Sydney: Australia cannot afford to give up goals from set pieces as they did against Japan on Tuesday if they want to win the Asian Cup on home soil in January, according to central defender Alex Wilkinson.
The 2-1 defeat after a promising first half in Osaka compounded some miserable statistics for the Socceroos -- one win in 11 matches with 22 goals conceded this year.
Substitute Tim Cahill`s 36th international goal left him with eight of the 12 Australia have scored since Ange Postecoglou took over as coach in October last year.
The most concerning part of the game was that the goals from Yasuyuki Konno and Shinji Okazaki in a seven-minute period in the second half came from what Postecoglou described as "sloppy" defending at set pieces.
"On the positive side of things, I suppose set pieces are something that can be easily fixed," Wilkinson said in Osaka.
"But when it comes to Asian Cup time, we can`t afford to concede by set pieces. Games can be decided on those things and we`ve got to improve."
Despite the result, the players were encouraged by the performance of the team going forward in the first half before the Asian champions stepped up a gear and started pressing them more in the second.
"It was a definite step forward from the last camp, and the last couple of games," Wilkinson, who plays his club football with South Korean champions Jeonbuk Motors, added.
"I think the week in training has done us good and I think Ange has had a good chance to get his message across.
"I thought the first half was very good, we kept the ball well and put them under a lot of pressure, the only negative was we didn`t punish them.
"When you`re on top like that you`ve got to try and take advantage and try and get a goal or a couple of goals."
The match in Osaka was Australia`s final friendly before they open their Asian Cup campaign against Kuwait in Melbourne on Jan. 9.
As runners-up to Japan at the last Asian Cup, with the added advantage this time of being hosts, Australia are favourites to win the trophy at Sydney`s Olympic Stadium on Jan. 31.
"We`ll go back to our clubs, get a few games under our belts, look forward to getting back into camp and come out all guns blazing on January 9," Wilkinson concluded.