Australia praying for positive start in Asian Cup
An anxious Australia will hope to avert an attack of stage-fright in their Asian Cup opener against Kuwait on Friday which kicks off the biggest soccer tournament ever hosted in the sports-mad country.
Melbourne: An anxious Australia will hope to avert an attack of stage-fright in their Asian Cup opener against Kuwait on Friday which kicks off the biggest soccer tournament ever hosted in the sports-mad country.
Doubts have swirled around the young Socceroos lineup who have struggled to gel under new coach Ange Postecoglou and bring a record of one win from their 11 matches last year.
Apart from the pressure of performing in front of home fans, Australia also carry the hopes of the Asian Cup`s organisers, who are praying for a positive start from the hosts to give the tournament vital momentum.
Soccer may be `the world game` but in Australia it rates lower than rugby league and the nation`s indigenous football code in the public imagination. Fears abound that early failures by the hosts could turn neutral fans away in droves.
Little wonder the players have been reluctant to focus on anything but the first game against 124th-ranked Kuwait at Rectangular Stadium, opponents who have proved a handful in recent matches.
"It`s a once in a lifetime opportunity," Australia captain Mile Jedinak told reporters on Thursday.
"Football in Australia is the sleeping giant. Hopefully, now everyone else can see that, too.
"Obviously a lot of that is going to be down to us performing well, hopefully tomorrow night."
In Kuwait, they face arguably the weakest team in Group A, which also includes South Korea and Oman.
Kuwait`s bosses dumped Brazilian coach Jorvan Vieira after a poor showing at the recent Gulf Cup of Nations and his replacement, former Tunisian international Nabil Maaloul, only started working with his new team from Dec. 18.
Their preparations were further hampered when a scheduled friendly against United Arab Emirates was abandoned last week in dispute over a video recording.
Despite the unwanted distractions, Kuwait have no fear for Australia, having beaten them four times in their last six meetings, including a 2009 win in Canberra during qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup.
"The players have quickly adapted to my way of training and it`s worked very good," Maaloul told reporters. "Also it is difficult for Australia because it`s their opening match."
Kuwait are among a number of teams at the tournament with question marks over their coaches.
No fewer than 11 of the 16 teams` managers were appointed last year, while Saudi Arabia and Iraq loaned coaches from club sides for the Jan. 9-31 tournament.
Uli Stielike is among the few success stories, having helped revitalise South Korea after they were completely overwhelmed at the World Cup in Brazil.
Stielike, who won three German and Spanish league titles playing for Borussia Monchengladbach and Real Madrid, will seek a confidence-boosting win over Oman at Canberra Stadium on Saturday.
Though Australia`s opener at the 30,000-seat Rectangular Stadium was close to sold out on Thursday, a better gauge of the nation`s appetite for soccer may be in Sydney on Saturday when Uzbekistan take on secretive North Korea at the 83,500-capacity Stadium Australia in the Group B opener.
Saudi Arabia take on a quietly confident China at Brisbane Stadium in the group`s other match on Saturday.