The first full decade of Australia being part of the Asian Football Confederation has come to an end and The World Game picks out five highlights from the past 10 years.
Wanderers win AFC Champions League
This 2014 triumph remains one of the greatest and most unlikely achievements in the history of Asian club football.
For one, except for Adelaide United’s run to the final of the 2008 tournament, no team from down under had come close to challenging for the title. And two, the team had only started playing football in 2012.
Their group wasn’t the toughest, but in the knockout stage Tony Popovic's Wanderers accounted for Japanese champs Sanfrecce Hiroshima and then the two finalists from the previous year: Guangzhou Evergrande and FC Seoul.
The two-legged final win over Al Hilal may have been controversial, and somewhat fortunate, but it doesn’t change what was an amazing success.
The fact that no other A-League team has remotely threatened to lift the trophy since then makes 2014 even more special.
Sasa Ognenovski named Asian Player of the Year
Minutes after Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma won the 2010 AFC Champions League, Ognenovski was standing outside the dressing rooms in Tokyo and looking very happy. And well he might have done.
The big Aussie defender had just led the South Koreans to the biggest prize in Asian club football and everyone there knew that there was an individual award on its way. Within weeks, the AFC named Ognenovski as the Asian Player of the Year.
There had been some controversial picks in the years before but nobody complained about this one, and it was a sign that Australia was a fully established member of the Asian football family.
The centre-back had been imperious throughout Seongnam’s run to the final and such was his leadership that a whole host of Korean teams headed down under to try and find a ‘Sasa’ of their very own.
Ange Postecoglou leads Yokohama to a sensational J.League title
Perhaps the best was saved until the last weeks of the decade as the 2019 J.League title was delivered in a stunning fashion.
Postecoglou had some ups and downs in his first season in charge of Yokohama F. Marinos in 2018 but there were signs of his influence in the team’s expansive and fluid play.
In 2019, it all came together in spectacular fashion with the high-scoring Kanagawa club slowly reeling in FC Tokyo to defeat the Gasmen in an unforgettable final game in front of a record J.League crowd.
The celebrations for a first title win since 2004 were long and deserved. Rarely has a foreign coach come into an Asian league and had such an impact and such success.
The Matildas rule Asia
Australia quickly made an impact in Asian football by finishing second in the 2006 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, losing on penalties to China in Adelaide. That loss hurt but made going one better in Chengdu four years later feel all the sweeter.
The Matildas lost to China in the group stage but bounced back to defeat Japan (to be crowned world champions a year later) in the semi-final. That earned a showdown with North Korea with a 16-year old Sam Kerr putting Australia ahead with her first ever international goal.
That game also went to penalties but this time, the women from down under triumphed to give Australia a first senior Asian prize.
The Socceroos do the same
Ange Postecoglou deserves a second mention for leading Australia to the 2015 Asian Cup.
It does not match up to his J.League triumph in terms of difficulty but delivering a continental title is nothing to be sniffed at.
The 2015 competition was a big success at all levels with solid attendances, great games and memorable moments. Every tournament needs a good performance from the host and that was delivered.
If anything, it was a little too easy and lacking in drama as the Socceroos made their way to the final and a meeting with Korea Republic.
That game had plenty of excitement with Son Heung-min’s last-minute equaliser silencing almost 80,000 fans in Sydney before James Troisi struck in extra-time to make Australia champions of Asia.