The Socceroos return to Qatar this weekend for the first time since their best-performing World Cup to try to win a second Asian Cup.
Australia is one of the heavyweights in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation), finishing as the top Asian side in the World Cup after being the only AFC team to reach the Round of 16 and subsequently jumping to 25th position on the world rankings, their highest since 2012.
The tournament begins on Saturday when hosts Qatar take on Lebanon at 3am at the Al Bayt Stadium and wraps up in four weeks, with the final on February 11.
Newly promoted Socceroo Sam Silvera said: “We are going to work hard, and the focus is to go out and do our best for the team.
“We have an amazing squad, and with all our talent in this squad, we can do well in this tournament.”
Qatar has been a happy place for myself and the team, but it’s about coming in with a different mindset and more hunger to do great things here.
This year, 24 teams will take part, eight more than last contested it. For qualification into the Round of 16, the top two sides from each group and the top four third-place teams from any group with the highest points will feature in the playoffs.
Australia is in group B and will play India, Syria and Uzbekistan in the group stage.
The Socceroos will be gunning for their second Cup. Their first came in 2015 when they beat South Korea in the final at Stadium Australia in Sydney.
However, nine years have passed since that win. In the last Asian Cup, the Aussies were knocked out by hosts United Arab Emirates in the quarter finals.
With $US5 million ($7.5 million) up for grabs for the winning team, this Asian Cup matches the highest-ever prize money in the competition’s history.
2⃣4⃣ TEAMS 🌏
1⃣ TROPHY 🏆
— #AsianCup2023 (@afcasiancup) January 4, 2024
Happy Qatar memories
It has been a year since Craig Goodwin scored his maiden World Cup goal against eventual runners-up France.
Since then, the winger has started every game for Australia, including its Round of 16 loss to Argentina.
The Al-Wehda forward said: “I’m really excited to be here. It’s a great tournament to come into, and everyone is going to come into this tournament with the mentality that we are going to do some really good things too.”
Since coming from Adelaide United into the Saudi Professional League, Goodwin has been a regular starter for the team, scoring six goals in 14 matches and playing games against European stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Aleksandar Mitrović and Sadio Mané.
However, Goodwin was adamant his experience playing in the Middle East would be much different from that of the Asian Cup.
“Qatar has been a happy place for myself and the team, but it’s about coming in with a different mindset and more hunger to do great things here,” he said.
“None of us can get caught up in the thought process [that] we’ve done well here in the past, and it’s going to come easy.
“We have the aspirations to win the Asian Cup and to do that, we have to have a ruthless mentality.”
The Socceroos won their fourth consecutive match against Asian opposition on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Bahrain in a pre-tournament friendly.
How good Duke ?
I can see him smashing a bagful at AsiaCup Doha24.@FreakDS1 @Socceroos @keepupau @10FootballAU @FootballAUS @scout_aussie @joeylynchy @SMHsport @codesportsau @twitfoz @treavell101 @GregPankhurst @FTBLcomau @MitchellDuke15 @kick360au @_SkyBlueViews @sebth
— Spenceroos (@FreakDS1) January 7, 2024
However, Australia has been significantly higher ranked than all those teams.
Bahrain proved challenging for the Socceroos, who edged out a victory thanks to a goal from Mitch Duke and an own goal from Amine Benaddi.
The Bahrain team had only one chance to score, as Australia dominated possession and proved too strong for the Middle Eastern team.
Graham Arnold said: “It’s the perfect fixture to have before the Asian Cup. Most nations sit back, and most nations we have versed in the last 12 months don’t do that.
“We were getting better increasingly as the game went on, breaking them down.
“We didn’t expect them to defend that deep, and I changed the team to change that. They had one shot in 90 minutes, and to get away with a clean sheet was good.”
📋 Bound for Qatar! ✈️🇶🇦
Graham Arnold has named his 26-player squad for our #AsianCup2023 campaign! 💪
— Subway Socceroos (@Socceroos) December 21, 2023
Gethin Jones has been a talking point in Australian football after his surprise announcement in the 26-player squad shocked fans.
The right back was born in Perth to Welsh parents and lived in Australia to the age of 12, but spent most of his footballing years in Wales, representing the country at junior level and captaining Wales U21.
Having never played in Australia, Jones now plays for League One side Bolton Wanderers, where the defender is a regular starter.
After playing his first match for the Socceroos, Arnold said: “For the first time he has played for Australia, especially in defence, he did exceptionally well.”
The 28-year-old defender was quick on his feet, often dribbling around Bahrain’s attack and defence whilst also sending in crosses that often found the feet of his teammates.
Australia’s number one, Matt Ryan, has also been a talking point on Socceroo’s side as the two-time Asian Cup goalkeeper suffered a fractured cheekbone.
Whether the goalkeeper will play is a question Arnold and the team have constantly been asked with Sam Silvera, assuring fans that “Matt Ryan is in very good spirits.
“He looks sharp, and he looks fit. He’s a massive bonus for the squad, and hopefully, we can get him back to the game fitness.”
The Asian Cup
Australia vs India
Australia will begin their Asian Cup campaign against India on the January 13 at 10.30pm, AEDT.
The match will mark Australia’s second time versus the Indian outfit in the Asian Cup format. They defeated them 4-0 in Qatar back in 2011.
India is 102 on the world rankings and will be the lowest-ranked team in Australia’s group.
However, the Indians were top of their group in qualifying, defeating the likes of Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Cambodia to reach their fifth Asian Cup.
2023 also was good for the team, as they won the SAFF Championship, which saw them beat out Kuwait in a dramatic penalty shootout.
In their most recent match, they went down 3-0 to Qatar at home, where they were dominated entirely shots-wise and played the game in their half.
The Socceroos play a style where they aren’t afraid to play wide and hang onto the ball. The Indians must adapt to that to challenge the Australian outfit.
C'mon India beat @Socceroos on Saturday
— akshaykumar 🇮🇳 (@AKDPD) January 7, 2024
Player to look out for:
Sunil Chhetri is the highest scorer in the Indian side this season in the Indian Super League, scoring three goals in 10 matches despite being 39 years old and having the lowest market value out of any player in the Blue Tigers Asian Cup squad.
Chhetri has been praised by the Indian coaching staff, who say he looks intent on making something of himself this tournament, showcasing his slick finishing and fast pace. They have even compared his skills to legendary England forwards Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen.
If Chhetri is what his coaches say he is, it could cause headaches for Australia’s defence, which is relatively young and inexperienced in a top-flight international setting.
Australia vs Syria
The Socceroos have fond memories of playing Syria, as they have never lost to them. They face them on January 18 at 10.30pm AEDT.
Australia qualified for the final round of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers courtesy of a dramatic 2-1 extra-time win over Syria where Tim Cahill slotted the goal to send them to the next round.
The Australians will face Syria for the second consecutive time in the Asian Cup group stages after defeating them 3-2 in their last outing.
Jackson Irvine and Aziz Behich are the last remaining current players who featured in that match.
The Syrians only won three times in 2023, losing to lower-ranked Asian teams, including Malaysia, Vietnam and Bahrain.
Most significantly, against Asian superpower Japan, they were smashed 5-0 at home, where they were completely overwhelmed with only 30 per cent possession and 0 shots on goal.
Winger Sam Silvera said: “No matter who we verse, it’s about us, and it doesn’t matter who we come up against.
“The expectation for us is that we’re going to win it. The attitude every game is to go out and do our best.”
Silvera started his first game for the green and gold against Bahrain.
The Middlesbrough midfielder has played 21 games with the Championship side playing alongside fellow Australians Tom Glover and Riley McGree as well as seasoned Premier League midfielder Johnathan Howson.
Player to look out for:
Jalil Elías has a market value of $3 million, playing in Malaysia’s top league with Johor Darul Ta’zim FC.
Despite being born in Lionel Messi’s hometown of Rozario, Argentina, the 27-year-old has Syrian citizenship and will play his first match for the Syrians in this Asian Cup campaign.
He is known for his high stamina, ball control skills, and quick reactions, which will bring a wealth of experience to the Syrian defence as they try to manage players such as the A-League goal-scoring machine Bruno Fornaroli.
Australia vs Uzbekistan
Australia’s final group game may be the most challenging for the Socceroo team as they will face the 68th-ranked team Uzbekistan on January 23 at 10.30pm AEDT.
Like India, the Uzbeks topped their group in qualifying, not conceding in any match.
Since then, they have only lost three times, against the USA, Iran and Costa Rica.
Uzbekistan is coming off strong form after defeating Palestine 1-0 in their warmup match and drawing 3-3 to Mexico in September.
The Socceroos also took on Mexico in September, where they drew.
Still, with Uzbekistan, they were happy to sit back and let Mexico control the game.
With over 62 per cent possession of the Mexicans, the Uzbeks limited their chances to nine, and recorded 17 dangerous attacks compared to 48.
Uzbekistan may be similar to Bahrain, which will challenge the Socceroos, who favour pressing high and being aggressive on the ball.
That is something that Arnold may have to adapt to.
Goodwin said: “It’s going to be hard and difficult, but we have a good group with a good mentality, and I think we have the potential to do something here.”
Player to look out for:
Abbosbek Fayzullaev is the youngest player in the Uzbek side. Despite this, he has been a treasured part of the Russian team CSKA Moscow, scoring two goals and assisting four in his debut season.
Fayzullaev plays an attacking midfielder role in the Uzbekistan squad, being named by FIFA as Uzbekistan’s player to watch out for in the future, as he helped the U20 side win the Asian Cup in 2023.
After being named man-of-the-match in Uzbekistan’s penalty shootout win against the U20s Australian side last year, his performance, where he was a slick passer making speedy runs, proved troublesome for the defence in the rest of the competition.
Round of 16
Depending on where the Australians finish in their group will impact who they play against.
- If they win their group, they will face a third-place team from groups A, C or D. Meanwhile, if Australia comes second, they will play the group’s runner-up.
- If Australia comes third and has enough points to qualify for the finals they may play the winner of Group D or Group C.
- If Australia comes first, they will most likely take on Lebanon, Palestine, and Vietnam, as according to the FIFA rankings, they are the third-highest-ranked teams in their respective groups.
Asian Cup is a banger, especially with the recent growth in the Japananese, S Korean, Australian, and even Saudi games
— Curtinho (@KyalYNWA6969_) January 7, 2024
Lebanon is ranked 107 on the FIFA World Rankings and will face a tough group, with Qatar and China being the two most promising teams to beat the side.
Lebanon has only played Australia twice, in which Australia won both 3-0. But for Socceroos legend Cahill, Lebanon can be remembered as the final team he versed on the international stage.
But six years later, a much younger Australian squad could take on Lebanon, who only managed to win six out of 17 matches in 2023.
Most recently, the Lebanese lost to Asian giants Saudi Arabia 1-0, where the Saudis completely dominated the game, which didn’t allow Lebanon to gain sufficient chances to score.
Player to look out for:
Lebanese midfielder Daniel Lajud will play in his first international tournament in Qatar.
The Mexican-Lebanese national team plays football for Atlante, which reached the final of Mexico’s highest league in December.
Lajud is known for his fast pace and agility. He has scored six goals for his club and assists more as he is a central playmaker of the Lebanese team.
Palestine is ranked 99 worldwide despite not winning a match since March last year.
But the Palestinians did top their group in qualifying for the Asian Cup, defeating Yemen, Philippines and Mongolia to prepare for their third successive Asian Cup.
Australia most recently took on Palestine in World Cup qualifying in November, where the Socceroos defeated them 1-0 thanks to a Harry Souttar goal.
The Australians let Palestine attack them a lot, as they recorded 19 goal attempts to 17 and were more ruthless in front of the Australian goal.
Still, their lack of clinical touch in the final third saw the Australians secure a clean sheet.
Australia also has nine players in their Asian Cup squad compared to the team that played Palestine in November.
Player to look out for:
Rami Hamadeh played against Australia during Palestine’s World Cup qualifier and was impressive against the Socceroo’s, clocking in a 7.0 rating and blocking 10 of the Socceroo’s 17 shots on goal.
Having played for the Palestinian national team in the Olympics, his performance in London catapulted him to be named Palestinian third goalkeeper in Australia’s Asian Cup in 2015.
Having kept three clean sheets in the past year, Hamadeh may struggle against an Australian attack, which differs significantly from their last outing.
However, he does have experience at this stage, which may see him make some good saves for Palestine in the competition.
The Vietnamese, the highest-ranked team out of these three potential final opponents, matched their best Asian Cup finish, reaching the same stage as the Socceroos, the quarter finals, where Japan knocked them out back in 2019.
Going into this tournament, The 94th-highest-ranked team reached the final of the ASEAN Football Federation championship, where they were beaten 1-0 by Thailand in 2023.
But since then, the Vietnamese have been unable to defeat higher-ranked teams similar to Australia, such as South Korea, where they lost 6-0 in October.
Player to look out for:
Filip Nguyen is Vietnam’s goalkeeper this Asian Cup, and it doesn’t come as a surprise as the Vietnamese keeper has the highest market value in the national team: $600,000.
Having earned his Vietnamese citizenship in December, the former Prague-based football player was named the best goalkeeper in the Czech Republic’s first division in 2018-2019.
He was also called up to play for the Czechs in the 2022 World Cup qualifying squad but did not play.
Knowing the injury of first-choice goalkeeper Dang Van Lam, the Asian Cup may provide experience for the 29-year-old as he aims to become a familiar face on the international stage.
At the AFC Asian Cup 2023, 5️⃣ of the 24 participating teams have full squads competing in their domestic tournament including:
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia
— Mohunbagan : The National Club of India 🇮🇳 (@krirapremi) January 6, 2024
If the Socceroos come second, they will most likely face Oman, the second-highest-ranked team in the group behind Saudi Arabia.
Oman shocked the world when they defeated the Saudis 2-1 in the Gulf Cup of Nations in January of 2023 to reach the finals, where they lost in extra time in the Grand Final against Iraq.
In terms of form, Oman had an up-and-down year, losing to the USA 4-0 in July, but then starting 2024 on a high after defeating the UAE 1-0, where they dominated the ball despite creating fewer chances than their opposition.
This win means that Oman will enter this competition with two consecutive wins.
Player to look out for:
Oman’s star midfielder, Salah Al-Yahyaei, will be riding a high going into this tournament after scoring three goals in two games with his new Omani side, Al Nahda.
Al-Yahyaei is known as Oman’s prime goal scorer after slotting a crucial goal for Oman in the final of the Central Asian Football Association Nations Cup against Iraq and has also scored for the Oman National Team in the 2023 Gulf Cup of Nations.
His form in the past year has proven he is an attacking threat, which Australia will have to look out for if they are to verse the Omani side a third time in an Asian Cup.
Depending on which route Australia takes in the Asian Cup, they may face either Qatar or Saudi Arabia in the quarterfinals.
The hosts, Qatar, have had a rocky year since their World Cup campaign that saw them become the only host nation not to win a group-stage game at the World Cup.
The Qataris will need a much better performance than at the World Cup, but recent form going into the tournament has been up and down.
Qatar is coming into this tournament with a loss after their Asian Cup squad, led by new Spanish coach Marquez Lopez, was unable to beat World number 87, Jordan, as they crumbled in the second half.
Marquez Lopez is experienced in Qatar, having led the second division team Al-Wakrah from promotion and then winning the entire Qatar Super League in two seasons.
Lopez will want to replicate the national team’s early 2023 performance, which saw them defeat Mexico to reach the CONCACAF Gold Cup playoffs and the Gulf Cup of Nations semi-finals.
Qatar will aim to be the first team since 2004 to win back-to-back Asian Cups, the hosts are a nation to look out for.
Player to look out for:
Almoez Ali ended 2023 with a hat trick against Colombia and a goal for his club side Al-Duhail.
The $2.5 million-man is a goal-scoring machine, having already scored five against Asian clubs in qualifying for the 2026 World Cup and featured in all three games for the Qatari national side in the World Cup.
Ali seems to shine for the national team, having scored eight goals in his three most recent matches.
In the 2019 Asian Cup, he was named the championship’s best player and top scorer with nine goals.
Now captain of Al-Duhail, Ali is a serious player to watch out for in this Asian Cup as he will look to help Qatar achieve back-to-back titles.
In the 2022 FIFA World Cup
Iran defeated Wales.
Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina.
Australia defeated Tunisia and Denmark.
Japan defeated Germany and Spain.
South Korea defeated Portugal.
But we are forced to believe that AFC Asian Cup is not as competitive as the other three https://t.co/dCEP3S13Fx
— AK 𓃵 ka🅄shik (@ImThalakaushik) January 7, 2024
If the Socceroos come first in their group, Saudi Arabia will likely be their opponent in the quarter-finals.
The Saudis are ranked 56th globally, and come into this tournament with some mixed form.
Although Roberto Mancici’s side has won the last three games, these have been against sides such as Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan, all of which are lower-ranked and less equipped.
And against higher-placed teams, the Saudis have yet to come up with results, failing to beat South Korea twice last year, drawing with Nigeria and losing three times to three different American opponents.
Although Roberto Mancini took over in October, his team is yet to demonstrate results that will threaten higher-ranked sides.
It’s unlikely Mancini, who had a Euro win with Italy in 2020, won’t have an impact as the boss is familiar with this competition style.
Player to look out for:
Saudi Arabia’s Salem Al-Dawsari became a household name in the footballing world after he scored the winning goal (and famous flip) against Messi’s Argentina in the 2022 World Cup.
Since then, the Saudi Arabian striker has gone from strength to strength, becoming a starter for Al-Hilal alongside Ruben Neves and Mitrović.
Having scored nine goals and assisted two, Al-Hilal sits first on the Saudi Professional League table, above Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr club.
But becoming a club icon has not been enough for Al-Dawsari as the 32-year-old recorded three goals for Saudi Arabia in 2023, and he will be looking to beat his previous Asian Cup record of one goal in his last Asian Cup campaign.
📊TEAM VALUE AT AFC ASIAN CUP 2023
📈Japan 🇯🇵 is the team with the highest squad value (€316.95m)
📉 Kyrgyzstan 🇰🇬 and Hong Kong 🇭🇰 are the two teams with the lowest squad value (€6.25m)
— ASEAN FOOTBALL (@theaseanball) January 6, 2024
Semi-finals & final
If Australia comes first, they will likely face four-time winners Japan in the semi-final.
Japan showed their flare in 2023, jumping to 17th, the highest Asian nation in the rankings, after losing once to Colombia in
But having won 10 on the trot, including dominant victories against Tunisia, Canada, Germany and Peru, the Japanese have shown that they are the most dominant team in Asia.
In their recent games, the Samurai have reached the final third almost double the amount of times than their opponents and recorded more than 15 goal attempts per game.
But in their match against Euro hosts Germany, the 4-1 drubbing demonstrated something much different.
Despite only having 36 per cent possession, the Samurais achieved 10 shots on goal compared to 3, limiting the German’s free-flowing playing style.
Japan is a powerhouse nation, which proved how it can adapt to different coaching styles and seemingly continue to dominate the scoreboard; Japan may be the team to beat in the Asian Cup.
Player to look out for:
Takehiro Tomiyasu may cause a stir in the attack of his international opponents after the right-back Arsenal star has become an instrumental part of the Gunners side.
Tomiyasu has recorded nine clean sheets and conceded 39 goals in his 55 appearances for the side.
Known for his ability to intercept balls with his head and his defensive awareness, Tomiyasu has quickly ascended to stardom for the Arsenal side, who sit fourth in the Premier League table.
Tomiyasu’s physicality and strength may trouble his opponents, who will try to dribble around or counter-attack against the Japanese team. Still, it will not be a surprise if he can shut down chances or opportunities if they are to come his way.
Depending on where Australia finish, the tournament could play host to a 2015 Asian Cup Final rematch, where Australia defeated South Korea in Sydney 2-1, after goals to Massimo Luongo and James Troisi sealed the Socceroo’s first Asian Cup win after joining the federation in 2006.
Silvera said: “I was watching that with my family. I just remember celebrating; that’s it.
“My mum and I went off celebrating, and my nan didn’t know what was happening, but she joined in the celebration too.”
Since then, the Australians have faced South Korea twice, the most recent was 2019, when the Red Devils triumphed 1-0.
The South Koreans have won six consecutive matches, five against Asian opponents, showing promising signs going into this Asian Cup campaign.
Having some of the biggest names in football in their squad, including Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung Min and Wolves forward Hee-Chan Hwang, the South Koreans have a squad deeply rooted in European stars.
But considering that, the South Koreans have been unable to beat sides closer to their 23rd ranking, drawing with Colombia, Wales and failing to beat Uruguay and Peru in the earlier stages of 2023.
When they come up against potential opponents such as the Socceroos or even Japan, South Korea’s depth will be tested, and it will surely be a match to watch out for.
Player to look out for:
Heung-min has become a household name in football, having become one of Australia’s favourite players due to his work under Ange Postecoglou for Tottenham Hotspur.
The striker will be the Asian Cup’s highest market-value player, coming in at $54 million after two stellar seasons with his North London club.
Heung-min always seems to be in the right place at the right time, finishing goals with flair and setting up goals with his blistering pace down the right side.
He is the current third-highest scorer in the Premier League with 12 goals and has scored three times for the Red Devils in his last two appearances.
His almost 10/10 performance against Newcastle, Fulham and Saudi Arabia has shown he does not fret over prominent opponents.
He will also aim to score his first Asian Cup goal since 2015.
The second-highest-ranked nation in this competition, Iran will be vying for its first Asian Cup trophy since 1976, and their recent form shows they have a big chance of taking that trophy home.
Iran did not lose a game in 2023, winning the CAFA Nations Cup in June, smashing hosts Qatar 4-0 in October and recently defeating Indonesia 5-0.
The Iranian side has shown ruthlessness across their matches in 2023, scoring 34 goals in 12 matches, just over 2.8 goals per game.
Their attack has looked fierce, but their defence, led by Alireza Beiranvand has six clean sheets, often conceding one goal per game against their opponents.
But their opponents also haven’t been of the calibre of South Korea and Japan, which has left them with inexperience facing bigger sides.
Their last taste of higher-ranked sides came against the USA at the World Cup, where they lost 2-1.
Suppose Iran reaches a semi-final or final level at the Asian Cup, they may face opponents who have just been as ruthless as they are form-wise and who have also defeated higher-ranked teams.
Player to look out for:
Mehdi Taremi has started his fourth season with Portuguese side FC Porto with only three goals in 15 matches.
For Iran, the former Sydney FC forward has become their fourth-highest goal scorer, having scored on five occasions for the Iranians in the past six matches.
Most notably, he scored two goals against England at last year’s World Cup, meaning that history will be on his side as Qatar is a country for him to remember.
He was also the top scorer in the CAFA Nations Cup, beating out his partner-in-crime Sardar Azmoun.
The pair have been instrumental for Iran, scoring close to 100 goals together. They will surely score more against their Asian opponents in this tournament.
Australian fans can watch the Asian Cup on Network 10 and Paramount+.
Main image AI rendered in GenCraft.