While Brazil 2014 was hailed as one of the most exciting tournaments of recent years, providing us with late goals and remarkable upsets aplenty, this year’s AFC Nations Cup – better known as the Asia Cup – may have spoiled its claim to be the decade’s most entertaining tournament so far.
Australia 2015 matched the World Cup’s goals per game average – providing us with 2.6 goals per game – and also offered a glimpse of what’s to come from football’s fastest developing continent.
We have designed an interactive infographic below which highlights some of the tournament’s top line statistics, but first let’s talk about which countries caught the eye. While the sport-mad host nation came away with their first ever piece of major international silverware, there were also some standout performances from other countries on a march up the FIFA rankings.
The Socceroos blazed a trail in the tournament, notching 14 goals and conceding only 3 on the way to a 2-1 extra time win in the final vs South Korea, avenging their group defeat to the same team in the process.
Australia, led by the irrepressible veteran Tim Cahill, averaged 60% live ball possession through the tournament, and executed coach Ange Postecoglou’s passing gameplan to perfection, with 61.5 ‘passing style’ build up moves per game, compared to their opponents’ 33.2.
Crucially, the Australians converted their straightforward opportunities when they arose – 56.5% of their goals came from ‘high’ scoring chances.
China, a nation with perhaps the most potential in the region, may have come of age during the tournament, sweeping aside Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and North Korea to progress from Group B as winners.
The calming influence of French coach Alain Perrin was credited as being an influential factor in the success of the ‘Sleeping Dragon’. The team showed some exciting play in their four games, with players such as the talented winger Sun Ke coming to the fore. China averaged 13.5 ‘individual style’ build up moves per game, compared to the tournament average of 10.85.
South Korea, one of the pre-tournament favourites, fell just short in their quest to win the competition for the first time since 1960. A possible reason could have been their comparative sluggishness in front of goal, compared to the eventual winners Australia. They converted 12% of their shots into goals throughout the competition, compared to the efficient 21% recorded by the Socceroos.
Four-time winners Japan also fell short of their own high standards. After negotiating the group stage easily with three wins, they fell victim to the United Arab Emirates, featuring midfield sensation Omar Abdulrahman, via a quarter-final penalty shootout. Their 63% live ball possession in that game, and 15 shots to the UAE’s 2, demonstrates the failure to capitalise on their dominance.
The 2015 Asia Cup demonstrated that Europe and South America don’t have a duopoly on exciting, attacking football, and the game is better for it.