The eyes of the footballing world will turn to Australia in January of next year as the AFC Asian Cup arrives in the capitals of the country.
An estimated three thousand journalists are descending upon Hunter Stadium, the Newcastle base of operations that will host four of the games in the competition including world powerhouses Japan, as well as one of the semi-finals and the third place play-off.
The chance to see super-stars of the footballing world, including Tim Cahill, Shinji Kagawa, Kwak Tae-hwi, Son Heung-min and more beckons for the Australian community, as they become the first non-Asian country to host the Asian Cup since its founding in 1956.
As well as many of the media organizers and personnel being volunteers that are eager to assist in the historical event, one lucky woman has a chance to take the reins in the event as the AFC Asian Cup Project Officer.
Larissa Adamcyzk has always loved football, something she was quick to admit, but she never saw herself overseeing such a massive event in Newcastle, even after her experience with the Newcastle Jets Women in the W-League.
“I was seconded into working as the cup project officer to leverage Northern NSW Football’s support for the Asian Cup, and make sure that the success brought more popularity to football in Newcastle, especially opportunity with grassroots clubs and big promotion.”
“There’s always an influx of new players in grass root systems after World Cups and definitely this year after the Asian Cup too, so that’s always a boost for Australian football because it gives us more potential talent.”
“That talent can then be funnelled into making a second, third or even fourth added A-League team turn from a dream into a reality.”
“Of course, there are always the programs we run with Northern NSW Football as well, and it works really well in the schools. It’s hard working against the NRL and the AFL – they just have so much more funds and program systems then us – but the international events that we’re apart of mean we can challenge that and get more kids on board.
As well as the behind the scenes work for the Asian Cup, many fans cannot wait for the 9th January for the event to kick-off and Stuart Adams is one such fan.
Having followed football from a young age and purchased every FIFA video game since 2003, Adams agrees that he might be a bit of a ‘football hooligan’.
“I remember when the Brazil World Cup tickets went on sale, and I had three laptops going at once to make sure that I got all the seats and games that I wanted.”
“I think I realized I was pretty obsessed in that moment,” he admitted, laughing.
“When I heard that some of my favourite players including Shinji [Kagawa], who plays for my favourite team Dortmund, were coming to Newcastle I knew I had to get those tickets.”
“I’ve been counting down the days now and I can say for sure that I am going to be one of the first in line for those games – this is not something you want to miss.”
The Asian Cup comes right at the crux of a turning point for Australian football as well. The A-League is discussing expansion plans to bring new teams into the mix and expand their national reach and one of the recently added teams, the Western Sydney Wanderers, have made it to the Grand Final of the AFC Champions League, a club based knock-out competition for the best teams in Asia.
The locations of additional teams in the league would be Canberra, Wollongong and the Gold Coast, as well as the possibility of another Brisbane or Sydney team, and the Asian Cup could be the pushing point to give football that boost in popularity that gives the green light to the expansion.
“I think we are always going to need a few more teams,” Adams said on additional clubs.
“When you look at somewhere like England or Germany, they have eighteen or even twenty teams in their leagues. We have ten and that’s barely enough to cover half of Australia.”
“Canberra and the Gold Coast are both cities that are so keen for a team, it just seems like a stupid idea to not follow through with that.”
Adams also believes that the World Cup is the key to popularity for the A-League in the future.
“Look at the viewing numbers every four years – so many people tune in at early hours to see our boys play against the world greats. Every year it gets more and when the World Cup is done the A-League gets an influx of fans.”
“The Asian Cup is going to do the same thing, in my opinion.”
All that remains now for the sphere of Australian football is for the Asian Cup to kick off, and both Larissa Adamcyzk and Stuart Adams will be watching on with bated breath, one from the media box and one from a front row seat.
The first game of the Asian Cup sees Australia face off against Kuwait at the Melbourne Rectangle Stadium, where officials are anticipating a sell-out 30,000-person crowd.
Meanwhile, the first game to be played in Newcastle at the Hunter Stadium will be the 7th match of the competition, when Group D teams Japan play Palestine, and the second group stage game will be Oman v Kuwait from Group A.
“I’m so excited to see the Japanese side play,” Adamcyzk admitted, her eyes lighting up at the thought of some of the stars appearing in the Hunter Stadium.
“I’ve never really been one to support overseas teams but I appreciate every single star that graces our stadiums and I played for nine years, so I have a definite love of the game.”
“Japan are an impressive team and – apart from Australia – I’m so excited to see them in person.”
With $14 million in tickets to be sold across the five venues for the Asian Cup, the fans of the world will surely be packing into the stadiums to see Asian greats dominate on the Australian field, and all those that are joining or have been part of the footballing culture will revel in the fresh experience for the future of football.