Football Down Under | Asian Cup kicks off with Australia-Kuwait match today

The Asian Cup kicks off today deep in Australia’s sporting heartland, where the Socceroos will attempt to win the continental championship for the first time.
It would have been inconceivable a decade ago. Geographically, of course, Australia is a separate continent. In football terms, though, Australia became part of the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, leaving Oceania in pursuit of tougher competition between World Cups.
The Australians open against Kuwait in Melbourne, the first of 32 matches in the 16-team tournament. Defending champion Japan waits until Monday to take on a Palestinian team that qualified through a second-tier tournament, while other leading contenders Iran and South Korea are in action of a hectic opening weekend.
It’s the biggest football tournament ever staged in Australia, generating interest across the vast and densely populated Asian continent that extends from the Far East all the way west to Saudi Arabia.
Yet the Australian team faces competition for the hearts and minds of the public not just from the foreign teams featuring big-name stars such as Japanese pair Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa.
It’s still cricket season Down Under, with a test match between Australia and India ongoing in Sydney, and the international tennis season is just underway with tournaments on opposite sides of the country in Brisbane and Perth. The Australian Open, the first Grand Slam event of season, starts Jan. 19 at Melbourne Park, a short walk from where some of the Asian Cup matches are being staged.
In a nation where football has always resided in the shadows of other sports, the staging of the Asian Cup could be a seminal moment for the sport in Australia.
Tim Cahill, the most recognizable footballer from Australia and a star at the World Cup in Brazil, said the Asian Cup “will affect football in Australia in a way that can never be affected in any sport … this is our chance, this can be it.” AP

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