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The past 10 years have been the best ever for Australian football. Three World Cups, the A-League, W-League, Asian Cup success, the Wanderers’ ACL title, and the creation of the NPL and FFA Cup are huge achievements and deserve to be celebrated.
However, there is something else that has been achieved that often gets overlooked. For the first time in our history we have built a genuine international rivalry.
Japan has become to football what England is to cricket and New Zealand to rugby.
It all started during the 2006 World Cup with that stunning 3-1 come-from-behind win. The next year Japan took their revenge, knocking us out of the Asian Cup in a penalty shoutout.
From that point on, every time the two teams met, regardless of form, you could be guaranteed a close and fascinating game.
It was against Japan that we qualified for the 2010 World Cup, it was Japan that stopped us from winning our first continental cup and it is fitting that both sides believe that the best possible hit out pre-Asian Cup is to play each other.
This is a rivalry that will continue to grow as we inevitably meet each other in vital World Cup qualifiers and Asian Cup games. The FFA should continue to promote these battles and do what they can to build the rivalry. Sporting rivalries are a great way to introduce new people to the sport and a great way to garner additional media attention.
They should promote the way in which the two teams go about it, particularly emphasising the games’ good nature. As opposed to other sports whose representatives pride themselves on being antagonistic towards their opponents, the Socceroos versus Samaria Blue games are always hard fought but played with great sportsmanship.
Rather than hatred in the stands, you will find respect. So much so that Japan is often adopted by Australians as a ‘second team’ come World Cup time.
As a long-time Socceroos fan, I look forward to every game the national team plays, however there is something about Tuesday’s game that has got me extra excited. As time goes on, I can see this becoming one of the international sporting fixtures that captures the nation’s attention.
It is on track to become our third biggest international sporting rivalry, beaten only by the Ashes and the Bledisloe Cup.