Australia coach Graham Arnold backed the new generation of Socceroos to impress at the 2019 Asian Cup despite the absence of greats Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak for the first time in a decade.
Former boss Ange Postecoglou had the country’s all-time highest-scoring player Cahill and midfield stalwart Jedinak in his ranks when he guided them to glory in 2015, and the pair helped Australia to runners-up medals in 2011.
But it will be a new-look side that takes on Jordan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.
This time the focus is on the likes of Urawa Red Diamonds midfielder Andrew Nabbout and Perth Glory playmaker Chris Ikonomidis as Australia aim to defend their title, and Arnold was in optimistic mood ahead of their opener.
“These boys are ready,” said Arnold. “I’m expecting a great performance and a great scoreline.
“I get goosebumps now thinking about it because it’s like we’ve got some great players.
“I do believe quite a number don’t realise how good this team is and how good this team will be.”
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Australia will also face Palestine and Syria in Group B and Arnold feels they have sufficient knowledge of their opponents’ strengths.
“We will nullify their strengths, we work on that the day before the game and expose their weaknesses,” said Arnold.
“The commitment to each other is there, no excuses, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Jordan coach Vital Borkelmans mentioned his experience of playing against Arnold when the pair plied their trade in Belgium as he looked forward to taking on the holders.
“I know a lot of players from Australia,” said Borkelmans. “I know the coach very well as well, I played against him in Belgium.
“This is a team has a lot of experience – the World Cup, two times in the Asian Cup.
“I know the mentality of Australians is very good. They are strong, they are physically good, mentally good and they believe in their country.
“I am a happy coach at the moment. Jordan have changed a lot and I hope we can make the game for Australia very difficult.
“Sometimes when you have a good team you can also lose.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Australia – Mat Ryan
Ryan’s presence at the Asian Cup has deprived Brighton and Hove Albion of one of their most important players as the club pushes for a place in the top half of the Premier League, and the dependable 26-year-old will be every bit as key to a Socceroos side that is prone to occasional lapses at the back.
Jordan – Musa Al Taamari
Pacey winger Al Taamari has scored seven goals in 11 league appearances for Cypriot league leaders APOEL this season and Borkelmans will be relying upon the 21-year-old for goals as well as creativity on the flanks.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– This will be the first encounter at the Asian Cup between Australia and Jordan. Their four previous meetings all took place in World Cup qualifiers, with the head-to-head record perfectly balanced at two wins each.
– Since joining the Asian Football Confederation, Australia have qualified for the Asian Cup at all four attempts. They have also always made it out of the group stage, reaching the final in each of the last two editions (losing finalists v Japan in 2011, winners v South Korea in 2015).
– Australia have conceded only six goals in their last 14 Asian Cup games, never letting in more than one goal in a game.
– This is Jordan’s fourth Asian Cup appearance. They reached the knockout stages in two of their previous three participations but have never progressed further than the quarter-finals.
– After keeping clean sheets in their first three Asian Cup games, Jordan have only kept one in their subsequent eight.
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