Australia will begin their second AFC Asian Cup campaign next Monday, with Holger Osieck leading the Socceroos six months after assuming the reins from Pim Verbeek following South Africa 2010. Assistant to Franz Beckenbauer as Germany FR won the 1990 FIFA World Cup™, Osieck would also look to have the requisite experience for success at Qatar 2011. After all, he has already won a continental title with Canada in 2000, while at club level he has enjoyed two stints with Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds, winning the AFC Asian Champions League in 2007.
Despite a strong showing at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Australia’s bid for continental supremacy ended at the quarter-final stage four years ago and this time they must negotiate a group which features Korea Republic, Bahrain and India. Speaking this week from Dubai, where the Socceroos are honing their final preparations, Osieck told FIFA.com about his football philosophies, expectations for Qatar 2011 and the growth of Asian football.
FIFA.com: How are you enjoying life back in a national team coaching role?
Holger Osieck: It is a different challenge after my last club commitment. I really like it because I have found a good bunch of players. There is a good mix of experience and upcoming youngsters, so it is quite enjoyable to work with this group.
How you have enjoyed life in Australia so far?
Australia is a very beautiful country. It is always nice to be there and I always enjoy it. The people in general are always friendly and the country has so much to offer.
What qualities do you see in the Australia players?
First of all their commitment to play for the country and in particular when you consider the effort the players have to make to come to the games in Australia and Asia. Everyone is really committed which is a big plus. There is a lot of quality and potential in our players; they are technically sound and we are in a very stable position. We all know that Australia is on a good level and has a good future.
Definitely our priority is to qualify for the next World Cup but our first big target is the Asian Championship. We want to be successful.
What football philosophy are you looking to bring to the national team?
I like to play football and I encourage the team to pass the ball and to bring a lot of tactical elements to the game. In general, to try to attack and to try to score of course.
Qualifying for Brazil 2014 is undoubtedly a key goal but are there any other achievements or legacies you are targeting?
Definitely our priority is to qualify for the next World Cup but our first big target is the Asian Championship. We want to be successful. How far we can go, I don’t know, but hopefully we can have a good tournament and impress with our performances.
Australia’s debut at the AFC Asian Cup four years ago was seen by many as a disappointment. Are you optimistic of success this time around?
I never return to anything that was before my time. I think we have a good team but the question is how quickly the players can gel. We have a lot of new faces and it takes some time to integrate but if that happens quickly then I think we can have a good tournament.
What do you make of the group Australia is in?
I think it is a very tough group. Everybody knows about Korea [Republic] and about their [development] programs in recent years. Bahrain are one of the top teams in the Gulf region. India qualified through a not-so-easy tournament. They are not so well known though I have seen them on tape and they look a pretty decent team.
Who do you see as likely challengers for the crown?
That is hard to predict. Always in such a tournament the so-called favourites often do not match the expectations and other teams step up. It often depends on the occasion and therefore I don’t have any clear favourite.
Asian football is perhaps under the radar for many football fans across the globe. What qualities or standard of football can be expected at the tournament?
There is enormous diversity, so one cannot talk about Asian football in general. There are different elements with countries from east Asia like Japan, Korea and China, and they play a different style of football in comparison to west Asia and nations such as Saudi Arabia. Then there are the likes of Iran and Iraq and they all have their own characteristics, so there is a lot of diversity which makes the tournament very interesting.
Have you seen significant improvement in Asian football since you first coached Urawa Red Diamonds in the mid-1990s?
Absolutely. Asia now enjoys more exposure to international football. A lot of Asian players now play in Europe and feature in major competitions and of course that reflects on the entire Asian football scene.