Socceroos could face Saudi Arabia, Japan in tough draw

“We’re very comfortable here. We’re familiar with the stadiums, the surroundings, and we’re looking forward to getting this Asian Cup under way.”

It would take a disaster of epic proportions for the Socceroos to stumble in the group stage. India, ranked 101 in the world, should be no match for the Socceroos.

However, Syria have given them plenty of headaches in recent times, most notably in a two-legged World Cup qualification play-off in the final weeks of Ange Postecoglou’s reign as coach back in 2017, when an Omar Al-Somah free kick famously rattled goalkeeper Maty Ryan’s left post. Had it gone in, Australia would have missed the World Cup.

They met again at the last Asian Cup in 2019, where the Socceroos only just squeaked home, after which Australia went on to face Uzbekistan in the round of 16, scraping through on penalties.

Omar Al-Somah’s free kick nearly saw Syria knock the Socceroos out of World Cup qualifying in 2017.

Omar Al-Somah’s free kick nearly saw Syria knock the Socceroos out of World Cup qualifying in 2017.Credit: AP

China were the original hosts for the Asian Cup, but pulled out due to the country’s zero-COVID policy, with Qatar and their suite of brand-new stadiums parachuted in as a replacement. The timing of the tournament has also been pushed back, with the first match to be played on January 12 – right in the middle of the European season.


With a spot in the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico virtually assured by FIFA’s expansion of the tournament from 32 to 48 teams, including eight slots for AFC nations, this tournament looms as the biggest challenge of Arnold’s new contract period.

Arnold has had two previous cracks at Asian supremacy, but has failed to progress the Socceroos past the Asian Cup quarter-finals on each occasion.

In 2019, the Socceroos suffered a shock first-up defeat to Jordan but recovered to get out of their group, only to lose 1-0 to the UAE in the quarters after an errant backpass from Milos Degenek was duly punished.

Arnold said the team was in a very different position now.

“Last time it was with an older group of players and I had to find some youngsters, but this time we’re more settled as a group,” Arnold said.

“I’ve been in the job now for nearly five years, so I’m very familiar with all the players and what they expect from us and my expectations from them. We’re going into this tournament with a great mindset and looking forward to doing well.”

Arnold was also at the helm of the national team at the 2007 edition during his first stint as coach, but despite boasting an experienced, high-quality squad – filled with “golden generation” players who starred at the previous year’s World Cup in Germany – Australia managed just one win, against Thailand in the group stage, before they were knocked out of the round of 16 by Japan in a penalty shootout.

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