The Asian Cup, Asia’s premier continental competition, broke new ground in 2007. In previous years, the Asian Cup was held in the same year that both the European Championships and the Summer Olympics are contested. So the competition commenced year earlier, and will stay that way. Four nations co-hosted this tournament, a move that proved daring but lacking logistics. Three of the eight stadia hosted only one game, including Bangkok’s Supachalasai Stadium (which previous hosted all matches from the 1972 Asian Cup).
Australia participated for the first time since moving from Oceania and became the first nation to qualify for the tournament outside of the hosts. Japan was the first defending champion that had to play qualifiers to reach the tournament; prior to Japan winning the 2004 Asian Cup, the Asian Football Conference awarded four nations to co-host the 2007 Asian Cup on that same day: Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.
A tournament laden with upsets and close calls will be remembered as one that Iraq defied the odds and even overcome tragedies to win the tournament; they success dated back three years earlier at the 2004 Summer Olympics. Besides Iraq’s success, eight nations suffered elimination in the group stage: two major casualties reached the semi-finals in the 2004 Asian Cup, while another two were eliminated after only two games.
Runners-up on home soil in 2004, China looked to return to the knockout stage following an 5-1 victory over Malaysia. Sadly, China began to lose momentum in their second match; leading Iran 2-0, China allowed a goal before halftime, as Ferydoon Zandi converted on a free kick. China ended up tying Iran 2-2, but collapsed three days later against Uzbekistan. China allowed three goals in the final 25 minutes to exit the group stage. For China, its three games it played was the nation’s fewest at an Asian Cup, matched four years later in Qatar.
Bahrain endured an even more painful exit, especially for a nation that nearly upset Japan to reach the final and settled for fourth place. Bahrain had a case of déjà vu when it faced South Korea in the group stage; prior to 2007, the first and only time Bahrain defeated South Korea came in qualifying for the 1988 Asian Cup: a 2-0 victory for Bahrain came in Jakarta, Indonesia. Nineteen years later, the teams met again in Jakarta, but South Korea scored in the fourth minute. Bahrain recovered to tie the match before upsetting South Korea: the winning goal came in the 85th minute, where Ismael Abdul-Latif scored his first ever goal for Bahrain. But Bahrain lost momentum and crashed out with a 4-0 loss to 4-0 to Saudi Arabia.
Three co-hosts exited at the group stage. They hosted the tournament’s opening match on July 7, but Thailand almost lost its hosting duties. But Thailand opened with a 1-1 draw against Iraq; Sumee Suksomkit scored the tournament’s first goal. Six days later, Thailand defeated Oman 2-0, as Pipat Thonkaya scored both goals to give Thailand its first ever Asian Cup victory match. Thailand’s campaign ended just like Bahrain’s campaign, as a late surge by its opponents saw Thailand eliminated with a 4-0 loss against Australia.
Indonesia opened its campaign against Bahrain, the same nation that had eliminated them three years earlier in the Asian Cup. Indonesia exacted revenge by winning 2-1, and their chances to reach the quarter-finals looked possible; that was until a late goal by Saudi Arabia saw Indonesia lose 2-1. Indonesia was playing in its fourth straight Asian Cup, and would be eliminated for the fourth straight time after a 1-0 loss to South Korea.
Another co-host played in just its third ever Asian Cup, but Malaysia had not won an Asian Cup match since Sept. 20, 1980. Sadly, Malaysia had only bright spot during the tournament, and that came from Indra Putra Mahayuddin. He scored the only goal for Malaysia (against China while losing 4-0), as Malaysia finished the tournament allowing 12 goals and without a single point.
Finally, three west Asian nations exited along with Bahrain: none were as painful as that of Oman. Less than six months earlier, Badar Al-Maimani sent Oman to the 2007 Gulf Cup final with his goal the only one of the match against Bahrain. In the first game, Al-Maimani scored in the 32nd minute to give Oman a 1-0 lead against Australia; Oman was on course for a major upset, only for Australia to score in stoppage time. Oman never recovered; as with Malaysia, Oman scored just one goal in the tournament and finished with only two draws.
Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were both eliminated in the same group. Qatar’s main player during the tournament was a naturalized citizen from Uruguay; the 2007 Asian Cup saw Sebastian Soria scored his first ever goal for Qatar, against Japan in the 88th minute. Soria scored all three of Qatar’s goals, including the tying goal against Vietnam and the opening goal against the United Arab Emirates, as Qatar searched for its first Asian Cup win outside home soil since Dec. 10, 1984.
The United Arab Emirates disappointed in this tournament. Ahead of the tournament, the United Arab Emirates won the Gulf Cup of Nations in January under Bruno Metsu, the manager who guided Senegal to the quarter-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. But the United Arab Emirates began with a shocking 2-0 loss to Vietnam; then, a 3-1 loss to Japan saw the United Arab Emirates eliminated from the tournament. But, the United Arab Emirates fought hard, and their reward came in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Faisal Khalil broke a 1-1 draw to give the United Arab Emirates its first Asian Cup victory outside home soil since Nov. 3, 1992.
Both debuting nations advanced to the quarter-finals at the first attempt: none of the eight quarter-finalists surprise people more than the only co-host to advance to this stage. Vietnam benefited from playing at Hanoi’s My Dinh National Stadium by scoring the first goal in all three games. Vietnam played in an Asian Cup for the first time as a reunified nations, and the nation’s first goal in the tournament was also the first ever goal for his country by Huynh Quang Thanh. Vietnam only managed four points from three games; thanks to Qatar’s loss in the group stage finale, Vietnam advanced to the quarter-finals, where it hung in with Iraq before losing 2-0.
For a team many expected to win the competition, Australia disappointed. Tim Cahill will always be remembered for scoring Australia’s first goal at a World Cup; he also scored Australia’s first ever goal in an Asian Cup, but that avoided an embarrassing loss to Oman. Australia was in danger of being eliminated after a 3-1 loss to Iraq. Even against Thailand, Australia only led 1-0, until Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell combined to score three goals in 10 minutes to help Australia win 4-0 and leapfrog their opponents to reach the quarter-finals. Australia failed to repeats another scalp against Japan, as Australia lost in a penalty shootout. That loss was also the first time Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer lost in a penalty shootout.
The other nation to lose by a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals was Iran. They topped their group ahead of Uzbekistan, China and Malaysia, but Iran saw déjà vu in the quarterfinals: that was because Iran faced South Korea in the quarter-finals for the fourth straight Asian Cup. Unlike the previous three meetings, this meeting saw neither team score during the 120 minutes. In the penalty shootout, Iran missed two crucial penalty kicks: the first was by Mehdi Mahdavikia, renowned for being the second goalscorer against the United States in the 1998 World Cup. With his nation trailing 3-2, Rasoul Khatibi missed his attempt; Iran lost 4-2 in the penalty shootout.
The only group without a semi-finalist in 2007 was Group C, as Uzbekistan lost 2-1 to Saudi Arabia. Uzbekistan recovered from their opening game loss to Iran by taking care of business in their other two matches against Malaysia and China; Uzbekistan finished with nine goals in the group stage, and Maksim Shatskikh scored three goals, including two in a 5-0 victory over Malaysia, the tournament’s largest margin of victory.
Defending champions Japan opened the tournament with a lackluster draw against Qatar, but Naohiro Takahara became Japan’s best player, as he scored four goals in the tournament. Unfortunately, despite recent successes in the tournament against Saudi Arabia, Japan suffered a shocking loss to Saudi Arabia. Even with a chance to finish third, Japan needed a penalty shootout. While Yuji Nakazawa was Japan’s hero against Australia in the quarter-finals, Naotake Hanyu missed his attempt against South Korea, the only player to do so, as Japan lost to South Korea.
South Korea’s third place finish in 2007 came in spite of their offense. South Korea scored 25 goals in their previous three Asian Cup appearances. In the 2007 edition, South Korea scored only three goals, all coming in the group stage; the third goal was also the first ever goal for Kim Jung-Woo, as that goal helped South Korea advance to the quarter-finals. South Korea played over 360 minutes of regulation without scoring or allowing a goal. Hero against Indonesia, Jung-Woo scored the winning penalty kick against Iran; three days later, he missed the game-tying penalty against Iraq. But South Korea finished third, as they converted all six of their attempts to defeat Japan 6-5 in the penalty shootout.
Saudi Arabia headed into the 2007 Asian Cup seeking redemption; in the nation’s first five trips between 1984 and 2000, Saudi Arabia finished no worse than runner-up. But in 2004, Saudi Arabia only managed a draw against Turkmenistan and crashed out of the Asian Cup. Saudi Arabia rose back to prominence, thanks Yasser Al-Qahtani and his four goals during the tournament. Saudi Arabia reached the final thanks to two goals by Malek Mouath, to help Saudi Arabia defeat Japan 3-2.
Iraq was always searching its place in soccer; even after a semi-final upset over South Korea, many people celebrated, only for Iraq listened in horror to 50 people killed during celebrations. Interestingly, Iraq’s qualifying began with a shocking 2-0 upset at Singapore. But Iraq recovered to reach this tournament, as its squad featured players from the 2004 Olympic squad that finished fourth in Athens. Two of those players helped Iraq upset Australia 3-1 in the team’s second match: Nashat Akram and Hawar Mulla Mohammed scored in that match, while Karrar Jassim scored his first ever goal for Iraq. Noor Sabri helped keep opponents at bay, as Iraq allowed only two goals during the tournament and none in the knockout stages.
No player proved more valuable than Younis Mahmoud. He scored the tying goal against Thailand and followed it up by scoring both goals against Vietnam in the quarter-finals. Mahmoud scored the winning goal to eliminate Saudi Arabia from the Asian Cup in 2004; three years later, Mahmoud did it again, but this time to give Iraq its first Asian Cup, as he scored the only goal of the final.
The 2007 Asian Cup will be remembered by the notable firsts and new stars that emerged in a region looking to emerge in the football world. Iraq showed the resilient spirit of a nation amidst to win this tournament, while many other nations saw new star eventually emerge as new stars for their national teams.