The emperors of Asia: Japan and Australia provide Asian football with a rivalry for the past, present and future. How will the global economic shift play its part?
Since Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation from Oceania in 2006, a genuinely entertaining rivalry has appeared. The Blue Samurai possess world-class players, such as Kagawa, Honda and Nagatomo, while the Socceroos have the likes of Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Bresciano to keep tit-for-tat with their equally calibrated opponents.
Australia’s acceptance into the AFC has meant tougher competition for the national team and as a result, a greater benchmark to measure their performance against and improve upon. While countries around the world have their own rivalries, such as Brazil versus Argentina, Australia has fast-developed their own.
In Asia, Australia is a force to be dealt with and in many ways, the Japanese provide an entertaining spectacle each time the two sides play. Oceania became boring because we dominated it so easily – Asia provides stiff competition which makes the games more enjoyable, and our players greater performers.
Seeing as Asia is the largest consumer of football in the world, and with an economic shift expected from Europe to Asia over the next couple of decades, Australia could be in an enviable position in football terms. As the global economic and military power slowly changes hands from West to East, Asia and Australia can expect larger amounts of foreign direct investment, “Green Field” operations, and acquisitions and mergers to take place, ultimately increasing regional GDP, consumer focus and brand awareness.
While Australia may not have enjoyed the illustrious past of the USA and Europe, times are changing, and with many Japanese, Chinese and Middle Eastern football clubs offering exorbitant amounts of money to world-class football players, it only makes sense that a larger audience worldwide will look towards the largest consumer of football.
This isn’t to say the formidable skill set and exceptional standards of European football will decline, but the entertainment and sports industry will only grow as many club owners in the region attract players with their monetary prowess.
Australia can benefit with a greater exposure to the A-League, and gain recognition for their dominance across Asia. It is a good decade away from fruition, but the shift in global economic power is moving fast – for football and sports in general. Australia will exponentially grow their audience as more jobs are created, greater investment in infrastructure is finalised and economic powerhouses such as Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai continue to cement their status as apex workforces for the global expat.
The Australia-Japan rivalry will benefit from the shift, as will other sporting codes in which there is a global presence. Perhaps the AFL could even have a shot of expanding on its homogenous market, while cricket will naturally excel given its status in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Every great rivalry has a beginning, and Australia and Japan should be thanked for providing matches of a high intensity, large anticipation and enviable excitement as Asia looks towards its glamorous future. In due time, it would only seem natural that the biggest consumer of world football also becomes one of its biggest assets on the pitch: times are changing for Asia, and things can only get better from here.