By Colm Boohig
Australia faces China tonight at the Suncorp Stadium in the quarter-final of the AFC Asian Cup. The defeat to South Korea in the last game of Group A means that the Aussies now face the more difficult task of usurping the Group B winners, who have beaten the Socceroos in their last two meetings.
The match in Brisbane could potentially be the most viewed football game in Australian history thanks to the massive Chinese support. At one stage in their recent contest with North Korea over 50 million Chinese nationals tuned in. Add to that the couple of million Aussies guaranteed to catch this tie and suddenly the players will never have a greater stage to showcase their talents. This truly is an exciting evening in store.
Ange Postecoglou’s men are expected to recall some key players for this evening’s showdown. The likes of Tim Cahill, Robbie Kruse and Mathew Leckie can all anticipate a start, while captain Mile Jedinak is expected to return from the injury he sustained in the opening win of the tournament against Kuwait. The manager has a decision to make at centre-half, with Matt Spiranovic suspended for this encounter. Alex Wilkinson is touted to deputise.
The Australian camp has been speaking positively ahead of the contest. Swindon Town midfielder, and arguably Australia’s player of the tournament so far, Massimo Luongo is raring to go and has also been quick to dismiss the much publicised criticism that the Brisbane surface has received.
“Conditions (on Saturday)… they were obviously a bit hot and people say the pitch (was not good), but it’s nothing we haven’t experienced before”, said Luongo.
“We’ve got an extra day (of rest) on China and we’re used to the climate here”.
“We’re used to the pitch already, we’ve played there, and there’s no fuss”.
Despite the positivity, China has been in ominous form so far in the Asian Cup, earning a 100% record from Group B, with two of their three wins coming in Brisbane. Their talisman and captain Zheng Zhi is expected to return from a light injury while forward Sun Ke has been among the goals. While the Socceroos flew out of the traps, scoring eight times in the first two games, the recent slip up against South Korea has left a seed of doubt hanging in the air.
Postecoglou, though, is adamant that every team starts from scratch once the knockout phase commences.
“You don’t get an extra chance just because you won your three group games,” said the coach.
“The previous records are now extinguished … even the ones that have won their three games, they won’t be sitting any more comfortably in this phase.”
The winner of this match could well face the defending champions Japan in the semi-final, should they triumph in their last eight tie with the United Arab Emirates. No doubt, should the Socceroos go all the way at this year’s Asian Cup then they will have done it by beating the best.
Such a finely tuned match-up is tough to call. All eyes are on the Suncorp Stadium tonight.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia