Having played out epic encounters at the 2006 World Cup and the 2007 Asian Cup, the sides meet for the first time in a showpiece encounter. Australia cruised through their semi final against Uzbekistan, putting six past their opponents withouth reply. It wasn’t quite so easy for Japan who needed extra time and penalties to see off South Korea.
It will be a milestone game for Socceroos and Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer who will win his 88th international cap, overtaking Alex Tobin as the country’s record appearance holder. Schwarzer has been in outstanding form throughout the tournament, displaying agility that defies his 38 years. Having made his debut in 1994, the former Bradford City and Middlesbrough man has recently stated that he plans to continue turning out in the green and gold until the end of the next World Cup.
The core of the Australian squad has been together since the World Cup in 2006, with many nearing the end of their international careers. One of those, defender Luke Wilkshire, says the players are hungry to claim some success.
“We have been around for a while now and been relatively successful in qualifying for World Cups and what we have done at World Cups and it would be great to really bring home some silverware for the country and this group of players,” he said.
“There was desire leading into the tournament. Everyone was aware that we had a good team, that this was something that realistically we could win and I think that has shown through the group games and these last two games.”
Another player enjoying a great campaign is Brisbane Roar skipper Matt McKay who has come from nowhere to become an integral part of Holger Osieck’s starting eleven. Three assists in the semi final win over Uzbekistan capped a virtuoso Man of the Match performance for the midfielder, justifying his selection in the starting lineup ahead of the likes of Brett Emerto
Osieck will continue with the partnership of Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill up front, despite neither being a natural striker. There was some head scratching Down Under going into the first game but the Austrian coach’s decisions have been more than justified with his side scoring 13 goals in just five games.
There was bad news for the Japanese with Borussia Dortmund star Shinji Kagawa ruled out after suffering a metatarsal fracture in the game against South Korea. The 21 year old’s Bundesliga form, which has seen him score nine goals in 17 games this season, had carried over to the Asian Cup and, along with Keisuke Honda, he was Japan’s greatest threat going forward.
There was some good news for Japan however with defender Maya Yoshida returning to the fold having missed the semi final for a red card picked up against Qatar in the previous round.
Goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, who saved two penalties in the shootout win over South Korea, knows that his side are in for a tricky battle with Australia.
“It will be a very tough game,” he said.
“Australia is a good side and we will have to be at our best to beat them.”
Australia only joined the Asian confederation in 2005, losing in the quarter finals of the tournament in their 2007 debut. Japan, meanwhile, have been champions on three occasions in 1992, 2000 and 2004.
The tournament has attracted plenty of interest worldwide following Qatar’s succesful bid to host the 2022 World Cup. The Asian Cup is being held in the middle of the nation’s winter, with plans afoot to hold the World Cup at a similar time of the year rather than during the traditional June/July period.
The Asian Cup Final kicks off at 6pm in Qatar (3pm UK/Ireland) on Saturday.