Dubai: Australia coach Graham Arnold is drawing a line in the sand ahead of the Socceroos’ Asian Cup bid in the UAE this week.
To him, it doesn’t matter that they come in as defending champions, having first won the title four years ago in Sydney, or that he ultimately failed in his first attempt as coach, going out in the quarters in 2007 on Australia’s debut.
Since then, Holger Osieck led them to a runners-up spot in 2011 and Ange Postecoglou won it in 2015.
With three coaches in the space of a year since Postecoglou however — with Bert van Marwijk taking charge for last summer’s World Cup, and Arnold taking over thereafter — there’s been plenty of change.
Even the old guard of players: Tim Cahill, Brad Jones and Mile Jedinak, retired after the World Cup, where they failed to get out of the group and were the only Asian side not to win a game. This leaves Australia with very different prospects for this Asian Cup — however much Arnold needs to make amends for 2007.
“We’re just looking forward,” he said. “People talk about title defence, yes, it’s a label, but that was four years ago — a long time ago. A lot has changed.
“There are 15 new players in the squad since then, a totally different staff. So, it’s all full focus on what is in front of us.
“It is something that has created a proud history for Australia,” he added of their 2015 win. “It was massive. If ever there’s a time to win the Asian Cup it’s on home soil, and we did that, filling every stadium as we did it — but this is different.
“For the players who played in it, I’ve already said to them: ‘when you retire, reflect, but we’ve got so much more to do.’
“The new players coming in expect to win every game and play at the highest standard. They are fit and playing a lot of minutes, every week, with their clubs, so we come in very confident, and very happy, with the group of players we’ve got.
“There is so much energy and quality within the group. I’m so excited to work with them for the next four years. This is obviously a big part of the process — the Asian Cup.
“I’ve had a lot to do, with a lot of individuals, at club level. I’ve coached them before they went overseas to play. For me, it is a great challenge. But I have high expectations for this wonderful group of players.”
Of retirements, with Mark Milligan replacing Jedinak as captain, he said: “That’s the way it is, but we’ve still got players with good experience under their belts. They are good leaders and they need to be given the opportunity to lead.”
And of Aaron Mooy’s injury seeing him replaced by Jimmy Jeggo, he added: “Obviously, it’s disappointing, but we’ve got great depth in this squad. Jimmy comes in, he’s a great player. It’s unfortunate for Aaron, but that’s how football is, we just move on.”
Facing Palestine, Jordan and Syria in Group B, the last two of whom they have good experience, having played Jordan in their World Cup qualifying group and Syria in their subsequent play-off, he added: “I don’t (have experience of them), so I don’t talk about the past, especially when I wasn’t part of it.”
They lost 2-0 away to Jordan in qualifiers and beat them 5-1 at home, but against Syria it was a little tighter, drawing 1-1 away before a narrow 2-1 at home in extra time, in a match that could have gone the other way if Syria had clinched a last gasp chance.
“The biggest danger is ourselves. We respect the opposition, but it is all about us — getting our attitude right, our mentality right, and performing at the highest level.
“It’s all about the improvements from these boys, the one percenters we bring into the team. Improving them and getting them mentally ready. That is a big part of elite sport and I know I’m good at that.”