Australia might be into the AFC Asian Cup quarter-finals but coach Holger Osieck admits they need to step up another gear if they want to go any further.
The Socceroos booked their second consecutive last eight spot at the continental showcase with Mile Jedinak's first-half strike enough to beat a dangerous Bahrain 1-0 at a rain-lashed Al-Sadd Stadium on Tuesday evening. The strapping Turkish-based midfielder scored the equaliser in their 1-1 draw with Korea Republic on Friday and was their hero again, grabbing the decisive goal in the 37th minute.
Australia only needed a point to qualify and despite Korea Republic beating India 4-1, they finished top of Group C on goal difference to avoid heavyweights Iran in the last eight. Instead, they play the second-placed team from Group D, which will most likely be reigning champions Iraq. While pleased to be through, Osieck said he wanted more from his team.
"Yes it was three points but I'm not sure about it being a decisive win. It was a very tough game and they gave us a hard time. My team had to really fight to the end," said the German. "Regarding the quarter-final, I can guarantee you that it's going to be a different game, you are going to see a different Australian team."
At the last tournament in 2007, Australia's first since moving to the Asian Football Confederation, they crashed out on penalties to Japan, having also lost in the group stage to Iraq. While the holders are Australia's most likely next opponent, FIFA World Cup™ participants Korea DPR and the United Arab Emirates are also still in with a shout in Group D, albeit an outside one.
Osieck refused to be drawn on who he preferred to face. "They are all good in Group D. Whichever one you play it will be a strong test for us," he said. "It doesn't matter who we play. There's a great deal of quality in that group, it's a well balanced group and we have to be ready. We have to play our own game so it doesn't really matter which of the teams we face."
Regular starters Jason Culina, Luke Wilkshire and David Carney all failed to recover from injuries in time for the Bahrain game and goalscorer Jedinak and Tim Cahill picked up knocks, giving the German a potential headache. Adding to his problems was Blackburn Rovers' winger Brett Emerton's needless yellow card, meaning he will definitely miss the quarter-final match on Saturday, again at Al-Sadd Stadium.
Captain Lucas Neill was proud of his team's performance, particularly in defence, but said his side would not get away with a similar showing in the knockout stages. "It didn't go according to the plan that we wanted it to but as people will always tell you, when they watch all the good teams in tournaments, they don't play well and they win, and they don't get going until the latter stages," he said. "If we've still got that to come, then we'll be delighted, but at the same time, we're not going to kid ourselves, performances like that in the latter stages won't be accepted."