As the AFC Asian Cup 2019 continues to draw near, we continue to pay homage to some of the more exciting campaigns in the past years that have helped make the competition as grand as it is.
Last time, we went back to 2011 when Japan clinched their tournament-best fourth AFC Asian Cup title.
This time, we take a look at the competition following that, four years later in 2015 when the AFC Asian Cup was hosted by Australia.
Just like in 2011, the 16th edition of the competition was a battle of 16 countries looking to be called the best in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
Being the host country, Australia were placed in Group A alongside Korea Republic, Oman and Kuwait. As expected, South Korea and Australia looked good early on as they won each of their first two matches to sit atop the standings. The top-placed teams met in their final match of the group stage to determine who takes the top spot – with South Korea taking a 1-0 victory.
In Group B, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, China and North Korea battled for two spots. Surprisingly, Saudi Arabia dropped two out of three matches, including a 1-0 loss to China to see them fail to advance.
China impressed as they took three wins in as many matches to win the group while Uzbekistan were second.
Group C was also an intriguing table as it placed heavyweights Iran going up against United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and 2011 quarterfinalist Qatar.
The Iranians weren’t troubled at all as they secured the top spot in the table, while UAE were the runners-up in the group. Surprisingly, Qatar lost all three matches and only managed to score two goals in the competition.
Group D had the 2011 winners Japan going up against ranked squad Jordan, 2007 winners Iraq and Palestine who qualified after winning the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup.
Japan were dominant as they won all their three matches – not allowing a single goal in the process. The last day of their group stage match was interesting as both Jordan and Iraq battled for second place, with Iraq emerging on top after beating Palestine, while Jordan fell to the Japanese.
With eight teams ready, the quartefinals were then set and South Korea started things off against Uzbekistan.
It was a tight contest until a brace from Song Heung-min in extra time saw the South Koreans get the big 2-0 victory. It was a monumental moment as they then set a tournament record for 10 semifinal appearances.
Up next were the hosts and Tim Cahill was the difference as Australia booked their place in the semis after beating China 2-0.
In 2011, Iran and Iraq battled in the group stages but this time, they met in the quarters. It was an incredible affair as both teams scored in regular time to end things at 1-1 even with Iran down to 10 men for all of the second half. In extra time, both teams would score again but a big penalty shout came in favour of Iraq which resulted in Dhurgham Ismail giving his team a 3-2 lead in the 116th minute.
However, it was far from done as Reza Ghoochannejhad saved his team in the 119th minute to tie the score at 3-3 and send the match to a penalty shootout.
Iran kicked first and a miss from Ehsan Hajsafi gave Iraq the advantage. Unfortunately, Saad Abdul-Amir couldn’t convert as well. The teams would then trade conversions in the next six pairs before Vahid Amiri would disappointingly miss for Iran. Salam Shaker would then step up and convert to send Iraq through to the semis in one of the best matches the competition has ever seen.
The fourth quarterfinal match was also intensely fought for as defending champions Japan took on UAE and it was the latter who struck early as a goal in the 7th minute gave UAE a surprise advantage.
However, Japan were able to bounce back in the 81st minute to send the battle into extra time. Neither team would be able to get the winner so it would go again to another penalty shootout.
The Samurai Blue were first to take a penalty kick and legend Keisuke Honda was unable to convert to give UAE the early advantage. They would convert their first two penalties but would miss on their third as Khamis Esmaeel failed to maintain UAE’s lead. At 4-4, Shinji Kagawa was up for the Japanese but saw his attempt rattle the post and out. Ismail Ahmed had the big task to convert his attempt to see UAE through and he made no mistake as they send the holders home in a surprise upset.
In the semis, South Korea booked their first final since 1988 after two goals on either half saw them beat Iraq 2-0.
Meanwhile, Australia continued to impress as hosts with two goals inside the first 15 minutes were enough to seal the deal and eliminate UAE 2-0.
South Korea were looking for their third AFC Asian Cup while the Australians were in search for their first.
In front of over 76,000 fans, it was an incredible match, with Australia drawing first blood with Massimo Luongo striking in the 45th minute to give the hosts the lead at the half. It was also South Korea’s first goal allowed in the entire tournament.
However, there would be more drama as South Korea would leave it late before finding the equalising goal as Son Heung-min would come up big again and score in injury time of the second half to tie the match at 1-1.
With the battle going into extra time, James Troisi would eventually find the match-winning goal in the 105th minute after Australia battled hard to get the ball inside the penalty spot – and a mad scramble saw Troisi beat the goalkeeper and help Australia lift the title.
Australia’s win was their first in the competition – but it was also the first time a men’s national team has won in two confederations – with the Socceroos being part of Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) until 2006.
Aside from the trophy, Australia would win the fair play award and Luongo would be considered the best player of the tournament. UAE’s Ali Mabkhout was the tournament’s top goal scorer with five conversions.