Australia will be tested in more ways than one at the Asian Cup finals tournamentwhich just kicked-off in Qatar. The first will be to maximise its playing performance in difficult conditions against eager and talented opposition. The second and arguably greater challenge is for Australia to act with grace and respect to towards both its opponents and towards the competition in general.
The 2007 tournament brings back only bad memories for me. In the wake of the Hiddink-led brilliance of Germany 2006, the finals tournament was a substantial let-down. Australia underestimated the opposition and was poorly behaved on and off the field. Most of the fallout followed the 3-1 group loss to Iraq. Immediately after the final whistle TV viewers were treated to the unpopular boss Graham Arnold bagging the playing squad, with Mark Viduka seconds later challenging the boss's comments. Captain Lucas Neill had "led" by example with a red card for dissent.
Following Australia's exit at the hands of Japan, red-carded midfielder Vince Grella in a massive dummy spit scorned the AFC, its referees and each of Oman, Iraq, Thailand and Japan. The net impact left onlookers with the impression that Australia didn't respect the competition, its organisers or its competitors.
Aussie football followers would expect increased respect, particularly in light of the announcement this week that, albeit as sole bidder, Australia had been handed the hosting rights for the 2015 Asian Cup finals. It was rather bemusing to see Melbourne Victory hard-man Kevin Muscat singing the praises of the competition, as he hasn't managed to do so for the confederation's other major tournament, the AFC Champions League. With his club's continuing poor performance in the competition, Muscat pretty well bagged the entire tournament once Victory had achieved rapid fire elimination last time around.
The blanket lack of support from the Asian confederation for Australia's hapless bid for the 2002 World Cup means that Australia must display consistent and committed support of football in Asia. Let's hope the report card at the end of the 2011 version has more ticks than we saw last time around.