Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak believes winning the Asian Cup will wake up a “sleeping giant” in Australia as football fights for popularity in the country.
More than 76,000 fans packed Stadium Australia to watch the hosts beat South Korea 2-1 in extra time to provide a massive shot in the arm for the sport’s growth Down Under.
Despite large attendances, football fever was not always obvious during the Asian Cup but Jedinak said the game could now reach a new level in Australia.
“I think it’s going to make it go to that next level, the one it’s been crying out for such a long time,” Jedinak said. “You’ve seen how many people got out to not only this game, but every other game and even when there wasn’t Australia playing they got out and supported.
“If something like this doesn’t make people realise what a sleeping giant this game is in this country then I don’t know what will.”
The rugby codes, cricket and Australian rules traditionally dominate Australia’s sporting landscape and football has had to scrap for recognition.
Once derided as “wogball” — after the derogatory term “wogs” which was used for European immigrants — football has made great strides, aided by the success of the domestic A-League.
But victory in the Asian Cup, at the third attempt since Australia joined the Asian confederation in 2006, represents a huge leap forward.
Nearly 650,000 fans attended games in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Newcastle, vastly outstripping the crowd numbers at the 2011 edition in Qatar.
“It’s a massive moment for Australian football. All I can recall is all those people who didn’t believe in us,” said striker Tim Cahill after lifting the trophy.
He added: “This is one of the biggest moments in sport for Australia because this is an Asian tournament that’s so difficult to win.”
Coach Ange Postecoglou, architect of the victory after remoulding Australia’s squad over the past year, cut a reflective figure as he soaked in the celebrations.
He said his greatest satisfaction was in igniting football interest in Australia, adding that his team should now lift their sights towards challenging at world level.
“That’s the biggest thing for me — just to look around this stadium, and the whole country will be off their couches and won’t be able to sleep tonight,” Postecoglou said.
“It’s a great game, I’m biased but I think it’s the greatest game in the world. Hopefully from now on us Aussies can take on the world with it because I have a real belief in these guys.”