Few observers would quibble with the standard of football and entertainment value on offer during the 16-nation 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Indeed, with four 2010 FIFA World Cup™ finalists featuring in the campaign, three of whom reached the last four at Qatar 2011, the continental finals reached new heights in terms of competition. Join FIFA.com as we review the most unforgettable moments of the Asian showpiece.
1. Iranian anti-climax
Aiming to win their fourth Asian title, Iran underlined their status as one of the pre-tournament favourites by claiming top spot in their group with three straight wins. In doing so they became the only team to have maintained a perfect record during the group stages and also the first to book passage into the last eight. However, their hopes ended in abrupt fashion after losing to nemesis Korea Republic in the quarter-final meeting, with Yoon Bit-Garam scoring the only goal in extra time.
2. Bakaev brace
Until their unexpected 6-0 capitulation at the hands of Australia, Uzbekistan had been one of the tournament’s best performers. The highlight for the central Asians came in the quarter-final meeting against Jordan when Ulugbek Bakaev scored twice to seal their passage to the last four for the first time in history.
3. Saudi collapse
Traditionally one of Asia’s most successful teams, Saudi Arabia became the first team to bow out following two opening defeats against Syria and Jordan. The three-time champions went on to end their campaign in a stunning 5-0 defeat to an under-strength Japan.
4. Holders’ tears
Four years ago Iraqi players shed tears when they defied all odds to emerge the tournament’s surprise winners. Some of those stars were weeping tears again for different reasons after a heart-breaking quarter-final loss to Australia with the only goal coming deep into extra time.
5. Korean revelation
Despite suffering the pain of a penalty shoot-out defeat in missing a place in the final, Korea Republic uncovered a host of emerging starlets with 21-year-old Koo Ja-Chael the most notable. Pushed upfront by coach Cho Kwang-Rae, the Jeju United midfielder scored four times during group campaign before adding his fifth by opening the scoring against Uzbekistan, a precious goal that earned him the tournament top-scorer award and also set his side on the way to a 3-2 victory to collect qualification for the next continental finals in Australia.
6. Unstoppable Abdullatif
Bahrain may again have disappointed after failing to progress beyond the group stage for a second consecutive time. However, the 2004 Asian Cup semi-finalist did set the continental stage ablaze with a 5-2 triumph over India, with Ismaeel Abdullatif their four-goal hero. The 24-year-old striker netted three times in the opening half before sealing the victory thirteen minutes from time and becoming the first player since legendary Iranian striker Ali Daei to bag four goals in a Asian Cup match.
7. Veterans’ swansong
The scene of Lee Young-Pyo being tossed high in the air by team-mates after their 3-2 win over Uzbekistan was poignant for Korea Republic fans with the game marking the 33-year-old’s final act for the Taeguk Warriors. With Manchester United star Park Ji-Sung also retiring from the national team, this Asian Cup marked the end for a golden generation of Korean players who featured in the nation’s semi-final heroics at Korea/Japan 2002.
8. Japan comradeship
The bond within the Japan team was not only marked out on the pitch but also seen during their post-final celebration. Four players, including two-goal hero Shinji Kagawa, missed out the final and flew home due to injuries prior to the Australia game. The absentees were not forgotten by team-mates who, posing in front of the applauding fans and media for a team picture, held onto the jerseys with their respective names emblazoned across the top.
9. Honda’s time
Keisuke Honda, who had maintained a steely visage throughout the final, was in raptures after his team emerged victors with the CSKA Moscow striker also earning the tournament’s Most Valued Player awards. Previously deployed as their lone striker during the 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign, he returned to his creative position in this Asian Cup, driving the midfield and providing leadership and inspiration, performances with earned him a new affectionate nickname: Honda Engine.
10. Osieck praise
Not every losing coach was in the mood to pay tribute to his players but Holger Osieck was quick to heap praise on his Australia side that had impressed the watching world despite losing the final. Playing in just their second AFC Asian Cup, the Socceroos had conceded just one goal in the tournament until Tadanari Lee’s extra-time winner in the final.