Maybe some of the goodwill from the Socceroos’ World Cup campaign has eroded. After all, the side has only won once in its last 11 outings. The last four, all against possibly looming opponents, have been especially unconvincing.
Despite the evidence, do any Australians truly not expect the Socceroos to win the Asian Cup?
Confidence isn’t exactly warranted, but it seems necessary. Japan, in particular, are as talented as always, while many fancy Korea Republic and Iran. Yet, Australia will be on home soil, desperately seeking silverware to kick-start the new dawn, with players and coach alike hoping to prove plenty.
One of those will be Mat Ryan. The ‘keeper is one of around 20 players expected to survive the final cut from Ange Postecoglou’s initial 46-man squad. Ryan, despite his wobbles in Brazil, is undisputedly first-choice in his position, and will likely be joined by Mitch Langerak and Eugene Galekovic.
The defence, and indeed all other areas of the pitch, are less settled, at least as far as the starting 11 is concerned. Matt Spiranovic has yet to be involved with the national team since Brazil 2014 due to injury, but recently returned to competitive club duties. If fully fit, Postecoglou will wisely look to reunite the Western Sydney talent with World Cup partner Alex Wilkinson in the centre of defence.
Versatile Middlesbrough man Rhys Williams is the wildcard. The 26-year-old would be a regular by now if wasn’t for a catalogue of injuries which have ruled him out of the past two World Cups, and will likely do so for a third major tournament. Expect one of Bailey Wright, Ryan McGowan and Nikolai Topor-Stanley to step up and join Trent Sainsbury as back-up, with the latter leading the race.
Aziz Behich, Jason Davidson and Ivan Franjic are probables at full-back, with midfielder Josh Brillante an adaptable option to provide cover at right-back and depth in midfield.
If most concerns hang over personnel in defence and attack, there is plenty to be pondered regarding the make-up of the midfield. The question here is whether experienced heads Mile Jedinak, Mark Milligan, Matt McKay and Mark Bresciano can enact Postecoglou’s plan against Asia’s elite. Do they have the quality?
As has been the case since he first led Brisbane Roar so impressively, the boss’ unwavering belief in his recipe for success inspires trust.
“I’ve said all along we want to be ready to try to win it,” Postecoglou said when revealing his selections.
“Everything we’ve done in the interim has been about building a squad of players who, to be fair to them, I’ve given them some really tough challenges in the past 12 months.
“A lot of them are only just getting into their teams and are only just finding their feet but we’ve thrown them some unbelievable challenges. That’s been for a purpose, so that when this tournament comes along we like to think they’re battled hardened enough to handle whatever pressure is put on them.”
Count Massimo Luongo, Mathew Leckie, Tommy Oar and James Troisi amongst that band of emerging favourites. They will be tasked with aiding Tim Cahill in the final third, and could be joined by any combination of Nathan Burns, Ben Halloran, Bernie Ibini and Tomi Juric. Others might contend too, while Robbie Kruse will be relied upon regardless of club form.
Supplying enough goals to win the Asian Cup is another tough ask of Australia’s still-emerging best and brightest. Recent results suggest they’re not yet up to the task. But other factors will be at play come January 2015, and with the support of a coach aware that failure in a one-off tournament will not break a new generation, they might just make it.