With a new coach at the helm, Australia have rung the changes for the upcoming Asian Cup. Neil Sherwin reports on a changing of the guard.
Holger Osiek’s Socceroos head for the AFC Asian Cup with a much-changed look about them following their last big hit out at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
Less than half of Pim Verbeek’s 23-man squad from that tournament will be going to Qatar with the likes of Josh Kennedy and Mark Bresciano omitted due to injury and lack of form respectively, while Scott Chipperfield has retired and others were simply not considered for selection.
Four players will represent the Hyundai A-League in the form of Jason Culina, Matt McKay, Jade North and Robbie Kruse. Melbourne Victory striker Kruse, who is one of only two uncapped players making the trip, has been rewarded for his excellent form so far this season having bagged 10 goals in 15 games.
"I wasn't really expecting to get in the squad especially with most of the overseas-based players getting chosen but it's a massive honour and privilege," said the 22 year old former Brisbane Roar player.
Besiktas defender Ersan Gulum was a notable omission from the final squad, however Osiek confirmed that the 23 year old has decided to declare for Turkey.
“Obviously now he wants to play for Turkey," said the coach.
"After seeing him play, I thought he’d be a good player down the road for Australia. He could play for another seven, eight years for Australia, so from that point of view, I feel really sorry it didn’t happen."
“I thought it was a done deal therefore I included him in the [preliminary] 50-man squad. Unfortunately things have turned around, in particular his father, who played a role. He said he should opt for Turkey.”
Exciting winger Tommy Oar, who famously wore the number 121 shirt on his debut against Indonesia in March 2010, has been drafted into the squad to replace the injured Richard Garcia of Hull City. Oar is seen by many as the natural replacement for Harry Kewell and is currently based in Holland with FC Utrecht.
The Asian Cup takes place every four years, with the winning nation automatically receiving a place at the same year’s Confederations Cup. Saudi Arabia, Japan and Iran have each won the Asian Cup three times, though Iran were victorious last time out in 2007.
In terms of qualification for the finals, the teams that finished first, second and third in the 2007 tournament, plus the host nation, received automatic places. The top two finishers in each of five qualifying groups, as well as the previous two winners of the AFC Challenge Cup (a competition for emerging nations), completes the participants.
In total, 16 teams will take part in Qatar and they have been divided into four groups with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals. The final will then be held in the 50,000 capacity Khalifa International Stadium on 29 January.
In terms of when the Asian Cup is played, the host nation are given the choice of January or July, and with the soaring temperatures in that part of the world during summer, the decision to make it a winter event was a no brainer. This is significant with Qatar of course having been chosen to host the 2022 World Cup and recent debate over whether the tournament should be moved to January for the same reasons that the Asian Cup has been.
The Australian squad have been involved in a Dubai training camp since 3 January before taking on the United Arab Emirates in an international friendly on 5 January. They will then fly to Doha a day later ahead of their opening Group C match against India on Monday, 10 January. The other two group games are against the Korea Republic (Friday, 14 January) and Bahrain (Tuesday, 18 January).
"I have the confidence that this team is pretty strong and they are ready to really produce something," said Osiek.
"Of course we are going there to have the best possible success."
This will be Australia’s second appearance at the Asian Cup having reached the quarter finals last time out. Both the squad and the nation expects better this time around.
Nathan Coe (Sønderjysk Elitesport, Denmark), Brad Jones (Liverpool, England), Mark Schwarzer (Fulham, England).
David Carney (Blackpool, England), Jon McKain (Al Nassr, Saudi Arabia), Lucas Neill (Galatasaray, Turkey), Jade North (Wellington Phoenix, New Zealand), Sasa Ognenovski (Seongnam Ilhwa, Korea), Matthew Spiranovic (Urawa Reds, Japan), Luke Wilkshire (Dinamo Moscow, Russia).
Jason Culina (Gold Coast United, Australia), Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers, England), Tommy Oar (FC Utrecht, Holland), Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar, Holland), Mile Jedinak (Genclerbirligi, Turkey), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray, Turkey), Neil Kilkenny (Leeds United, England), Matt McKay (Brisbane Roar, Australia), Carl Valeri (Sassuolo, Italy).
Nathan Burns (AEK Athens, Greece), Tim Cahill (Everton, England), Robbie Kruse (Melbourne Victory, Australia), Scott McDonald (Middlesbrough, England).
Neil is the co-editor of Back Page Football, and is also an expert on the Australian A-League. You can follow him on Twitter @neilsherwin.