Aussie fans unite in Socceroos' shock Asian Cup defeat
Boxer and model with split loyalties take in their nation's opening game
With its strapline of ‘Bringing Asia Together’ the Asian Cup is set to attract tens of thousands of supporters from around the world.
And on Sunday, two fans with split team loyalties perfectly echoed that sentiment as they headed to Australia’s opening clash with Jordan.
Lucinda Nicholas, an Australian model and Bollywood actress with a Lebanese family, watched the game alongside her fellow Socceroo devotee John-Wayne Parr, a world champion martial artist with strong ties to Thailand.
With Australia, India, Thailand and Lebanon all due to take to the field across the UAE in the next four weeks, neither was prepared to pick a winner just yet.
“I have family from Lebanon and I have spent several years working in India, but I’m fully behind the Aussies,” said Ms Nicholas, a former Miss World contestant and reality TV star.
“It’s a long way for Australians to come to watch football, but I’m sure it will be worth the effort.”
With its sweeping roof and futuristic design, the Hazza bin Zayed stadium in Al Ain proved an appropriate backdrop to show off the finest footballing talent from Asia.
But it is still early days and the competition has yet to reach full fervour, with numerous tickets remaining unsold for the Al Ain clash.
Few Australian supporters appeared to be in town for the match and the Jordanians were the noisier of the two teams in a stadium only a third full.
The match proved a triumph of power over panache, as the unfancied red shirted Jordanians muscled their way past the technically adept Aussies in a surprising 1-0 win.
In his 31-year career, John-Wayne Parr has won 10 world titles in Muay Thai boxing, a brutal form of hand to hand combat where elbows and knees are used to smash and splinter bones.
Mr Parr, 42, was leading a coaching session in Abu Dhabi when he was invited as special guest to the UAE’s opening match with Bahrain.
“I’ve competed in Bangkok in front of a hundred thousand people, so the atmosphere was never going to be as intimidating as that,” he said.
“But there were a lot of excited people in Abu Dhabi for the opening game.”
The Aussie fighter planned to watch two games in just a few hours - the first being his nation’s clash with Jordan and the second being Thailand taking on India.
“Thai people are very tough so India will be in for a fight,” he said. “They are certainly the best fighters I’ve faced.
“They show no pain so I’m sure their soccer team will be just the same. They’re playing the UAE in a week or so too, so it will be a tough game for them.
"The Emiratis should be prepared for a battle.”
Updated: January 6, 2019 06:53 PM