Australia will launch their attempt to reach new heights in football by toppling champions Japan and winning their first AFC Asian Cup once they start the tournament on Friday.
A sell-out crowd is expected at the 30,000-capacity Melbourne Rectangular Stadium as Ange Postecoglou’s men assume Kuwait on the first day from the 16-nation extravaganza. An eventual victory for Australia would placed the country at the top at both club and international level after Western Sydney Wanderers won the AFC Champions League in November.
Also it provides an additional boost for football among the Australian public, which traditionally prefers the rugby codes, Australian Rules football and cricket.
Four-time winners Japan is one with their main rivals, despite a match-fixing case swirling around their coach, and Carlos Queiroz’s Iran also appear to be top contenders. Korea Republic want to end a 55-year title drought, nevertheless the draw continues to be unkind to 2011 semi-finalists Uzbekistan that are more likely to face the Koreans or Australia as long as they reach the quarter-finals.
One of the minnows, Palestine have overcome major hurdles to qualify for the first time, and Korea DPR are trying to escape the group stage with the first occasion since 1980.
Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006 but haven’t yet lift the region’s most coveted trophy, after being edged out by Japan inside a gripping final in 2011.
During Postecoglou’s rebuilding, the inside have slumped to 100 in the FIFA rankings, Asia’s 10th-ranked team, despite some eye-catching play on the World Cup this past year.
Though the coach said his players were itching to begin on what is seen as a defining campaign for football nationwide. “To tell the truth, the boys can’t lose time waiting for Friday night,” Postecoglou said.
“We have been on the road for twelve months and strike into a sell-out crowd on Friday night, it will eventually result in the boys feel a couple of feet taller. I can’t wait to obtain the match started.”
The Socceroos will probably be favoured to navigate Group A, regardless of the presence of Columbia, making it to the knock-out stages starting on 22 January. Form suggests the hosts plays Iran inside the semi-finals, while using the prize of your repeat with the 2011 final against Japan – along with a chance for sweet revenge.
But tournaments are hardly ever so predictable and Australia already are concerned that they will fight to play their preferred high-tempo, attacking game. “For the World Cup, obviously rrt had been flowing games and attacking games,” said veteran Mark Bresciano.
“This occassion we will be springing up against other countries that play in the different style and are also planning to try and stop us playing that attacking football ourselves.
“We can aim to have fun playing the better of our ability that will create as numerous opportunities once we can. But we realize what we’re going to be coming against. For individuals, they are going to be tougher opponents to experiment with against.”
Australia’s opener against 1980 winners Kuwait heralds the start of a 32-game fiesta which gets to full swing having a triple-header on Saturday: Uzbekistan v North Korea, South Korea v Oman, and Saudi Arabia v China.
Games are being took part in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Newcastle, with all the final at Sydney’s 83,500-capacity Stadium Australia on 31 January
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