JAPAN vs AUSTRALIA
Asian Cup Final, Doha, 29 January 2011, 18:00 local, 15:00 UK
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Tomorrow will see Unofficial Football World Champions Japan face title challengers Australia in the Asian Cup Final. This is the first time the UFWC title has been contested at the Asian Cup, and whoever wins will be the first nation to unify the UFWC and Asian titles. This match comes just six months after the UFWC was contested at the World Cup Final. Spain unified the unofficial and official titles in that match, but subsequently lost the UFWC title to Argentina, who went on to lose out to Japan.
The Blue Samurai took the UFWC title into the Asian Cup, and have remained unbeaten throughout. But that fact shouldn’t necessarily make them favourites. The Netherlands took the UFWC title into the World Cup, and retained it all the way to the final, but then lost out to the Spanish. Can Australia stage a similar title coup in this final?
For the record, this is how the UFWC title reached the final: It’s a common misconception that whenever the title goes into a major tournament it will end up being held by the tournament winner, but in fact, as has happened many times, it’s quite possible for a title holder to fail to reach the knock-out stages. So the fact that the UFWC has reached the World Cup and Asian Cup Finals within such a short period of time is something special.
Japan have remained unbeaten throughout the Asian Cup, despite some very close calls. An injury time leveller was required to snatch a 1-1 draw with Jordan, and a late penalty secured a 2-1 win over Syria. A last minute goal beat hosts Qatar 3-2, and Japan eventually reached the final by beating South Korea on penalties. Only the 5-0 group stage win over a shattered Saudi Arabia was comfortable.
Australia’s Asian Cup began with a 4-0 win over India. A 1-1 draw with South Korea and 1-0 win over Bahrain saw them reach the quarter finals, where they needed extra time to beat Iraq 1-0. The semi-final saw an impressive 6-0 win over Uzbekistan.
As far as team news goes, Japan will welcome back Maya Yoshida from suspension, but will miss the excellent Shinji Kagawa, who has a broken foot. Many viewers will focus on influential midfielder Keisuke Honda, who took one of the worst penalties you will ever see in the match against South Korea, but was brave enough to step up to take another – and score – in the shoot-out.
Australia have worries over the fitness of Tim Cahill, who hasn’t been at his best during this tournament. He’s likely to play, but it will be interesting to see whether Australia coach Holger Osieck finds room for Robbie Kruse, who came off the bench to make two and score one in the win over Uzbekistan, in his starting eleven. Meanwhile, goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer will become his country’s most capped player in the final, notching up 88 international appearances.
The Socceroos have been Unofficial Football World Champions once previously, beating the USA 1-0 in 1992 courtesy of a Warren Spink goal to take the title at the first time of asking. Australia lost their next match, and the UFWC title, to Argentina. Their last UFWC attempt ended in a goalless draw against then-champions the Netherlands in October 2009.
Japan’s recent run as UFWC champions has seen them accrue five title match wins and rise to 27th in the overall UFWC rankings table. They still have some way to go to catch top-ranked Scotland’s 86 title match wins, but a win tomorrow would give them the opportunity to go on a longer run as champions.
By comparison, FIFA rank Australia slightly higher than Japan – the Socceroos are ranked 26th compared to the Blue Samurai’s 29th. And Japan have Asian Cup form, of course, having already won the tournament three times.
Looking beyond tomorrow, if Japan win, the next UFWC title match will see them defend the title at home against Montenegro. If Australia win, their first title defence would be a daunting trip to Germany.
You can watch a free and legal live stream of the match via Bet365. Kick off in Doha is 18:00 local time, 15:00 in the UK. Just click on the link below. You’ll need to create an account if you don’t already have one, but you don’t need to make a bet. If you do open an account and decide to make a deposit of £10 or more, you’ll be entitled to up to £200 in free bets.
So all eyes are on Japan vs Australia. Who will come out of the match as Asian Cup winners AND Unofficial Football World Champions? Feel free to make a prediction below and add your comments. We’ll be back with a match report shortly after the final whistle. For updates before and during the match follow us on Twitter @UFWC_Football and @realpaulbrown. Enjoy the game.