Dubai: Australia assistant coach Rene Meulensteen says the Socceroos can still retain the Asian Cup in the UAE next January, despite the retirements of Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak.
Cahill, Australia’s all-time highest scorer with 50 goals in just over 100 appearances, retired after the World Cup in Russia this summer at the age of 38, while 34-year-old captain Jedinak followed suit at the beginning of this month.
Both will be sorely missed heading into the January 5 to February 1 Asian Cup, where Graham Arnold’s side start their defence against Syria, Jordan and Palestine in Group B. However, Meulensteen said there was no reason to panic.
“We need to look ahead and that’s what we’ve done,” said the Dutch former Manchester United assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson, speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of Australia’s Dubai training camp in Jebel Ali this week.
“Graham has got a clear view and a good idea about young and upcoming players, those guys have to step in, and the other seniors still available in the squad have to step up.
“It’s exciting more than anything. We have a good mixture of players, some of whom were part of the team that won the Asian Cup in 2015, but also a lot that weren’t.
“The key is to make sure that the ones that were sort of excite the others to expect and achieve the same thing.”
Australia won their first Asian Cup title four years ago when the tournament was held Down Under, beating South Korea 2-1 in extra-time in the final.
They will now look to follow it up away from home in the UAE, despite finishing bottom of their World Cup group in Russia, following defeats to France 2-1 and Peru 2-0, either side of a 1-1 draw with Denmark. Jedinak scored his country’s only two goals in that tournament, both from the penalty spot, while coach Bert van Marwijk made way for Arnold soon after spelling even more instability.
“We have to set out with that [retaining the title] in mind, and approach those games with that expectation — to get out of the group and take every opponent as it comes,” added Meulensteen.
On Jedinak’s replacement for the captain’s armband, he said: “There’s definitely a few good contenders and it’s a case of making sure the coach is going to work with the guy that fits best for that position at this time. I’m sure we’ve got some really good personalities to step into that void.”
Meanwhile, on how to find goals in the absence of Cahill, he added: “We want to create a more flexible approach going forward to create chances for more players to have the opportunity to score goals. We want to make it a more collective responsibility, rather than just relying on the one particular goal scorer.”
Australia now fly onto Kuwait City for a friendly against Kuwait on Monday.
“We expect the players to implement what we’ve been working on in this camp in that game. Practically this has been a good place to come because a lot of our players are based in Europe, it also helps the players get used to everything here as we know we’ll be back here in a few months time.”