Australia confident ahead of Uzbek test
Australia go into their AFC Asian Cup semi-final against Uzbekistan tomorrow relaxed and confident that they can give themselves a shot at lifting silverware for the first time since joining the Asian Football Confederation.
Both teams will be treading new ground at the Al Khalifa Stadium. Neither has got this far at the continental showpiece before, with the prospect of a final against either Japan or Korea Republic awaiting the winner. And Socceroos coach Holger Osieck is certain his team will be taking part in that match on 29 January.
"We are pretty happy to be where we are today. We have two more matches to go and this is the first of them," said the German. "That means we are in the latter stages of the tournament and that is good for us and I'm pretty sure we will still be here on 29 January."
Although key midfielder Jason Culina has had to head home for treatment on a knee injury, Australia were today boosted by the news that Tim Cahill is fit despite picking up a knock in their quarter-final win over Iraq.
Osieck said Cahill would definitely play and said he was thankful that he has the services of a man with plenty of big-match experience. Asked if Australia were feeling the pressure ahead of facing an Uzbek side that has been impressive in Doha despite their lowly world ranking of 108, Osieck said: "We don't really feel pressure, instead there's always a kind of excitement.
"It will be an interesting and challenging game but I don't think there is real pressure because we know what we can do. We have our plans and I know our boys have the ability to transfer that to the pitch. Of course it helps that some players have played major tournaments and big games with their club sides."
Australia captain Lucas Neill said there had never been a better time for Australia to win a major title. "This is a great opportunity to win a title, a trophy, and I don't think we ever been able to say that as a nation before," he said. "We have had enough experience now in tournaments that we concentrate on one game at a time so we get a shot at the title. We have won the right to host the 2015 Asian Cup and it would be great to do that as defending champions."
Nothing, though, is guaranteed against Uzbekistan, who beat hosts Qatar and then Kuwait before drawing with China in the group stage. A battling 2-1 win over Jordan in the last eight put them into the semi-finals for the first time in their history, and coach Vadim Abramov believes they can go all the way.
"Before we came to this tournament I said we could win and there is no change to that," he said. "I hope my players concentrate, it's their chance. We can win, why not? Before we start the game, all teams are the same. If Japan can beat Argentina then why can't we beat Australia?"
Abramov was referring to Japan upsetting a full-strength Argentina 1-0 in a friendly in October, a match that marked the debut of Alberto Zaccheroni as the east Asian powerhouse's new coach.
Uzbekistan centre-back Odil Ahmedov said the team would only be happy if they win the tournament. "We are happy we got to the semi-finals, but we are not going to stop here," he said. "We're going to go to the final and get the cup."
The two sides have played each other twice before, in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, with Australia coming out on top both times.