Australia and India start open Group B with both aiming for deep runs into knockout phase

January 12 – India and Australia kick off their Asian Cup campaign on Saturday (January 13) seeking to establish themselves firmly as a part of their regional football firmament. 

The two nations meet each other in the Group B curtain raiser with questions that are natural at the start of any tournament: where do they belong in the Asian hierarchy, how far can they progress and what would represent a good result?

Both are playing in their fifth finals and India for the first time in the history of the competition in back-to-back editions, and so their ambitions differ.

“Our focus is primarily on team shape and structure rather than individual players,” said Australia’s Jackson Irvine, who plies his trade for St Pauli in Germany. “Every player possesses attacking qualities and the ability to press aggressively, and we’ve been working on capitalising on these strengths.”

The Australians won the competition on home soil in 2015 and will seek to build on their outstanding performance at the World Cup last year which reset the perceptions of manager Graham Arnold and his side.

The Australians perhaps do not have the quality and pedigree of tournament favourites Japan and South Korea and with injury problems for Mathew Leckie, Denis Genreau and the retirements of Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogić and Massimo Luongo this Australia have a different outlook. Even so, the Socceroos have enough talent to contend for the title.

“The transition over the years has been seamless,” said Irvine.

“Players like Harry Souttar, Aziz Behich, and myself have been around the longest, and others have stepped up to take on leadership roles. The team has improved significantly, with players like Mitch Duke showing growth and maturity. As a squad, we are stronger.”

India’s ambitions will be more modest. They are seeking to progress to the knockout stages for the first time. Four years ago, they secured a vital 4-1 win against Thailand in their opening match but their campaign fell apart after a 1-0 defeat to Bahrain.

Croatian manager Igor Stimac, who succeeded English nomad Stephen Constantine at the helm of the Blue Tigers, shielded his players from the weight of expectations.

“Our target is to have a good performance in the next three games as a team and as a country and use the experience from the tournament for the future, ” said Stimac. “I’m not putting any pressure on players. We will go out and fight. It’s going to be a difficult match for us.”

He confirmed that India will be without midfielder Sahal Samad due to injury as he becomes the latest dropout for India following first-team stars Anwar Ali, Ashique Kuruniyan and Jeakson Singh. With Anirudh Thapa, Lalengmawia Ralte, Naorem Mahesh Singh and Brandon Fernandes in the ranks, Stimac has ample choice to replace Samad in the number 10 role.

At the 2011 Asian Cup, Australia thrashed India 4-0 in Doha. Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell were among the goal scorers at the time and India know that the current Socceroos will present no less of a challenge.

“We know the strengths of Australia,” said Stimac. “They play very pragmatic football. They caused a lot of problems to England (in a friendly in October) and we can expect the storms coming out of them. We need to stay compact and do everything possible to stop crosses from the flanks.”

Contact the writer of this story at moc.l1713054252labto1713054252ofdlr1713054252owedi1713054252sni@i1713054252tnuk.1713054252ardni1713054252mas1713054252

 

 


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