Dubai: Australia head into their crucial match against Syria at Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain on Tuesday, with a bit more swagger in their step following a stumbling start to the AFC Asian Cup.
The Socceroos, the defending champions, were stunned 1-0 by Jordan in their opener before righting their ship with a 3-0 thrashing of Palestine in their second Group B clash on Friday.
They currently sit second in the standings on three points behind the already-qualified Jordan and need to get at least a draw in Al Ain to prevent Syria from leapfrogging them into the automatic qualifying spot for the knockout rounds.
There was a palpable sigh of relief as they picked up three vital points against Palestine and gave their goal-difference a boost in the process, something that could be crucial if they lose against Syria and need to secure one of the best third-placed teams to make the last 16.
Graham Arnold rung the changes after the embarrassing loss to Jordan and they had the desired effect against a limited Palestine side in Dubai.
When goalkeeper Mat Ryan ran the length of the pitch to celebrate Australia’s first goal in the win over Palestine, it spoke volumes.
The relief of Australia’s first goal at the tournament courtesy of Jamie Maclaren’s initial international career goal was a huge release of the pressure that had been building from that opening loss.
It was a vastly improved showing to belatedly kick-start their title defence and should give them the confidence to see off their weaker rivals in the Garden City.
“Everyone delivered and we are pleased with the performance,” Australian coach Graham Arnold said after the match.
However, he warned that Syria will be tough to break down, something they failed to do against Jordan. “Syria have the same game plan like Jordan,” he said. “Perhaps, we took a bit of time to get our game together as we have not had a long period of time together as a team. That said, we have learnt a lot from that Jordan game and we have worked hard to fix that issue. There have been a lot of changes in the team, but we will go all out to win against Syria.”
In the other Group B match, high-flying Jordan take on Palestine at Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. It could be a chance for Vital Borkelmans to give his fringe players a chance to impress and allow his key players to get a well-earned rest ahead of tougher matches ahead. Palestine are realistically playing for pride having drawn their game against Syria before that heavy loss to Australia, however a surprise win could see them scrape into the knockouts.
Catch the Match
Australia v Syria, 5.30pm
Palestine v Jordan, 5.30pm
Matches broadcast on beIN SPORTS Max