Qatar and Japan show why Copa America is perfect for Australia


When Australia were in Oceania, there were dreams of more competitive football. Next year should be something else.

If hindsight is always 20/20 then it is also clear that all Australian football fans should be looking forward to the Copa America next year.

There is nothing to dislike, with even the kick-off times better for viewers Down Under than many international tournaments.

After one game in the 2019 competition, Asian invitees Qatar and Japan have had mixed experiences. Qatar fought back against Paraguay to draw 2-2 and were left a little frustrated that a first ever competitive game outside Asia did not end with victory.

Perhaps it was not surprising then that Paraguay boss Eduardo Berizzo complained after the final whistle about the Asian teams.

"Don't take it wrong,” he said. “... Maybe it sounds a little acidic today, just after playing against [Qatar]. But I firmly believe the Copa America should be played by all the American teams in one tournament – CONCACAF and CONMEBOL together."

There is some debate as to whether Asian teams should be invited to participate in the Copa America but arguments against do not come from the world’s biggest continent. It is a great opportunity to get way outside comfort zones in terms of environment, atmosphere, culture and opposition.

Qatar are Asian champions and looking to test themselves in a tournament environment ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, to be played on home soil. When you have never appeared on the global stage, taking on the likes of Argentina and Colombia in South America is a learning experience that does not come around very often.

It may well be that the Maroons don’t make it out of the group stage but that is hardly the point and perhaps exactly what organisers desire as it wouldn’t do for an Asian team to go and win the whole thing.

Whatever happens, a young team will fly home all the better for their time in Brazil and a step closer to the holy grail; success in the 2022 World Cup. The one downside for Qatar is that their performances may reduce one of their greatest assets - that of being underestimated.

After good friendly results against South American and European opposition in 2018, the amazing Asian Cup triumph (19 goals scored and just one conceded), the team’s reputation is on the rise but holding their own in South America would be something differently entirely.

Japan’s 4-0 loss in the opening game to Chile does not look good and will add credence to Berizzo’s claim that teams from outside the Americas should not be allowed. But then the Samurai Blue are openly using South America’s biggest tournament to prepare for what is largely an under-23 tournament - the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

That can’t be disputed but it is a matter of opinion whether a young Japan team is good enough to compete in the Copa. A 4-0 loss suggests not but the Asian powerhouse were much better than the scoreline indicates and had plenty of chances against a much more experienced team.

It is not a surprise that such a young side would have problems converting good opportunities into goals - after all, the seniors have had similar struggles for years. The loss will be painful for Japan but the experience will stand these youngsters in great stead for the future starting next year and beyond.

The same will be true for Australia, whatever team goes to Argentina and/or Colombia next year.

“The benefits of participating in the tournament are wide ranging,” said David Gallop, chief executive of Football Federation Australia.

“Our team will benefit from the experience of testing themselves out against some of the best players in the world. On the commercial side, exposing our national team on a global stage has significant upside as well.”

Perhaps there is no need at this point to trumpet the commercial benefits but Gallop is right that this is something to be excited about in a football sense.

The only concern is the second round of qualification for the 2022 World Cup. Australia will be in action in the final games on June 4 and June 9. The latter game takes place three days before the Copa America kicks off.

If there is any sense when the draw is made then the Socceroos will be placed into the last group in the tournament and won’t be in action immediately. That would just give enough time to play in Asia and then travel to South America. If all goes well in qualification, then Australia will be through to the third round before the final game.

Such a competitive schedule would have been the stuff of dreams when Australia were stuck in Oceania. You don't need 20/20 hindsight to see that.