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Australia keen to cap lessons with 1st Asian title

Doha: Australia believe they have the
form and confidence to capture their first major football
title and prevent Japan from winning a record fourth Asian Cup
in the final here on Saturday.

The Socceroos go into the final riding high after routing
Uzbekistan 6-0 in the semifinals on Tuesday. Australia have
won four and drawn one of their five games and scored 13 goals
while conceding only one.

"It`s great to win something and this is something that
realistically we can win," says defender Luke Wilkshire.

"We have made the final in only our second attempt so we
have come a long way. It`s a little bit different to the World
Cup but maybe it would be a bit bigger."

Wilkshire was in the team when the Socceroos made it into
the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup, which ranks as the team`s
top football achievement so far.

While the margin of victory against Uzbekistan has put
the limelight on Australia`s attack, it`s the team`s defense
-- the best in the tournament -- that`s also made a major
contribution.

"It`s because of our structure," Australia`s German coach
Holger Osieck says. "Our defense begins with our forwards, who
try to close the space and prevent the other team from
developing their attacks."

Unlike Australia`s smooth passage through the semifinals,
Japan had to endure a draining 120 minutes against archrival
South Korea, who scored a 2-2 equaliser in the final minute of
extra time. However, Japan won the penalty shootout 3-0, with
goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima stopping two attempts.

Australia captain Lucas Neill says the contrasting paths
into the final won`t be on his teammates` minds.

"We won`t get carried away, the scoreline is rrelevant,"
Neill says.

"The fact that we won is important, but the players are
going to have confidence now in front of goal and we know if
we can create one chance or a couple of chances then we`ve got
a great opportunity for somebody putting the ball in the back
of the net.”

"At the other end we`ve only let in one goal in five
games so we`re hard to break down too, so you can`t ask for
any more going into a final."

Another incentive for Australia is the chance to defend
the title on home soil -- it will host the 2015 Cup.

Japan won their first Asian Cup as a first-time host in
1992, and beat Saudi Arabia again in the 2000 final. Japan
defeated China in the 2004 final. The Japanese ended
Australia`s Asian Cup debut in the quarterfinals four years
ago, but ended fourth.

Japan have never lost in an Asian final, but it will be
without star midfielder Shinji Kagawa, who broke his right
foot against South Korea.

Alberto Zaccheroni, Japan`s Italian coach, could end up
with a title in his first tournament since taking over after
last year`s World Cup.

Bureau Report

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