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Adding to Asia’s growing profile

sports Updated: Jan 06, 2011 23:34 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times
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Iraq's triumph transported the Asian Cup from being a continental football tournament to a world event, underscoring sport's ability to unite a fractured, war-ravaged country. But it wasn't the first time politics came to the fore in this competition.

Look no further than 1976 when Parviz Ghelichkani fell out of favour after leading Iran to their third consecutive Asian Cup victory for criticising the Pahlavi regime.

But from the days of existing as a four-nation tournament (for the first three editions) to its present 16-team glitzy version, the Asian Cup is also an indicator of the continent's stride in world football.

And with the FIFA taking active interest to tap the vast audience in China and India, the focus on Asia has never been so strong. Also, Qatar have been awarded the 2022 World Cup finals so this meet can be an indication of how good a host it can be.

That South Korea fought Uruguay like equals before losing a round-of-16 World Cup finals match and Japan were denied a maiden quarter-final berth by the framework in Pretoria adds sheen to this tournament.

Add to that the presence of Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell, Mark Schwarzer, Lucas Neill, Brett Emerton, Park Ji-Sung, Lee Chung-yong, Keisuke Honda among others who play in Europe and you have quite a star cast. Bruno Metsu, who coached Senegal to a World Cup quarter-final, is now Qatar's coach.

West Asian countries, Japan and South Korea have been powerhouses in the Asian Cup that first took place in 1956. Since then only seven teams have lifted the title.

Saudi Arabia, Japan and Iran have each won thrice, South Korea twice and Kuwait and Iraq once each. Israel, who won the 1964 edition, joined the European confederation later.