7 July 2007

Pre-tournament Jitters

If form is any indication, Australia will almost certainly play Iran in the semi-final of the Asian Cup.

I no longer hold any bad feelings towards Team Melli for promoting Australia's exit from the 1998 World Cup at the final qualification hurdle. A certain match in November 2005 and the reform of the local game in the wake of arguably our grandest and most tragic failure has changed all that. It's hard as well to forget the fantastic movie, Offside, which depicts the tribulations of female football supporters in Iran as they try without much luck to enter the national stadium for an important match. The fact that Iranian players tend to embrace flair and celebrate a football of attractions also steers them very much into favour. Hopefully, they will remain respected opponents of Australia for years to come. However, the next meeting of the two teams will be the first at senior level since that fateful evening in 1997 when a 2-2 draw was enough to see Iran through to the World Cup finals on away goals. If it so happens, then, that the two teams meet in a fixture as important as an Asian Cup semi-final (or a final should one of the two finish second, rather than top, their group), so much the better for Australian football - which finally will have the chance to put a final and extremely delayed nail into the coffin our darkest modern era day.

Here's to expectations being fulfilled and a spectacular game on the 25 July between Asia's two highest ranked teams.

But first things first. The Socceroos have some work to do to adapt to the conditions and top their group, then either Japan or the United Arab Emirates will probably be up next. Japan's preparation hasn't been good at all, but their matches with Australia are usually always unpredicatble affairs. And with the way the United Arab Emirates are playing at the moment, experienced coach Bruno Metsu and wonder striker Ismail Matar leading the way, we can pretty much rest assured that Australia will not be waltzing into the final four. Major tournaments have a habit of going very sour and totally pear-shaped for at least one pre-tournament favourite. I don't think it's going to be Australia, with South Korea a far more likely victim, but hey you'd think by now that we've suffered enough heartbreak to start learning from our perhaps slight over-confidence going into these events.

Of course, what I really just want to say is the hell with it - let's take out the cup!