I had a feeling that the Asian Cup matches could take place before empty stadiums. Maybe it’s a tournament for those who appreciate football in its more terrestrial form, with low budgets, almost like an indie version or for fans with hipster tastes who snub the special effects of Madrid or Barcelona.
Iran and Bahrain opened their cup participation last Sunday at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on one of the most glorious afternoons of the austral summer. Tickets for some Asian Cup matches (when the Socceroos weren’t involved) were as cheap as five dollars or even given away for free. Despite being the world sporting capital, even in Melbourne it can be hard to estimate the appeal of football matches that seem irrelevant to the Australian sporting public.
Bahrain is unknown on the international scape while Iran has played some World Cups and has stood up to forces like Argentina, in the latest edition of the Cup, thanks in part to their goalkeeper with the black gloves. Iran’s coach, Carlos Queiroz, was Vicente del Bosque’s acclaimed successor at Real Madrid, with unremarkable results. Still, Iran was the clear favourite on the night.
The match has hard fought, honest, with the Iranians dominating and increasingly controlling the match as it approached the 90th minute. It can be hard to make a great show out of effort and dedication, both teams’ strongest virtues, but Iran gave us a lovely goal from outside the box and Bahrain attempted a bit of tiki-taka without the desired finale in the back of Iran’s net.
The biggest surprise was in the stands. There are enough Iranians in Australia to fill a stadium. Research tells us that some have arrived with the different waves of refugees and others have come as skilled migrants. The full stands, the drums, the horns, the chants, the flags… few teams are lucky enough to play home games on foreign or rival soil.