ON-FIELD GLORY, OFF-FIELD BARNEYS: 2015 IN AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALL
By Ben McKay
ASIA COMES DOWN UNDER: AND AUSTRALIA BEATS THEM ALL
The Socceroos began their Asian Cup on home soil in the worst possible fashion, finding themselves behind to minnows Kuwait after 10 minutes. Three weeks later, they won the tournament in resounding style; at a packed Olympic Stadium in extra time over South Korea. Massimo Luongo opened the scoring, Son Heung-min forced extra-time for the Koreans before James Troisi found the winner.
Australia had seen football celebrations like this before, chiefly when securing their passage to a World Cup. But this was different. This was Australia announcing itself as a football power; kings of FIFA's biggest confederation. Ange Postecoglou was lauded as the best coach of his generation. Luongo was the break-out star of the team, winning player of the tournament. Kudos too went to the hosting team, with bigger than expected crowds and a viewing audience over 2 billion.
ROOS TIE UP THE WORLD CHAMPS
The newly-crowned Asian champions nearly went one better in March when the Socceroos drew 2-2 with world champions Germany. Mile Jedinak's free kick had Australia ahead for half an hour before the Germans found a late equaliser. Postecoglou said the performance made him proud.
"Being champions of your region is one thing but we wanted to gain respect beyond that. It wasn't that we got a draw, it was the manner that we got it. We played the world champions on their home soil and took the game to them. We scored two goals, could have had a couple more and didn't take a backwards step."
In 10 A-League seasons, Melbourne Victory established themselves as Australia's biggest club but hadn't produced domination on the pitch to match for several years. In May, that changed as Kevin Muscat's men claimed the premiership-championship double. After winning a derby semi-final 3-0, Victory beat Sydney FC by the same scoreline in the decider. Never before had a side triumphed through the finals so emphatically. Goals to Besart Berisha, Kosta Barbarouses and Leigh Broxham won Victory the toilet seat trophy, with captain Mark Milligan claiming the Joe Marston medal for best afield in his last game for the club. Victory completed the triple crown in November by beating Perth Glory 2-0 in the FFA Cup final.
PERTH'S PAY PAIN
Victory leapfrogged pacesetters Perth Glory after Kenny Lowe's side were dumped from the finals for cheating the salary cap. The rort centred around payments to Irish striker Andy Keogh's wife and an undeclared sponsorship with a business chaired by Keogh's uncle. The scandal also cost chief executive Jason Brewer his job and the club $269,000.
MATILDAS' WORLD CUP WALTZ
In Canada, the trail-blazing Matildas became the first Australian side to win a knock-out match at a World Cup. Emerging from a group of death including Sweden, Nigeria and eventual winners USA, Kyah Simon's winning goal against giants Brazil put the Matildas into the last eight.
The Matildas' success was a rare win for women's sport in Australia, with their run capturing the attention of the nation. Arch-rivals Japan proved too tough a task in the quarter-finals, where Australia lost 1-0 to a late goal. Captain Lisa de Vanna and midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight featured in the All-Star Team for their efforts.
The Matildas returned to centre-stage with an unprecedented player strike over pay negotiations. Turning down the chance to play world champions USA as they fought to be paid the minimum wage, the Matildas won their pay rise after tense negotiations with FFA. The stand-off between Professional Footballers Australia and FFA also drew in the Socceroos and threatened the start of the A-League before a resolution was found.
Venturing back to the site of their last World Cup qualifying loss, the Socceroos were beaten again in Jordan. The 2-0 loss is the only blemish of their effort to reach the 2018 tournament so far; having disposed of minnows Tajikistan, Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan. The Socceroos should secure passage to the next phase of qualifying with home games in March.
LOWY OUT, LOWY IN
After 11 years as FFA chairman and a lifetime of service to Australian football, Frank Lowy stood down from the job in November. Fittingly, the occasion coincided with anniversaries of the highs and lows of his time in charge - a decade after reaching the 2006 World Cup and five years since losing the race to host the 2022 tournament. FFA's state federations voted in his son Steven in a `transparent' process, with Frank saying `he is the best person in Australia' for the job.
TOP OF THE CITY
Bankrolled by their Abu Dhabi riches, the W-League's newest club Melbourne City made an instant impact, belting Sydney FC 6-0 in their first ever match. A run of consecutive wins followed, with Matildas midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight calling them the best outfit the W-League has ever seen. With four Matildas in the line-up and a string of other internationals, the title beckons for City.
WALKOUTS AND WORRIES
The A-League's most passionate fans had the last say on a banner year in Australian football, with protests spanning the country over A-League supporter bans. The publication of 198 banned fans in the Sunday Telegraph was the match that lit a wildfire. Chaiman Steven Lowy has promised to review the policy and re-engage with fans.