Revenge and an old adversary await Socceroos in tricky Asian Cup group

first_imgThe chopping of changing of coaches has led to a lack of identity. Ray Wilkins had little impact in charge at the 2015 Asian Cup, but there is a desire to change all that with new man, Vital Borkelmans.The Dutchman has not much head coach experience but spent 2012 to 2016 as assistant to Marc Wilmots as boss of Belgium.“The opening game can be cautious for all teams,” Borkelmans told The Guardian. “It will be very tight I think but there is no reason why we can’t defeat Australia.”Since taking the job in September, Borkelmans has tried to introduce more of a passing and possession game. A narrow defeat to Croatia in October suggested that the team, which has made the last eight in two of the last four editions, is moving in the right direction.Leaving out star attacker Hamza Al-Dardour, who scored four goals in 2015, is a big call but youngsters such as Baha Faisal have the talent to take their chances. Veteran goalkeeper Amer Shafi will also have to be at his best.And then there is Palestine. The team debuted in 2015, ending pointless with a goal difference of negative ten, but has progressed from being just happy to be at Asia’s biggest competition to having genuine ambitions of getting to the last 16.Qualification for 2019 saw Palestine competitive with Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates and then strolling through the final stage. Some coaching instability has not helped but the cosmopolitan side, with a football diaspora that extends to Europe and South America, likes to get on the front foot whenever possible. It remains to be seen if it will do so against the continental champions.Given the format of the tournament, it is almost inconceivable that Australia will be heading home at the end of the group stage. Securing top spot however is not a foregone conclusion but this time Graham Arnold will be well aware of that. Share via Email David Squires on … Chris Sutton’s guide to the 2019 Asian Cup Of the three Group B opponents lined up in the United Arab Emirates in January, only Palestine present something of a novelty to a nation now in its tweens as a member of the Asian football family.Jordan and Syria were met along the road to Russia 2018 with mixed results and it is the latter that presents the greatest threat to the Socceroos finishing top of the group.It is not just that Syria have a score to settle, though they do. The two teams played out an epic continental play-off for the 2018 World Cup that was settled by an extra-time goal in the second leg from a certain Tim Cahill.Not long before, Syria had hit the post and there was a feeling among the West Asian team that had the first leg took place in Damascus and not the neutral venue of Malaysia then it would have been Syria heading to Honduras for that final showdown.“Those were close games and the result could easily have been very different,” Syria coach Bernd Stange told The Guardian. “While revenge is not the most important thing at the Asian Cup, it is possible for us. We know that Australia will be tough to beat but we also know that we can win.”Stange spent 1998 to 2001 in charge of Perth Glory and the German knows Australian football and Arnold well. “He is a good friend and also a good coach. He deserves his chance and we will have to be at our best.”But it is not just about revenge. Syria are a decent team and have serious ambitions of their own which include getting out of the group stage for the first time in their history and then some. There is plenty of experience in the squad with two of the continent’s best forward players to give the Socceroo defence much to think about.Omar Khribin hit the post in that Sydney second leg and the 2017 Asian Player of the Year has recovered from injury issues to return to something close to his best. Omar Al Somah is another big name in attack. Arnold knows that these must be shackled, because if Syria get in front they can slow a game down with a brazenness that is almost admirable. Reuse this content Read more Share on Pinterest Facebook Pinterest Twitter When Graham Arnold took Australia to a first Asian Cup back in 2007 there was talk of winning the title without losing a game.More than a decade on, he is back as head coach but while there are fewer stars and less swagger in the Socceroos squad heading into the 2019 tournament there is a great deal more continental knowledge. Asian Cup 2019 Passion for football has always been big in Palestine, but the national team is beginning to improve impressively. Photograph: Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images Share on Messenger Share on LinkedIn If Syria are the main rivals for top spot then the Jordan opener will set the tone. The Socceroos have fallen foul of the team in the cauldron that is Amman but have found the same opposition much more accommodating in Australia as that 5-1 thrashing of the Harry Redknapp-led visitors during qualification for the 2018 World Cup demonstrated. 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