The 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar comes to an end today with the final between Australia and Japan at the Khalifa Stadium. The final between the three time former champions Japan and first timers Australia marks the end of the three week tournament.
The two sides had different paths to the final. While Australia waltzed past Uzbekistan in a 6-0 semifinal trashing, the Japanese needed a classy performance from goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima in the penalty shootout to get past archrivals South Korea.
But the final will be a new game altogether and it starts at 0-0 with both sides eyeing the title. What Australia has in experience, the young Japanese side make up in enthusiasm; but going into the game both sides lack the big match experience.
Australia are match fit with no injury worries with coach Holger Osieck likely to send out the same starting eleven as against Uzbekistan. That won't be to the liking of Blackburn Rovers star Brett Emerton, but Osieck will go with the line of "never change a winning team".
At the pre-match press conference Osieck was very relaxed and the German looked forward to meet Japanese players like Hasebe and Hosagai who played under him while he was club coach in Japan.
Japan meanwhile paid a heavy price for their semifinal win against South Korea. Young sensation Shinji Kagawa is out of the final breaking his fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot. Kagawa has flown back to Germany and his club Borussia Dortmund isn't amused either as the 21 year old midfielder is likely to be out for the rest of the Bundesliga season.
In Doha meanwhile Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni didn't want to disclose whom he is set to field in place of Kagawa. He only said, "I have made up my mind on who I will play for Kagawa, but I won't announce it just yet. You will see tomorrow."
Australia's passage to the final
The Australians topped the group of death, Group C. They opened with an easy 4-0 against minnows India, where lucky to hold South Korea to a one-all draw before winning their crucial final group game 1-0 against Bahrain. Then they won in the quarterfinal 1-0 in extra-time against defending champions Iraq. This was followed by the 6-0 demolition of Uzbekistan.
How Japan made it to the final
Japan made a slow start into the tournament. They starred at defeat in their opening Group B game against Jordan but were able to get a late equaliser. In their second match they came out 2-1 winners against Syria though some controversial referee decisions went against them. And then they trashed a pathetic Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their final group game. This set-up a quarterfinal clash with hosts Qatar and Japan prevailed 3-2 in an entertaining, but often close contest. In their semifinal game Japan won 3-0 on penalties after the match had ended one-all in regulation time and two-all after extra-time at the Al Gharafa Stadium.