Australia keen to cap lessons with 1st Asian title
Australia believe they have the form and confidence to capture their first major football title and prevent Japan from winning a record fourth Asian Cup in the final in Doha on Saturday.
The Socceroos go into the final riding high after routing Uzbekistan 6-0 in the semifinals on Tuesday. Australia have won four and drawn one of their five games and scored 13 goals while conceding only one.
"It's great to win something and this is something that realistically we can win," says defender Luke Wilkshire.
"We have made the final in only our second attempt so we have come a long way. It's a little bit different to the World Cup but maybe it would be a bit bigger."
Wilkshire was in the team when the Socceroos made it into the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup, which ranks as the team's top football achievement so far.
While the margin of victory against Uzbekistan has put the limelight on Australia's attack, it's the team's defense -- the best in the tournament -- that's also made a major contribution.
"It's because of our structure," Australia's German coach Holger Osieck says. "Our defense begins with our forwards, who try to close the space and prevent the other team from developing their attacks."
Unlike Australia's smooth passage through the semifinals, Japan had to endure a draining 120 minutes against archrival South Korea, who scored a 2-2 equaliser in the final minute of extra time. However, Japan won the penalty shootout 3-0, with goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima stopping two attempts.
Australia captain Lucas Neill says the contrasting paths into the final won't be on his teammates' minds.
"We won't get carried away, the scoreline is rrelevant," Neill says.
"The fact that we won is important, but the players are going to have confidence now in front of goal and we know if we can create one chance or a couple of chances then we've got a great opportunity for somebody putting the ball in the back of the net.
"At the other end we've only let in one goal in five games so we're hard to break down too, so you can't ask for any more going into a final."
Another incentive for Australia is the chance to defend the title on home soil -- it will host the 2015 Cup.
Japan won their first Asian Cup as a first-time host in 1992, and beat Saudi Arabia again in the 2000 final. Japan defeated China in the 2004 final. The Japanese ended Australia's Asian Cup debut in the quarterfinals four years ago, but ended fourth.
Japan have never lost in an Asian final, but it will be without star midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who broke his right foot against South Korea.
Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan's Italian coach, could end up with a title in his first tournament since taking over after last year's World Cup.