Preview: 2015 AFC Asian Cup – Group A
Australia, the hosts, and South Korea are clearly favorite to qualify for Quarter-finals: if one of them should fail, and in that case Australia would be the main candidate, Oman should have more chances than Kuwait to take “their” place among the best 8 teams.
This squad is weaker than the one we saw in South Africa in 2010, and much weaker than the one we had seen in Germany in 2006, that was a very good team: in Brazil they ended the difficult Group B with 0 points as expected, anyway they didn’t disappoint too much, causing several troubles both to Chile and Holland.
In the past several Australian prospects were used to go to play abroad in order to improve themselves, now a lot of them stay in the local A-League, whose level has increased (it should be the same of the second tier in Italy, England, Germany etc.), but is still far from the top European and South American leagues, while several other Australian footballers move to other Asian Countries (Australia is a member of AFC), in which they are most wanted, because in many Asian leagues one of the few foreign players, that are allowed to be signed, must come from another AFC Federation, and so they seldom are still called up for National Team.
Excluding Robbie Kruse (Bayer 04 Leverkusen), there are no players from top European clubs: they usually play for mid-table teams in top Leagues, or for top-teams in medium Championships. Mathew Ryan (Club Brugge, best goalkeeper in the last Belgian Championship) is favorite on Mitchell Langerak (Borussia Dortmund’s second GK) to defend the Socceroos’s goal, while the main defenders should be Matthew Spiranovic (Western Sydney Wanderers FC), James Davidson (WBA), Chris Herd (Aston Villa), and the full-backs Ivan Franjic (Torpedo Moskva) and Aziz Behich (Bursaspor).
The midfield is probably the strongest part of the team with Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory), Matt McKay (Brisbane Roar), the Captain Mile Jerdinak (Crystal Palace), the offensive James Troisi (Zulte Waregem), almost a second striker, and the wingers Mark Bresciano (Al Gharafa), and Tommy Oar (FC Utrecht).
On the front, Robbie Kruse (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) is probably the best player of the team, while the younger Tomi Juric (Western Sydney Wanderers) and Mathew Leckie (FC Ingolstad O4) can be interesting alternatives. Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls) needs a separate chapter: he’s 35, but he’s probably still the most important element of the team, surely the most experienced, and he can play both in the midfield and in the attack, so Head Coach Ange Postecoglou will be able to choose among several options.
A traditional power in Asian football, that probably has had better squads in the future: speed and techninc are their main strenghts, while the lack of phisicity is the main weakness, so en effective team play will be essential to try to win the Title.
The starter GK is Jung Sung-ryong (Suwon Bluewings), while the most notable defenders should be the centre-backs Kwak Tae-hwi (Al-Hilal, Saudi Arabia) and Kim Young-gwon (Guangzhou Evergrande FC), and the full-backs Cha Du-ri (FC Seoul, he has spent the majority of his career in Europe, including spells with Eintracht Frankfurt, Mainz 05, SC Freiburg and Celtic FC), Kim Jin-su (TSG Hoffenheim) and Park Joo-ho (Mainz 05).
The midfield is probably the best part of the team, having a lot of quality: there are two good playmaker such as Koo Ja-cheol (Mainz 05), and the Captain Ki Sung-yueng (Swansea City AFC, he previously also played for Celtic FC and Sunderland), and few very good winger, such as Nam Tae-hee (Lekhwiya SC, Qatar, but he also spent two seasons in French Ligue 1 with Valenciennes), Lee Chung-yong (Bolton Wanderers FC) and, most of all, Son Heung-min (Bayer 04 Leverkusen), a player that can provide several goals to the team and that surely is one of the best of the Competition.
The lack of a continuous and prolific striker at international level has often been an issue for this National Team, and this year should make no difference: Lee Keun-ho (El-Jaish, Qatar), who has scored quite regularly in South Korea and Japan, should be the most reliable option, but he has never proved himself outside Asia.
The manager is the notorious former German International Ulrich “Uli” Stielike.
The best player of this team, managed by the former Brest, Nantes, PSG player and French International Paul Le Guen, who has then managed Rennes, OL, PSG, Rangers and Cameroon, is doubtlessy their goalkeeper and Captain, Ali Al-Habsi (Wigan Athletic), who has regularly played in Norwegian top division with FK Lyn Oslo and both in English Premier League and Championship with Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and Brighton. It’s not a surprise to know that he has been the first Omani to play international football in Europe.
Other important players should be the defenders Abdul Salam Al-Mukhaini (Al-Oruba SC’s centre back), Mohammed Al-Musalami (Fanja SC’s centre back), Saad Al-Mukhaini (Al-Oruba SC’s right back), Hassan Mudhafar Al-Gheilani (Al-Oruba SC’s very experienced left back), the midfielder Ahmed Mubarak Al-Mahaijri (Al-Oruba), the offensive midfielders Eid Al-Farsi (Al-Oruba), Raed Ibrahim Saleh (Fanja SC), who is just 22 and has already collected 42 caps for NT and should be the most promising player in the squad, and the strikers Abdulaziz Al-Muqbali (Fanja SC) and Amad Al-Hosni (Saham SC), who had a brief spell in Belgium with Sporting Charleroi in 2008.
All but two of the players of this team play in the local League, mostly for three teams, Kuwait SC, Qadsia SC and Al-Arabi SC, teams that are recently bossing the AFC Cup, the “second tier” club competition in Asia.
The GK is the experienced Nawaf Al Khaldi (Qadsia SC), while the key elements of the defence should be the left back Musaed Neda (Al-Orobah FC, Saudi Arabia) and the centre back Hussain Fadhel (Al-Wahda FC, UAE), the only ones playing abroad.
The most important midfielders should be Fahad Al Enzi (Kuwait SC), Saleh Al Sheikh (Al-Qadsia SC), Fahad Ebrahim Al Ansari (Al-Qadsia SC) and Abdulaziz Al Masha’an Al Enezi (Al Qadsia/Al-Arabi SC ?), who has had positive experiences in Belgium (Mouscron) and Czech Republic (FK Pribram).
Yousef Nasser (Kazma SC) and Bader Al-Mutawa (Qadsia SC) should be the main offensive weapons.