Australia face Kuwait at the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on Friday January 9 at 7:30pm AEDST.
Regional heavyweights Australia open their campaign against Kuwait who, despite their minnow status, will have every intention of denying the hosts an ideal start. Shaun Moran previews one of the biggest nights in Australian football as the 16th edition of the Asian Cup kicks off Down Under.
Played 10: Australia 3 wins, Kuwait 2 wins, 5 draws
Australia have navigated a tricky path against Gulf opposition in recent times and Kuwait is no exception.
“The Blue” trumped the Socceroos when the sides first met through the former’s golden era in the late 70s, while the ledger has been quite even ever since.
Both teams have faced off four times since Australia’s move to the Asian Confederation, with indifferent results in their previous three matches haunting the ‘Roos.
Two losses and a draw in that period do not read well and, once again, reiterate the need for the 2011 Asian Cup runners-up to not take their opponents lightly.
The curtain-raiser will be a lively encounter as Ange Postecoglou’s side look to break the game open early and appease an expectant home crowd via a 4-3-3 formation.
Expect a similar group of players to those that graced Brazilian shores last year in the World Cup. Short passes and high-octane football will be the message once more as the Australians look to dictate possession and retain the ball in Kuwait’s half for much of the match.
A high line and overlap from the midfield going forward will be used in order to try to envelope and overwhelm the Gulf nation’s defensive attempts.
Kuwait, who won the Cup back in 1980, will likely line up with a 4-2-3-1 system they have deployed for some time.
When attacking, they will rely on Fahad Al Enezi to run at the Australians, while Aziz Mashaan will look to drift in from behind.
Al-Azraq’s back four will need to be at their best to redress the holes that have plagued the team in order to make goalkeeper and captain Nawaf Al-Khaldi’s night an easier one.
The big issue
Kuwait’s coaching debacle: The dramatic sacking of coach Jorvan Vieira. The Brazilian was sent packing only weeks out from the first match of the Asian Cup on the back of an unsatisfactory Gulf Cup of Nations campaign. His dismissal caught many by surprise as did the naming of his replacement.
Tunisian, Nabil Maaloul, last coached his native Tunisia at international level with little success and will have to work something of a miracle to propel his newly adopted side to the knock-out stage.
Internal politics and specifically speculation that Kuwait’s royal family have a significant role in team selection all threaten to derail the team’s campaign.
The game breaker
Socceroo Tim Cahill, who has on so many occasions shouldered the weight of his country, will be asked to do it once more on the big stage.
The New York Red Bulls star will need to receive a lot of attention from the Kuwait defence in order to curtail him scoring in the air or on the ground.
Australia’s alternative route to goal, or lack thereof means that the nation’s all-time leading scorer will need to replicate the same form of the past decade to boost the home side’s chances.
Australia’s lean patch must come to an end at some stage and there is no better time than now.
Their underwhelming results in post-World Cup friendlies have all been on the road and if their performances against Saudi Arabia and the first half against Japan are anything to go by, a win is more than plausible.
Australia’s questionable defence and under fire attack will all need to step up to make this a reality.
Kuwait’s at time questionable structure, in-house issues and a shaky rear-guard all pose as large stumbling blocks for the 10-time Gulf Cup winners, who will need to take their chances on the counter.
This should be a free-flowing match that will see the desperate Australians marginally prevail.
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