Asian Cup 2007
Winner – Iraq
Runner-up – Saudi Arabia
Third – South Korea
Fourth – Japan
The AFC Asian Cup had taken place every year every four years since the first tournament in 1956. However, for the 14th edition of the tournament, the AFC made the decision to change the tradition as the tournament always clashed in the same year as the Summer Olympics and the European Championships, so the next tournament was scheduled for 2007, with the four-yearly cycle continuing from there.
The 2007 competition was a unique competition, co-hosted by four nations for the first time, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam all taking on hosting responsibilities. It was the brainchild of then-AFC President Mohammed Bin Hammam, who later described it as “his mistake”, owing to the financial and logistical difficulties of four countries hosting, with four organising committees, four media centres and financial considerations amongst the most important.
Despite this, and facilities issues in Thailand that threatened their hosting credentials and privileges for a couple of years, the tournament was set for the four South-East Asian nations, with each contributing two stadiums for the competition, with the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta the venue for the final.
Another change to the tournament saw Japan become the first defending champions to not automatically qualify for the next competition.
They instead entered a qualification tournament which saw 16 member associations not enter the senior competition. These teams had all played in or been considered for the AFC Challenge Cup in 2006 and chose not to enter the 2007 Asian Cup as they continued to build their football programmes in their countries.
Additionally, North Korea had been banned from qualifying after being found guilty of improper conduct in the qualification tournament in 2004, leaving 29 nations in the qualification tournament, with 12 places available in the finals.
This tournament began with a preliminary round as the two lowest ranked nations Bangladesh and Pakistan played a two-legged playoff, with the winner going into the group stages, and it looked like Pakistan were eliminated after Firaj Mahmud’s late winner put Bangladesh through, but they ended up in the group stage anyway after replacing a withdrawing Sri Lanka team.
The group stages saw Australia debut in AFC Competition, having switched from the OFC after the 2006 World Cup, with their place in the bottom pot of teams making them a tough draw, as was the presence of Saudi Arabia in Pot 2 after their woeful performance in 2004.
As it was, the Saudis ended up in Group A with the defending champions Japan, plus Yemen and India. Saudi and Japan each team beat the other and won every other game, with Yemen’s only wins home and away against an outmatched Indian team who lost every game and shipped 24 goals, including five, six and seven goal defeats. Japan topped the group based on head to head results against Saudi Arabia, with a 3-1 win in Sapporo the deciding factor.
Group B also saw two of Asian Football’s powers clash as Iran and South Korea dominated proceedings against Syria and Chinese Taipei to qualify easily, Iran winning the group after a 2-0 win against the Koreans in Tehran
The reprieved Pakistanis were unlucky to find themselves in Group C as they were scheduled to face Jordan, Oman and the UAE, each of whom had been in China PR in 2004 and had performed well while there.
It was perhaps not surprising then that Pakistan lost all six games, while Jordan could count themselves unlucky to be the odd one out, finisheing just two points behind Oman in second place, while the UAE topped the group to qualify.
Australia made their Asian Cup debut in Group D, a group that was hit by the withdrawal of Lebanon, who were forced to do so due to the Israel-Lebanon conflict that saw Football go by the wayside.
All of Lebanon’s remaining fixtures were cancelled, with the 1-1 draw against Kuwait annulled. It left Australia, Bahrain and Kuwait to play it out for the two places in the finals. Australia qualified with relative ease, winning three out of four games and only losing 2-0 in Kuwait.
That result, coupled with Bahrain’s 2-0 defeat in Sydney, left Kuwait only needing a draw away to Bahrain to return to the Asian Cup finals. This wasn’t to be, however, as Bahrain surprised the Kuwaitis with two first half goals, then held on despite a Laheeb goal that gave Kuwait life to qualify on the head to head record against Kuwait through that 2-1 win.
Group E was much more cut and dried as Iraq and China PR both qualified on 11 points, well ahead of Singapore and Palestine. Singapore had surprised the Iraqis with an 2-0 win at the start of qualification, but Iraq recovered and remained undefeated to top the group ahead of the Chinese, with a 2-1 win in Al Ayn in the UAE helping them top the group on head to head record.
Finally, Group F was dominated by Qatar who qualified with a game to spare after winning their first five games, only losing to Uzbekistan in the final game to the Uzbeks.
That win saw Uzbekistan just crawl over the finishing line ahead of Hong Kong, who drew both games with the Uzbeks and just fell short of a place in the finals.
As with 2004, the 16 teams were drawn into groups of four, with the four host nations hosting the games in their group.
Thailand were the Group A hosts and it was a group that saw some surprising results and saw the highly rated Australians nearly crash out in the first round.
The Australians needed a last-minute Tim Cahill goal to salvage a draw with Oman, then were given a football lesson by the Iraqis, who won 3-1 and could have scored several more. This defeat left Australia needing a win by two goals against the hosts to get through, after Thailand had put their destiny on their own hands with a 1-1 draw with Iraq and a 2-0 win against Oman, only their second win in the Asian Cup and first since 1972.
Australia finally found a performance to go through after winning 4-0, but only after they took advantage of a tiring Thai defence to score three goals in the last seven minutes to turn the goal difference around.
Iraq topped the group after two draws sandwiched their shock win over the much-fancied Australians and took them back to the Quarter-finals.
Group B was in Vietnam, with the hosts not expected to progress out of a group containing defending champions Japan and consistent tournament performers the UAE.
Vietnam didn’t read the script, however, and caused one of the biggest shocks in Asian Cup history when goals by Thanh and Vinh in front of a loud, fanatical crowd in Hanoi gave Vietnam a 2-0 win. They also led the group after the first round of games after Japan were held to a surprising 1-1 draw with Qatar, a result that led Japan coach to brand his players as “amateurs” as part of a rant that reduced his interpreter to tears.
The Japanese players got the message and turned up the heat on their opponents, beating the UAE 3-1 and thrashing the hosts 4-1, leaving them top of the group.
Vietnam were able to finish second after a draw with Qatar took them to four points, then the UAE sent the Qataris home and Vietnam through to their first Quarter-final when they came from behind to win 2-1 in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Group C was Malaysia’s group, but they had the misfortune to be drawn with former winners Iran and two of Asian football’s stronger powers in China PR and Uzbekistan.
They started with a 5-1 defeat to China PR and things didn’t improve from there, with Uzbekistan putting another five goals on the scoreboard. Their Asian Cup experience ended with a 2-0 defeat to Iran, a result that also saw Iran top the group with seven points.
With three strong teams in one group and only two places available in the Quarter-finals, one nation was going to go home disappointed and early and it was the Chinese who were to go out after three games.
Their tournament started spectacularly against Malaysia with a 5-1 win, but they lost a two-goal lead against Iran to draw 2-2, then fell apart against Uzbekistan after Shatskikh put them ahead after 72 minutes, with two late goals making it 3-0 and sending the Uzbeks through in second place.
Finally, Group D continued the surprise results and saw an established name in Asian Football nearly crash out early on. Indonesia, hosts of the group, raised the roof in Jakarta with an impressive 2-1 over Bahrain and were very unlucky to lose in the last minute to Saudi Arabia in the next game.
They went into the final round of group games facing a South Korean team who had flattered to deceive so far in the tournament, having drawn with the Saudis, but then let a lead slip against Bahrain to lose 2-1 thanks to a late Abdul-Latif goal.
Sadly for the hosts, they couldn’t find a way through the Korean defence and Kim Jung-Woo’s 34th minute goal rescued South Korea from elimination, sending them through in second behind Saudi Arabia, who sent Bahrain home after a 4-0 thrashing.
The first Quarter-final brought the newest member of the AFC into contact with the defending champions, in a repeat of their 2006 World Cup group stage contest that Australia won 3-1.
This game was a lot closer and after Takahara scored a quick-fire equaliser to John Aloisi’s opener, the game continued in stalemate and was decided in a penalty shootout that saw Australia go 3-0 behind after misses by Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill and, despite Takahara’s miss, was won by Japan after Nakazawa scored to make it 4-3
The last of the hosts made their exit as Vietnam battled hard, but were outclassed by an Iraqi team growing with confidence and with a vast amount of neutral support behind them, with Younis Mahmoud scoring twice in a 2-0 win that put Iraq into their first Semi-final since 1976
For the fourth tournament in a row, Iran and South Korea faced each other in the Quarter-finals, with Iran having won the last two times. While those games had been classic encounters with goals and drama, this game was a more dour, defensive encounter that went the distance with no goals and very little drama.
The drama came in the penalty shootout as although Kim Do-Heon missed his penalty, South Korean captain Lee Woon-Jae saved from Mahdavikia and Khatibi and Kim Jung-Woo scored the winning penalty to send the Koreans through.
Finally, Saudi Arabia took the best that Uzbekistan could throw at them and ground out a 2-1 win to qualify for yet another Asian Cup Semi-final. The Uzbeks battled hard, but after going 2-0 down, a Solomin goal was the only goal they could get back and they exited the tournament.
Saudi Arabia then carried on the momentum as they took on the defending champions Japan in Hanoi. The game turned into a classic match between two adventurous teams, with Japan working hard to equalise after Saudi Arabia had twice taken the lead.
It wasn’t to be a third cup in a row for Japan, however, as Malik Mouath Al-Hawsawi found space to put Saudi Arabia up for the third time, with Japan unable to respond again, and the Saudis celebrated making their sixth final in seven Asian Cups with a 3-2 win.
While Japan vs Saudi Arabia had excitement and goals, Iraq vs South Korea delivered tension and nerves, with neither side finding an opportunity to score in either the 90 minutes or the 30-minute extra-time period, so it was penalties that would sort out the finalist.
Games like this look for a hero and Noor Sabri was to be that hero as he saved from Yeom Ki-Hun to put Iraq within sight of the final and, after Mnajed had slotted home his penalty, Kim Jung-Woo hit the post to send an ecstatic Iraq team into their first final 4-3 on penalties, a result that brought crowds out onto the Baghdad streets to celebrate, but also saw 50 people die as the result of terrorist bombs.
That could not overshadow the achievement of this Iraq team and they prepared for their first Asian Cup final against Arabian Gulf rivals and former winners Saudi Arabia.
Before the final, South Korea managed their third goalless draw in a row to take the third-place playoff with Japan to penalties, but they came out on top with a 6-5 win after Hanyu missed the decisive penalty for Japan.
The 2007 Asian Cup final featured a fairy tale story in Iraq and veterans of the final in Saudi Arabia, which was played out in front of 60,000 people in Jakarta. What followed was a tight game, with both sides cautious in attack and it looked like only one goal would be enough to secure victory.
The goal finally came after 73 minutes when Iraq forced a corner. Hawar Mulla Mohammed took it and hit a high swinging corner over that Saudi Goalkeeper Yasser Al Mosailem flapped at and missed, but Younis Mahmoud was in position to head home and secure the first ever Asian Cup for the Lions of Mesopotamia, a result greeted around the world with great acclaim and a memorable moment in Asian Cup history.