A tournament too far?
Defending the 2015 championship will be a tough ask for the Socceroos06 January 2019 | Pablo Bateson
When the Socceroos won the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil, it was the most enjoyable major tournament experience of my life, surpassing even World Cup finals.
It was a privilege to complement my commitment as a life-long supporter of the Socceroos with being able to cover the three weeks via full media accreditation with Football Qatar via daily reports with photos.
My Football Today colleagues have already produced some fine analyses and previews for the tournament running over almost four weeks.
On Sunday evening our title defence begins with tricky opening group game against Jordan. Then follow Palestine and Syria, with the latter having pushed us right to wire in an epic play-off over two legs in October 2017 to enable progression towards eventual qualification for Russia 2018.
Although it will be a one step at a time approach under the direction of coach Graham Arnold, if we top the group there is every reason to believe we'll go on to meet our greatest rivals Japan at the quarter final stage.
Unfortunately, I won't be on the terraces in the UAE, after only recently commencing new full-time employment in Sydney.
However, if by some good fortune and consistent performance the Socceroos were to sneak into the final at Zayed Sports City on 1 February, then I would be very tempted to grab a flight at short notice for a 'long weekend' in Abu Dhabi.
Australia has to contend with a series of injuries and squad withdrawals for critical attacking players along with the recent retirement of Australia's top two goal scorers over the past four years, Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak.
Although the defensive ranks look strong and we have arguably the best goalkeeper across the 24 competing nations, one wonders where the goals are going to come from.
Clearly a huge opportunity presents for Massimo Luongo to step in and up for a midfield general role and influence. The diabolical coaching decision to not give him any game time during Australia's disappointing World Cup finals should be put right by Arnie.
Expectations are also high for Tom Rogic, now described by Arnie as the “Wizard of Oz”, in an attacking midfield position. A wild card recent addition to the squad, Awer Mabil of South Sudanese descent and born in Kenya, gives even more ‘x-factor’ options.
However, in a transition phase of squad regeneration whatever results are produced in the UAE will only serve to have the Socceroos even better prepared for an arduous qualification campaign over two years for Qatar 2022.
My overall tips for the tournament are:
- Winners: Iran
- Runners-up: Korea Republic
- Semi-finalists: Japan, UAE
- Player of the tournament: Sardar Azmoun (Iran)
My predictions are for Thailand and Vietnam to perform well, with at least one of them to make the quarter-finals.
Stars from these two sides include Chanathip Songkrasin, the Thai left sided attacking midfielder/winger who has had a stellar season with Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in the J1 League. Vietnam has Nguyễn Quang Hải a brilliant left sided attacking midfielder with V-League champions Hanoi FC.
Despite the above reality check to temper emotional buy-in, I hope to be proved wrong with Australia to win the title for a second time.
To all fans based in our multicultural nation, enjoy the live, non free-to-air coverage. If you are an expat or travelling supporter at our Socceroos games, sing your hearts out, add some colour and play your role as the 12th man with unconditional support.
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