Australia, SKorea under pressure to perform at Asian Cup
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ange Postecoglou’s Australia squad will carry a home-field advantage and plenty of pressure to perform when the Asian Cup kicks off on Friday.
Australia surprised football critics by closely challenging Chile and the Netherlands in the group stage at the World Cup in Brazil, with veteran Tim Cahill scoring one of the most acrobatic goals of the tournament before a youthful and untested team lost comprehensively to 2010 champion Spain.
Postecoglou said his team is aiming to build on the fluid formation it used at the World Cup, with attacking players moving into non-traditional positions at times to confuse opposing defenses.
“You can see it out on the pitch that we are still moving forward with the type of football we want to play,” he said. “We have tried to add more fluency into the front third and have been evolving since the World Cup.”
Australia lost the 2011 Asian Cup final to Japan and was among the four Asian teams that qualified for Brazil 2014, but the squad has slid down the world rankings recently, something Postecoglou wants to rectify with another strong run at the continental tournament.
Australia’s chief rival in Group A is South Korea, which has been working to rebuild its team and confidence following a disappointing World Cup, where it finished last in its group and prompted coach Hong Myung-bo to resign.
Now under the stewardship of former West Germany and Real Madrid midfielder Uli Stielike, South Korea — with the likes of Swansea City’s Ki Sung-yueng, Bayer Leverkusen winger Son Heung-min and TSG Hoffenheim defender Kim Jin-su — will be aiming to regain the form that saw it reach the 2002 World Cup semifinals.
Kim, who is yet to play under Stielike, said he’s still learning his new coach’s style of play.
“I am trying to figure out his strategic styles,” Kim said. “I am trying to make quick adjustments to his system.”
Kuwait and Oman are also in the group, determined to push West Asia’s interests into the knock-out rounds.
At the recent Gulf Cup, Oman reached the semifinals and Kuwait had a surprising win over Iraq and drew with the United Arab Emirates in the group stage.
Australia, which features World Cup veterans Tim Cahill and captain Mile Jedinak, and Bayer Leverkusen forward Robbie Kruse, plays Kuwait on Friday in a litmus test for both team’s prospects in the group. Assuming Australia lives up to expectations, the highlight of Group A will be its last preliminary round match on Jan. 17 against the South Koreans in Brisbane.
“We have to be ruthless. I don’t care how we win, as long as we win,” Cahill told the domestic media.
South Korea last won the tournament in 1960, and Stielike seems to have modest expectations in Australia after recently being quoted as saying third place would be a good showing.
An increasingly impatient South Korean public may disagree.