Australia coach Holger Osieck has warned upcoming AFC Asian Cup final opponents Japan that his defence is rock solid as they look forward to one of the biggest games in their history. The Socceroos set up a showdown with the east Asian giants by emphatically hammering a shell-shocked Uzbekistan 6-0 in their semi-final yesterday, to give themselves a crack at some silverware for the first time since joining the AFC in January 2006.
The skilful and mobile Japanese await them at Al Khalifa Stadium on Saturday after beating Korea Republic 3-0 in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out, which following a 2-2 draw after 120 minutes. The Germany-born Osieck knows Japanese football inside-out, having coached J.League stalwarts Urawa Red Diamonds to the AFC Champions League title in 2007, and he believes his team have the tactics to go all the way in Doha.
"The secret [against Uzbekistan] was the way we set ourselves up on the pitch," he said. "We were well structured, we had a great shape, we played high, we tried to create.
"All the boys have done well and I'm very happy with the way our team has developed in the tournament. I'm full of praise and credit for them. What they did against Uzbekistan was fantastic."
While the scoreline pointed to their attacking prowess, Osieck focused on his defence, marshalled by captain Lucas Neill. With veteran Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer between the posts, they have conceded just once in five games, against Korea Republic in the group stage.
"It's a result of our structure," said the 62-year-old. "The entire team works well defensively. We are very compact and the defence starts with the strikers, they close the opponents down and we are very well-structured behind them.
"When the opposition dribble into midfield, they run into a wall. We win the ball and we play our game. It sounds simple but it took some time to get the structure together. The more we play together, the better we become."
They were far too good for the Uzbeks, who came into the game in impressive form but capitulated under the early pressure. Galatasaray forward Harry Kewell got the opener on five minutes, rifling a left-foot drive into the bottom right-hand corner after a neat exchange with Matt McKay. Reigning AFC Player of the Year Sasa Ognenovski doubled their lead 11 minutes before half-time, when he emphatically buried a shot from 12 yards out.
David Carney put the game beyond doubt on 65 minutes and when Uzbekistan forward Ulugbek Bakaev was sent off soon after, the match was effectively over. Australia started running riot, with Brett Emerton getting a fourth, Carl Valeri a fifth and Robbie Kruse a sixth as the shell-shocked central Asians went to pieces.
It was their biggest victory since beating the Solomon Islands 7-0 in 2005, and the biggest win by any team at the Asian Cup since 2000. Neill insisted that the ease with which they dispatched Uzbekistan would not make them complacent against Japan, who have won the title three times before.
"Players are going to have confidence now in front of goal, and at the other end we're one goal [conceded] in five games now, so we're going to be hard to break down too," he told reporters. "We can't ask for any more going into a final."