previous manager was rumoured to have no qualifications.
So after all 32 games have been played it’s time for VAVEL to put together their team of the tournament (the formation is 4-2-3-1):
Jin-Hyeon Kim (South Korea)- Whilst his opposite number in the final, Mat Ryan, may have one the AFC award we feel Kim is more deserving of the prize. He only missed one game in the group stages and didn’t concede a goal until Massimo Luongo scored against him in the final on the stroke of half time. That’s 435 minutes without conceding a goal thanks to extra-time against Uzbekistan and whilst the defence certainly played their part Kim should take a lot of credit for his performances.
Du-Ri Cha (South Korea)- Again this was a close run battle between two finalists with Ivan Franjić running Cha all the way. Nicknamed the ‘Cha-minator’ he is the son of Bundesliga star Bum-Kun Cha and featured in all of his side’s games strengthening his cult status in helping his side reach the final for the first time since 1960. The final would turn out to be a disappointing end to a great career but it finished with a rather touching moment as Australia’s coach Ange Postecoglou took time out his side’s celebrations to console the former Celtic player.
Trent Sainsbury (Australia)- The PEC Zwolle centre-half was one of many who announced themselves to the World at this tournament. Another member of this team who featured in all his side’s games he even managed to grab himself a crucial opening goal against the UAE in only the third minute of the game. In the final he was magnificent, repeatedly thwarting the attacks of Heung-Min Son and company earning himself the man of the match award at the end.
Tae-Hwi Kwak (South Korea)- Already the fourth member of this side who featured in the final but it’s hard to ignore his performances both in the Final and in the matches leading up to it. As mentioned earlier he was a member of the defence that didn’t concede until Massimo Luongo’s goal in the final. One of the more experienced members of a youthful Korean squad at 33 years old he made his experience count helping those around him when they needed it most. When Uli Stielike’s side were desperate for a goal towards the end of the regulation 90 minutes Kwak was sent up front to use his considerable height and it paid off. In the lead up to Heung-Min Son’s equaliser Kwak won a crucial header outside the Socceroos’ box allowing his side to equalise.
Dhurgham Ismail (Iraq)- Probably the most debatable call for this eleven as Jin-Su Kim was also superb in the tournament but Ismail just edges him. It’s doubtful anyone outside of Iraq will have heard much about this youngster before the tournament but he surprised everyone with his performances and endeared himself to Iraqi supporters by scoring two penalties, one in extra time and one in the shoot out, against arch rivals Iran in the quarter finals. The fact that he took the penalty in extra time ahead of the likes of Iraqi legend Younis Mahmoud shows the confidence of the 20-year old. Remember the name, as it probably won’t be long before we see him plying his trade in Europe.
Massimo Luongo (Australia)- Unless you’re a fan of the lower leagues of English football or followed the Tottenham Hotspur youth level teams a couple of years ago then you can be forgiven for having never heard of Luongo but boy did he make an impact. He couldn’t have started much better giving his side the lead against Kuwait in the opening game of the tournament. He went on to play a part in all of Australia’s games becoming the top assist creator but it was in the final that he really etched his name into the Asian Cup history books. Right on the stroke of half time he simultaneously gave his side lead and became the first player to score against the resolute South Korean defence. To crown it all he was named tournament MVP ahead of the likes of Tim Cahill and Heung-Min Son. His performances have apparently caused his valuation to skyrocket as Swindon Town turned down multiple bids in the January window to keep their man.
Sung-Yueng Ki (South Korea)- The Swansea City midfielder was Captain Fantastic for his side as he helped propel his side to the final before falling at the last hurdle. He controlled most of their games from his holding position and many argue the reason that he didn’t have as much of an effect on the final is that Stielike pushed him further forward. Despite having a reduced impact on the final he still managed to set up Son’s crucial equaliser
Heung-Min Son (South Korea)- Had the Taeguk Warriors triumphed in the final then it is almost certain that Son would’ve claimed the MVP award. In spite of impressive tournaments from the likes of Ki and Kwak, Son was by far the best player for South Korea coming through for them when it mattered most like in the quarter final against Uzbekistan. The Uzbeks had held back the Koreans for 90 minutes and Stielike’s charges looked to be dead on their feet before Son intervened. Suffering from illness in the group stages he wasn’t expect to last 90 minutes but managed to drag himself through and was rewarded greatly for his efforts. He scored the opener in the 104th minute before sprinting almost the entire length of the pitch with cramp to finish off a Korean counter.
Omar Abdulrahman (UAE)- Anyone who watched the football at the London Olympics might remember Abdulrahman impressing against the likes of Uruguay and Great Britain and he certainly added to his already burgeoning reputation in this tournament. Already well known throughout Asia he is starting to attract Europe’s elite with his dynamic performances. Whilst not grabbing himself a goal at the tournament he was level with Luongo in terms of assists and shone throughout making himself another player to narrowly miss out on the MVP award.
Ali Mabhkhout (Iraq)- The tournament’s Golden Boot Winner was part of a thrilling UAE attack alongside the likes of Omar Abdulrahman that could become a team to be feared in future tournaments. He scored twice in their opening game to help blow away a disappointing Qatari side before scoring the fastest goal of the tournament against Bahrain in only 14 seconds. He scored the opener against Japan to help pull off the shock of the tournament as the UAE knocked out the defending Champions on penalties. His fifth and final goal was a penalty against Iraq in the 3rd place playoff.
Tim Cahill (Australia)- Australia’s saviour time and time again, Cahill once again rose to the occasion to help fire his team to glory. Before the tournament many doubted the Aussies’ chances of going all the way with Cahill the only player to score under Postecoglou from open play. Whilst quite a few others chipped in once the tournament began, Cahill again was key. After going behind to Kuwait in the opening game it was Cahill who got his side back into it with a goal. He also scored both goals against China who had presented a tough task in the quarterfinal. When he was brought off after the hour mark in the final it looked like a fitting tribute to Australia’s best ever player as many thought it would be his last game. In the last few days, however, Cahill has come out and said he will continue to play until Postecoglou stops selecting him. He has just left club side New York Red Bulls and signed for Shanghai Shenua.