Australia expects: Tim Cahill to take centre stage in Asian Cup
As the countdown to Asian football’s premier international competition begins, Coral writers start our own warm-up to the Asian Cup 2015 with a peak at each team’s strengths, weaknesses and ones to watch.
First up, we run the rule over expectant hosts Australia, who face a potentially tricky test in Group A, containing South Korea, Kuwait and Oman.
The Socceroos were runners-up in the last edition of this pan-Asian tournament back in 2011, and will be feeling bullish about their chances on home soil.
Australia only joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2007 but, with a mixture of experienced top-flight stars and a new wave of promising youngsters at their disposal, will be amongst the favourites.
Despite crashing out of the World Cup during the group stages yet again, the Socceroos did themselves proud, and won legions of new fans by illustrating they can go toe-to-toe with the likes of Chile and the Netherlands.
Ultimately, the aforementioned sides’ quality won out, but the Oceania-based side provided highlight-reel moments of their own. Notably, veteran Tim Cahill’s sensational volley against the Dutch, which has been nominated for the 2014 Puskas Award (which he is an 8/1 third-equal favourite with Coral to win).
The corner flag-punching ex-Everton attacker was on hand to grab a consolation goal again in Australia’s 2-1 defeat to Japan last time out, to prove he is still his nation’s most potent weapon.
Coach Ange Postecoglou has been busy blooding youngsters since Brazil, in preparation for the Asian Cup, but, once the opening game rolls round, Cahill is expected to be the main man again.
In his own words, Postecoglou stated after the Japan loss: “We had a plan post World Cup to try and expose some of our less experienced players to a good level of football. We have done that.”
Cahill was limited to a substitute appearance but, as a youthful Australia slumped to their third loss in their last five outings, his experience, alongside Socceroos stalwarts Mark Breciano and skipper Mile Jedinak, will undoubtedly prove vital.
Starlet Mathew Leckie is already impressing, with Tommy Oar also due to return after injury, but, when it comes to the present, there are none more reliable for the Socceroos than record scorer Cahill.
Whilst the hosts boast plenty of attacking potential, their wobbly defence could be an Achilles heel. After conceding 16 in their last eight, Posteglou has highlighted set pieces as something to practice.
Australia have little time left before January to tweak their rearguard frailties, which is where highly-rated stopper Mat Ryan comes in.
The Belgium-based Club Brugge custodian prevented the Blue Samurai from extending their lead any further last time out and, alongside the likes of Leckie, Oar and Swindon Town’s Massimo Luongo, has been tipped to be a leading light for his nation.
There are bound to be teething problems as the old generation gives way but, with Cahill and co perhaps making their big tournament swansongs, Australia will be hoping to herald a new era, and close an old one, with a triumph on home turf.