The 2015 AFC Asian Cup kicks off this Friday in Australia — the 16th edition of the tournament and the first in a place that we’re all pretty sure isn’t really Asia. Nevertheless, the quadrennial competition is back and offers the victor a ticket to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, along with bragging rights on the world’s largest and most populous continent.
Being the global soccer experts we are, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to break down some of the meatiest storylines ahead of the Asian Cup, but since we didn’t know any of them off the top of our heads, we turned to the most trusted information source in the soccer universe. No, not Football Manager: Wikipedia. The world’s most reliable encyclopedia has allowed us to compile this viewer’s guide for you, our loyal readers. We spared no expense in assuring at least half of this information had legitimate citations. Enjoy:
1. Anti-Karaoke Suspensions
Remember the 2007 Asian Cup? Considered by most to be one of the greatest editions in tournament? Neither do we. Nevertheless, it’s pretty easy to tell that the tournament’s highlight came courtesy of South Korea striker Lee Dong-gook — nicknamed “The Lazy Genius” by fans — who was banned from the national team for 12 months after he, three teammates and a number of ‘female employees’ were involved in a late-night drinking session at an Indonesian karaoke bar in the midst of the tournament.
This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After falling short of South Korea’s squad for the 2002 World Cup, Dong-gook admitted to not watching a single game over the course of tournament, presumably going from karaoke bar to karaoke bar singing “My Way.”
2. Palestine, via Chile
Sometimes just making the main draw of a tournament can be a tremendous accomplishment, something that is most certainly the case when it comes to Asian Cup debutants Palestine. The national team has been recognized by FIFA since 1998 but had to wait until last year for its first berth to a top-level competition. When Palestine defeated the Philippines, 1-0, in the AFC Challenge Cup Final, the team punched its ticket to Australia.
Due to Palestine’s political situation, the national team has only ever played five matches on home soil and is rarely able to train together as a full group, but this edition of the Asian Cup will provide the team with a platform to garner tournament experience and showcase its talent on the global stage. That worldwide visibility is particularly poignant given the squad’s international makeup — drawing players not only born in Gaza and the West Bank, but also Chile, Slovenia, and several parts of Israel.
3. Australia managed to mate a dingo with boulder
The tournament’s official mascot is named Nutmeg the Wombat, but will be recognizable to most fans under a different name: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. That’s right, the official mascot of the 2015 Asian Cup is The Rock’s wombat kin.
Here’s Nutmeg raising the Wombat’s Eyebrow:
Here’s Nutmeg readying himself for a Wombat’s Elbow:
And here’s Nutmeg preparing to clothesline a small child:
Thanks to Jason for pointing this out.
4. All hail your tournament winners, North Korea
Friends of the planet North Korea are taking part in the tournament, presumably as a way to enact revenge on the Western World for challenging the supremacy of the Workers’ Party of Korea, all glory to our Glorious Leader Kim Jong-un.
While national leadership is obviously robust and immune to capitalist overtures, it’s not quite clear who’s leading the team during the Asian Cup.
The team’s manager, former-international Yun Jong-su, was suspended for 12 months by the Asian Football Confederation after “offensive behavior” in the wake of its recent Asian Games loss to inferior rivals South Korea. Curiously, while the suspension will keep him from stadiums on match days, Jong-su is still allowed to take part in training sessions.
Officially, former national team manager Jo Tong-sop is registered to lead the team during the tournament, but whether he actually will remains to be seen.
Either way, the team will represent the virtues of the Great Leader and show the evils of the Imperialist West.
5. QatarWatch! Your 2022 World Cup hosts are in the tournament!
It’s no secret that Qatar — rich in oil, natural gas, and footballing history — were awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup because of its innumerable accomplishments at all levels of the beautiful game, and it arrives in Australia hoping to add to an already-packed trophy cabinet. While most pundits haven’t given them much of a chance of walking away with the Asian Cup — choosing instead to focus on the country’s deplorable human rights record and laundry list of corruption charges — soccer experts like us know better. Here, have a look at their World Cup qualifying record over the years:
Oh. Umm… we meant their Asian Cup record:
So okay, Qatar hasn’t really won anything yet per se, but that doesn’t mean you can count it out. As the famous sports adage goes in Qatar, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn… and then after dawn, the temperatures reach inhospitable levels, so it’s probably best to stay inside and play FIFA instead.”
6. China are here, and you might be in its Starting XI!
China’s struggles on the international stage are well-known, as is the endemic corruption that trails the sport throughout the nation. With match-fixing and political interference in the administration of the sport — led in large part by the sport’s governing body, the Chinese Football Association — the potential of a nation of just under 1.4 billion people remains constrained.
Just how bad was corruption in China? According to the former leader of the Chinese Football Association, Nan Yong, players of Chinese descent could at one time purchase a position on the national team for just over $15,000! Looking into this claim further, the Economist found that during a recent two-year stretch, more than 100 players had been called to the Chinese National Team.
Thankfully, anti-corruption campaigns are slowly cleansing the sport. Unfortunately for some, that means that you’ve got a limited time to buy your national team appearance. So with that in mind, if you’ve got some extra cash in your bank account and a Chinese passport, you might want to make a phone call and get on a flight to Australia.
7. Seriously though: Who’s going to win this thing besides Qatar?
So much of the excitement surrounding this Asian Cup stems from the fact that there really isn’t a clear-cut favorite. Australia, hosts and last edition’s runners-up, is a trendy pick, coming off a third-consecutive World Cup appearance. While its Brazilian adventure may have ended at the first hurdle, the Socceroos demonstrated an impressive level of determination, skill, and Tim Cahill volleying ability in a tough group.
Not afforded that level of homegrown support was South Korea, whose lackluster World Cup performance was branded a national embarrassment after capturing only a single point in one of the tournament’s easier groups. Its Asian Cup draw wasn’t quite so kind, offering up the hosts in Group A, but the Reds nevertheless remain among the favorites, looking for its first taste of continental glory since hosting the tournament in 1960.
Japan is another contender. Its has won four of the last six continental competitions but limps into the tournament after an extremely disappointing World Cup campaign and a coaching controversy that sees new manager Javier Aguirre the subject of a match-fixing investigation thousands of miles away in Spain. Lifting the cup in Australia would not only steady the national team in choppy seas but also offer momentum to the domestic competition, the J. League, which is due to be repackaged into a South-American-style, two-stage championship in 2015 — a competitive change that has proved rather unpopular in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Lastly, Iran, who have developed a disciplined, organized style of play under former Real Madrid manager Carlos Queiroz, cannot be overlooked. They also currently hold the confederation’s highest FIFA ranking at No. 51 — a fact that means absolutely nothing.
So, in short, we have no idea who’s going to win, but we’re pretty sure it’s Qatar.