Australia can soften the blow of failing in their bid to host the 2022 World Cup by beating three-times champions Japan to claim their first Asian Cup title on Saturday, according to midfielder Matt McKay.
Football lags behind Australian rules and rugby in the country in terms of popularity and last month's decision, which saw Qatar emerge victorious in the contest to host the sports's showcase event, was a setback for the game, especially as Australia mustered only one vote.
However, McKay believes the team's displays can help lift the gloom especially if they can beat Japan, who are aiming for a record fourth Asian title, at the Khalifa Stadium.
"It was such a disappointment not to get the 2022 World Cup and maybe a few people's heads dropped after that decision," the Brisbane Roar winger said after the emphatic semi-final win over Uzbekistan on Tuesday. "But making a final of the Asian Cup and possibly winning it is just going to lift football in Australia again."
Australia, the best Fifa-ranked side in the tournament at 26, were unimpressive in reaching the semi-finals with narrow 1-0 goal victories over holders Iraq and Bahrain, but then turned on the style with a 6-0 humbling of Uzbekistan.
They have demonstrated a more professional approach than four years ago when, on their Asian Cup debut after leaving the Oceania Federation, they were accused of over-confidence.
After a draw with Oman and loss to Iraq, they exited in the last eight at the hands of Japan. Their German coach Holger Osieck can be credited with the improvement and he also brings an extensive knowledge of Japanese football having previously worked with Urawa Red Diamonds, winning the Asian Champions League in 2007.
"Knowledge is one thing, to transfer the knowledge is the other one," Osieck warned. "We shouldn't get carried away [after beating Uzbekistan] and we should stay with our feet on the ground because a final is definitely something different."
Japan will also be full of confidence after they overcame their rivals South Korea 3-0 on penalties after a high-quality 2-2 draw on Tuesday. Their Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni has yet to taste defeat since taking charge of the Blue Samurai in August and the future looks bright with former Asian Player of the Year Yasuhito Endo the only one of the 23-man squad over 30.
Led by their attacking trio of Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki and Keisuke Honda, the Japanese have played some of the best football of the tournament in sweeping past the hosts Qatar and traditional regional powerhouses South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
"The great thing about this team is that we leave everything we have out on the pitch, every time," Zaccheroni said. "We've come this far, I want to win it. We will need to recover as much as we can. That will be the key for us."
Japan's hopes suffered a blow yesterday when Kagawa was ruled out of the final because of a broken foot. The Borussia Dortmund player was substituted in the 87th minute having fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot and will miss Saturday's match. The 21-year-old has been pivotal in Japan's run to the final, scoring twice in the 3-2 quarter-final win over hosts Qatar.
He has also been outstanding in his first season in Germany, scoring eight Bundesliga goals. "Borussia is in touch with the player and he will return to Dortmund as soon as possible so we can get a precise picture of the injury," the Bundesliga leaders said in a statement.Reuse content