Australia v UAE: Japan's absence a boon for Asian Cup hosts
While coach Ange Postecoglou and his team will not admit it, Australia were given a big boost when the United Arab Emirates eliminated title-holders Japan from the Asian Cup on Friday.
Australia will face the UAE in Newcastle on Tuesday with a spot in the Asian Cup final on the line and with Japan out of the way, the host nation have been given a huge opportunity to win their maiden title.
Japan have won three of the past four Asian Cups, knocking off Australia 1-0 in extra time in the 2011 final, while they have not lost to the Australians since 2009, including a 2-1 triumph in Osaka in a friendly in November.
By contrast, Postecoglou's men will believe in victory on home soil against the UAE.
Physically, Australia team is in a good space, having had an extra day to recover against an opponent that – unlike the hosts – endured extra time and a penalty shootout to secure a spot in the last four.
Added to that, the return of Matthew Spiranovic will add another layer of security to Australia's back four.
In a blow for Postecoglou, however, Ivan Franjic and Mathew Leckie had ice packs on their hamstrings at Sunday’s training session in Newcastle, although that may just be precautionary.
Belief is one thing but the right attitude is another if Australia are to avoid being a second giant-killing victim of the eye-catching Emiratis.
Postecoglou and his team will be emphasising the importance of sticking to the game plan and the desire to out-run and out-chase the Middle Eastern team.
Tuesday night will be the biggest football match in Newcastle's football history and Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan has called on a rocking Hunter Stadium to cheer the men in green and gold into the tournament decider.
"It's never going to happen again in my lifetime for an Asian Cup to be hosted here in Australia," the Club Brugge gloveman said.
"It's been the talk from day one with such a massive tournament here at home and so far we've taken advantage of the home support. We'll be looking for that to continue on Tuesday night."
Like Australia, who reached the semi-finals with a 2-0 win over China, the UAE are a young, up-and-coming outfit, whose best years are ahead of them.
They have injury concerns, however, with star midfielder Omar Abdulrahman limping into training on Saturday in Newcastle.
In transition, the UAE could hurt their opposition, with Ali Mabkhout, Ismael Al Hammadi and Ahmed Khalil the most likely beneficiaries of Abdulrahman's pinpoint passing.
But Australia know they will never have a better chance of winning their maiden Asian Cup than in 2015 with a home final beckoning at the 82,000-capacity ANZ Stadium in Sydney.