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Nov 28, 2013

2015 Asian Cup upcoming for Australia

It's little over a year away, but Australians still have no idea how big the Asian Cup will be.

The 16-team football tournament, hosted here in January 2015, will be our biggest sporting event since the Sydney Olympics, and chief executive Michael Brown is under no illusions of the challenging sell-job ahead.

"It's always been our biggest issue," he says.

"Getting people to understand how big the event is... it's way bigger than the Commonwealth Games.

One simple measure is the media interest from abroad.

"We're expecting 3,500 accredited media. Last check we had 40 registered football writers, well Japan's got three or four hundred," he said.

"You're talking a billion people watching every day, not just watching their own teams."

The passion is well known to Australia's football community, which the organising committee's latest weapon to grow awareness.

Leaders from Australia's huge and varied multicultural communities are enlisting in an ambassador scheme to promote the tournament from the grassroots.

More than 150 leaders from various fields are being engaged, including Joseph Youhana, a former Iraqi refugee and now refugee support worker, who is helping to run a local mock Asian Cup tournament in Melbourne.

Youhana recalls the euphoria that came with an Iraqi win at the 2007 Cup against Australia.

"I couldn't believe that at one in the morning the Hume Highway was full of cars, Iraq cars with flags, supported by police celebrating the win," he said.

It's an example of what Brown calls the "wonderful unification" process he hopes the tournament will bring.

The qualification matches, which have confirmed 12 countries so far, have been a stunning reminder of the sport's popularity in Asia, with tens of thousands attending matches across the continent.

However, one nightmare scenario still plays through Brown's mind - the possibility of superpower China missing out.

With 12 teams confirmed, China needs a point against Iraq to confirm their participation, and the enthusiasm and revenue from China's 1.3 billion-strong audience would be dearly valued by the organising committee.

"We'd love them to qualify. They're such a big part of our community so we're cheering them on," Brown said.

While matches are confined to major cities Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle and Adelaide, teams have been encouraged to choose regional bases for their preparation.

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