Asian Cup Group A Preview: Pressure on Australia

The group containing hosts Australia is set to hog the spotlight as far as local fans and media are concerned.

All eyes will be on the Socceroos to see if Ange Postecoglou can orchestrate a march to glory on home soil in what is just the third Asian Cup appearance for the men in green and gold.

They have not been handed an easy draw though, with Asian powerhouses South Korea, as well as Oman and Kuwait, joining them in Group A.

The favourites - South Korea, Australia

South Korea's Taeguk Warriors fared badly at the World Cup in Brazil, finishing bottom of Group H with just one point, prompting the resignation of Hong Myung-bo as head coach.

Leading the team in his place is former West Germany international Uli Stielike, who has managed three wins and three losses in his six friendlies in charge.

Despite those mixed results, there is no doubt Stielike's men, with the likes of Swansea City's Ki Sung-yueng and Bayer Leverkusen star Son Heung-min in their ranks, represent the biggest obstacle blocking Australia's path to the knockout stages.

The Socceroos meanwhile fared better than expected in Brazil, pushing Chile and the Netherlands all the way before losing more comprehensively to Spain and returning home empty handed, albeit with honour intact.

Since then they have struggled for consistency with a series of indifferent friendly results, although Postecoglou has insisted they will come good when it matters in this tournament.

The outsiders - Oman, Kuwait

Oman are ranked seven places higher than the Socceroos at 93rd in the FIFA rankings and reached the semi-finals of the Gulf Cup in November after topping Group B. Kuwait lost 5-1 to Oman in the same group but defeated Iraq and drew with the United Arab Emirates to miss out on progression by just one point.

Given Australia's recent struggles in friendlies against Qatar and the UAE, the two Middle Eastern countries will have no intention of merely making up the numbers, despite inevitably being overlooked in the pre-tournament reckoning.

Star Player - Tim Cahill

He has recently turned 35 but there is no denying Tim Cahill remains Australia's most prominent and arguably most important player. Along with Mark Bresciano, the New York Red Bulls veteran is one of just two members of Australia's so-called 'golden generation' to remain an integral member of the revamped squad under Postecoglou.

He scored against Chile and the Netherlands at the World Cup - the latter strike a spectacular, memorable volley - and is likely to be his country's chief goal threat again on home soil in January.

Crunch match - Australia v South Korea

If the group pans out as the bookmakers expect, the clash between Australia and South Korea in Brisbane on January 17 will be a showdown for the right to top the pool and secure a favourable berth in the quarter-finals. The alternative narrative is just as fascinating - should one or both of the heavyweights slip up, the game at Suncorp Stadium could be a sudden death decider with only one of the two able to progress to the last eight.

Matches

9 January 2015 - Australia v Kuwait (Match 1), Melbourne
10 January 2015 - South Korea v Oman (Match 2), Canberra
13 January 2015 - Kuwait v South Korea (Match 9), Canberra                              
                              Oman v Australia (Match 10), Sydney
17 January 2015 - Australia v South Korea (Match 17), Brisbane
                              Oman v Kuwait (Match 18), Newcastle