Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Learning from their mistakes Australia at Asian Cup

Australia at Asian Cup.
Australia's football hierarchy has reacted to its clubs flagging performances on Asian soil during the Champions League by scrapping plans for a Brisbane-based get-together before the Asian Cup finals in favour of an acclimatisation training camp in Singapore.

“The camp in Singapore will give us a good indication of what to expect at the Asian Cup,” declared Socceroos coach Graham Arnold last week. “Acclimatisation will be a key to success at the tournament so training and playing in Singapore will get us in good shape for the conditions that we will face for the tournament."

Welcome news indeed, and proof of the gravity with which Football Federation Australia is holding the Socceroos' maiden venture into Asian competition.

Over the past couple of months we've seen how the Australian clubs in the ACL have been caught with their trousers around their ankles by supposedly inferior opponents, particularly in tired-looking second-half displays by Adelaide in Vietnam and Sydney in Indonesia.

Sure, a lack of regular match action has some claims, but the A-League sides have comfortably proven that simply turning up a few days beforehand and expecting to roll over the opposition is a theory fast losing credibility down under.

As Arnold added in a far-ranging interview with the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend, "They're 50 per cent better at home, so when we go to these types of nations we have to make sure we have a minimum of a week to prepare properly, otherwise we'll get ourselves into trouble." A little tactless perhaps, but spot on.

Of course, the climatic conundrum is effectively multiplied for Arnold. Not only is Australia, geographically, not even in Asia, the basis of his Asian Cup squad will come from the English Premiership, a league played across the northern winter save for a few months of relative sunshine at its beginning and end. Derby days in Liverpool and London aren’t exactly the ideal preparation for an Asian Cup opener against Oman in Bangkok.

Then there's Australia's glaring lack of experience playing in the types of conditions you can expect in Thailand in July. The Socceroos have played just three matches on Asian soil since joining the AFC 16 months ago with only four players - Scott McDonald, Michael Beauchamp, Luke Wilkshire and Brett Holman, not exactly what you'd call the big guns - involved in all three of the away trips to Kuwait City, Manama and Guangzhou.

Worryingly for Arnold, the list of those who haven't been involved in any of the three trips, for a variety of reasons, includes World Cup stars Tim Cahill, Brett Emerton, Josh Kennedy, Harry Kewell and Craig Moore.

Cahill, Kennedy, Kewell and Moore are the quartet giving Arnold most headaches with just 10 weeks until Australia's cup opener. All four are rated by Arnold as a major concern with the coach now openly saying that if any of them make it, it will be a fantastic luxury for the side.

Arnold and team manager Gary Moretti jetted over to Europe a week ago to assess the players' progress and build some bridges with a handful of (particularly English) club managers. Once again the cause of the Australian national team doesn’t exactly seem in the best interests of the clubs with a healthy chunk of pre-season set to be missed if the Socceroos make it all the way to the final. Cahill, for instance, hasn't had a proper break for four years after playing in the 2004 Olympics, 2005 Confederations Cup and last year's World Cup.

Any absences from those four might open the door for one of Rob Baan's up-and-coming under-23s who have been pitting their wits against Asia's best sides leading into next year's Olympics in Beijing. "I'm definitely taking some young players to the Asian Cup - some will be train-on players and some will be in the actual squad," Arnold has said.

Baan's Olyroos captain is Mark Milligan, a player who was a surprising choice by Guus Hiddink 12 months ago for Germany and one who adds crucial versatility across the defence and midfield. Milligan has also been in action for Sydney FC in the ACL.

The other player making a dramatic statement of intent is Bruce Djite. The powerful US-born forward has been knocking down the door after becoming an ever-present for the under-23s under Baan and has also been elevated to the post of No.1 striker at Adelaide United after Shengqing Qu's release.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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