Australia's Asian Cup Final Opponent - Japan

Australia's final opponents to stand in the way of Asian Cup glory is Japan

Japan is definitely a nation on the up as far as their football is going. In recent years, an improved domestic league coupled with a winning international team has made football a major sport in Japan at the moment.

In the early 1990-s their semi-professional football J-League was born and interest in the sport and the national team really started to grow from here. The nation-s first World Cup appearance was in 1998, where they lost all three matches but they had arrived on the world stage.

Four years later, Japan co-hosted the World Cup with South Korea and despite being held to a 2-2 draw in the opening match; they went on to defeat Russia and Tunisia to top the group and progress. They eventually went out to the third place finishers Turkey.

They-ve actually twice reached the latter stages of the FIFA World Cup and both very recently, showing the improvement in the sport in the country. The other time was last year in South Africa when they made the second round again and held Paraguay to a 0-0 draw. They narrowly lost out on penalties but again proved that Japanese football was going from strength to strength.

Japan is definitely one of, if not the most successful sides in Asia, being a three-time winner of the AFC Asian Cup in 1992, 2000 and 2004. They-ve also finished second at the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup and done well in other minor international football tournaments.

So far in this tournament they-ve been impressive too, having topped their group in qualifying for the second round of the competition. This included a 5-0 win over previous winners Saudi Arabia, which also made them the top scoring group side in this year-s tournament. They-re also the top scoring side in the tournament overall and unless Australia score a landslide victory, they should remain so.

As they progressed into the second round they beat the hosts Qatar in an exciting match, before they faced South Korea, who Australia failed to beat in the group stages. The Koreans were the third ranked side in the competition and Japan could only beat them on penalties to secure their place in the final.

The Koreans were a solid side though and Japan will be happy they qualified for the final after playing out a draw against them. Man for man, there are no real stand out stars that would grace a Manchester United or Real Madrid side but they are a hard-working disciplined unit who are very hard to break down.

Japan are the second ranked side in the AFC Asian Cup and will certainly provide Australia-s most stern test to date. They regularly have double figures in terms of top European based players in their international squad and they-re widely respected throughout the world of football.

Aside from the defensive facet of their game, they do know how to play on the break and score goals. Australia will have to be wary of this and be extremely disciplined throughout the game. The Australians will definitely look to play a more physical game and take it to the Japanese who may not be strong enough to hold off the flair players such as Cahill and Kewell.

All the signs point to an exciting finale to the competition and should Australia play to their potential as they did in the semis, the trophy should be winging its way back home sometime next week. Whatever the result, Australia has proven that it deserves its number one Asian status and the Asian tournament has benefited from Australia-s inclusion in the competition.