Japan and China the teams to watch out for in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup
Sydney, Jan 5 (IANS) A simmering Australian summer will come to the boil this week as an anticipated 800 million fans are due to tune in to AFC Asian Cup Australia 2015, which kicks off here Friday with host Australia taking on minnows Kuwait in Melbourne.
With Australia hosting the event for the first time, Asian football fans will enjoy a prime time television schedule bumping the global audience to record dimensions, reports Xinhua.
That could play into the hands of Japan, who landed in Sydney well under the radar on Saturday to take up position in Cessnock, a sleepy, wine-drenched corner of the Hunter Region of New South Wales, about 50 km outside the port city of Newcastle.
The Samurai Blue squad that disassembled a strong Australian side in November have enjoyed a near perfect build up, sneaking a final fling before its Asian Cup title defence controlling possession in a 2-0 demolition of New Zealand club champions Auckland City in an almost private performance for Javier Aguirre.
The former Mexican international - nicknamed El Vasco - has been embroiled in a match-fixing scandal that has threatened to rubbish both the highly regarded Japanese coach and all of Spanish football.
Aguirre's unwanted Christmas present was to wake up among some 40 people named by Spain's anti-corruption prosecutor in a probe into Spanish side Zaragoza's 2-1 win at Levante on the final day of the 2010-11 campaign, which saved it from relegation and led to allegations that some Levante players were gifted almost one million euros to throw the match.
Whether those allegations will impact the Samurai Blue in Australia is doubtful as the four-time champions - 1992, 2000, 2004, 2011 - have an almost indomitable midfield on display against Auckland led by Yasuhito Endo.
Australian fans will be hoping that the fire-breathing China Dragons - second in 2004 - will waylay their Japanese arch rivals in the latter stages of a tournament that has all the makings of a classic.
Former Australian captain and striker Robbie Slater, in a widely circulated cup preview, described the Chinese side as highly organised and rich with promise. According to Slater, French coach Alain Perrin has an entirely Chinese-based team at his disposal and "they will be one of the best-supported outfits in the tournament".
Potentially, China could face the Socceroos in a quarter-final -- and they won the last international between the two countries 4-3 in 2013. Slater singled out Guangzhou Evergrande goal-scorer Gao Lin as China's ace in the hole.
"Gao Lin is no stranger to Australian fans because he plays with Asian powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande. The 28-year-old has 18 international goals."
Japan will continue their low-key build-up with a closed trial match on Monday, against a local Hunter Valley team known only as the "Lambton Jaffas", the current reigning Northern NSW National Premier League champions.
China, meanwhile completed their Asian Cup preparations with an ominous 4-1 dissection of Oman. The Dragons will take on three-time winners Saudi Arabia in their Jan 10 opener.
AFC general secretary Dato' Alex Soosay said in a statement that the time zone was likely to push the global television audience into unprecedented numbers.
"The tournament is being played in a time zone similar to the largest Asian markets of East Asia while the participation of nine West Asian countries gives us confidence of the expected TV audience," he said.
Fans throughout Asia, Africa, Brazil, Europe and North America will also enjoy live coverage of the 23-day tournament which climaxes at Sydney's Stadium Australia on January 31.