Opinion

Old Firm or Asian Cup? Sorry Chris, but there's no contest

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In slighting Australia, Jordan and the entire Asian football community, Chris Sutton demonstrated a depth of thought on par with his infamously bad stint at Chelsea.

In the race to fight back against Sutton’s remarks – which compared the value of an Old Firm derby to Australia’s opening Asian Cup game against Jordan – the subsequent insults cut even deeper.

As Australian fans bit back, Sutton was defended by many, who continued to bait Australia about the “Mickey Mouse” tournament taking place next month. It was patently obvious that a nerve had been struck.

Of course, the pathetic, blokey punditry that pervades much of tabloid TV in the United Kingdom seldom delivers much better analysis than this. And when it does – Gary Neville and Thierry Henry, for example – you nearly fall off your chair.

To many, that is all the comment was and should be – a throwaway line of banter, delivered with some hopeless wisecrack about XXXX. It’s still 1987, isn’t it?

But the standard you walk past is the standard you accept. And if Sutton’s remarks go unchallenged, it becomes perfectly acceptable for the next idiot to say the same.

The Old Firm is a magnificent sporting fixture by any measure, but to be champions of the world’s most populous continent is a title that ranks among this nation’s greatest sporting achievements.

We are up against half the world, in effect, every time we venture into the Asian Cup – a tournament that has delivered us immeasurable embarrassment, stunning heartache and extraordinary ecstasy. And that's just in our first three attempts.

Sutton’s comments that Australia should obliterate Jordan with or without Tom Rogic offer a withering insight into how the rest of the world views Asian football: some sort of cheap joke.

I trust that somebody has pointed out to Sutton that Jordan blew Australia apart 2-0 in 2015 – doubling down on the 2-1 win in 2012.

I’m sure he will construe that into a broader weakness of Australia’s national team, but I remember both games and was mesmerised by the Jordanians’ pace and movement. I dare say, had Sutton seen the games, he would be too.

They are our biggest threat in the group stage of this Asian Cup. We are hardly assured of a win and no certainty of a draw.

Over-confidence was the reason we fell apart in the 2007 Asian Cup, drawing with Oman and losing to Iraq in the first two matches. It will be our downfall again if we carry any traces of the same attitude.

It’s not for Sutton to care how Australia performs in the coming weeks, but it is for us to care. And care we do.

The Socceroos are not only Australia’s most followed sporting team but also the most important.

Victory over India in the cricket would be great, but the nation is - if we're being honest - more interested in the behaviour of the team than the outcome.

And just getting through the group stage will require all hands on deck. Ideally, that means having our best team to choose from, which would include both Rogic and Aaron Mooy.

If we lose one, or both, so be it. Those are the breaks. But the Australian national team owe those clubs nothing. Zero. Zilch. Heaven knows we’ve been bent over backwards by them for decades now.

The fact is the Asian Cup is a seriously big tournament, bringing with it an international prestige that our sport desperately needs.

Although we lifted the trophy in 2015, winning it away from home is a fulsome test of our footballing nation. It’s where we get to measure ourselves against the best of our region and find out where we truly rank.

And we’ll be damned if anybody gets in the way of that, least of all somebody who probably doesn’t even know where our continent starts and ends.