Asian Cup 2019

Speed is key for Socceroos

Australia's Tom Rogic has been tipped by national coach Graham Arnold to be one of the stars of the Asian Cup for the defending champions.
Australia's Tom Rogic has been tipped by national coach Graham Arnold to be one of the stars of the Asian Cup for the defending champions.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New-look Australia count on pacey front line to bang in the goals for continental title defence

SYDNEY • Australia are banking on pace and versatility up front to win back-to-back Asian Cups as they embark on a new era without stalwarts Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak.

The Socceroos are a different beast to Ange Postecoglou's team that beat South Korea in extra time to lift the trophy at home in 2015.

They have a new coach in Graham Arnold and an inexperienced squad, with the majority of the 23 men in the United Arab Emirates never having experienced the cut and thrust of Asian Cup football.

Since taking the reins after a poor showing at their fourth consecutive World Cup in Russia under Bert van Marwijk, Arnold has asserted his authority with the team unbeaten in his first four games.

The 55-year-old has jettisoned several players and changed the style of play. For years, Australia used to have one target man up front, usually Cahill, but the traditional centre forward role has been replaced with an attacking trio.

"The need for speed is up front," Arnold declared, naming a host of players who can "make a difference" in such a role - Matt Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout, Chris Ikonomidis, Awer Mabil, Robbie Kruse and Tom Rogic.

"They're technically very good but quick. People talk about the goalscoring side of it. We've got goalscorers everywhere."

Arnold is keeping Jordan, their first opponents in Group B tomorrow, guessing who will lead the line.

MacLaren and Leckie would seem to be the front runners. He was also banking on Martin Boyle, but the Hibernian winger was ruled out of the tournament after picking up a knee injury in their 5-0 rout of Oman in a warm-up game on Sunday.

It is a blow for Australia with Boyle having already scored two goals in three appearances for a country he had never even visited until Arnold travelled to Edinburgh to convince him to switch allegiances in recent months. He will be replaced by the Cyprus-based striker Apostolos Giannou, 28.

Australia are already without midfielders Daniel Arzani and Aaron Mooy owing to knee injuries, but Arnold can still count on a mix of old and new.



    BEST PERFORMANCE: Champions (2015)

    COACH: Graham Arnold KEY PLAYER: Tom Rogic (midfielder)

Mark Milligan, Kruse and Leckie have plenty of experience, while there are youthful additions such as Ikonomidis and Mabil, a refugee who came from Sudan in 2006 and made his debut in October.

Arnold also expects Rogic to be among the best players at the Cup as the attacking midfielder continues to recover from a knee injury.

"I expect him to be nearly player of the series," said Arnold. "There's not many talents that have come through Australia with that type of technique and skill as Tommy.

"When you give him freedom and confidence and belief, get him smiling and make him happy, he's going to be great."

Only South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia have managed back-to-back triumphs. Australia first need to get through a group that also includes Syria and Palestine.

Former goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer identified South Korea and Japan as the Socceroos' biggest title threats, and said anything less than making the semi-finals would be a failure.

"We've qualified for four consecutive World Cups, and are Asian Cup champions so there's a very high bar in the national team," he said.

"It's about attitude and character and we go into this tournament with that intact.

"We have seven games and I expect (them) to win every game."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2019, with the headline 'Speed is key for Socceroos'. Print Edition | Subscribe