Arnold: It’s game time
Australia coach Graham Arnold has declared that each member of his 23-man squad is ready to take the field for the Socceroos’ historic inaugural Asian Cup clash against Oman at the Rajamangala Stadium tomorrow.
BANGKOK: Australia coach Graham Arnold has declared that each member of his 23-man squad is ready to take the field for the Socceroos- historic inaugural Asian Cup clash against Oman at the Rajamangala Stadium tomorrow.
Arnold dismissed lingering concerns over the availability of key midfield options Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill, and also flagged the possibility of introducing lynchpin attacker Harry Kewell from the opening whistle at today-s pre-match press conference in Bangkok.
"We had a very good two weeks in Singapore, where we trained extremely hard, we acclimatised to the conditions and I-m very happy where we-re at, at this moment," said Arnold.
"Everyone is fit, I have a luxury of 23 players to select from. Harry is in contention and looking great - he trained extremely well yesterday."
After Australia-s first stage opponents Thailand and Iraq officially start proceedings at the 60,000 seater Rajamangala Stadium later tonight, Australia will experience Asian Cup football for the first time ever against west Asian qualifiers Oman.
Coached by vastly travelled Argentinean Gabriel Calderon, Oman loom as not only the surprise packets of Group A, but, arguably, the entire tournament.
Tomorrow-s match will mark the beginning of Oman-s second Asian Cup appearance and interestingly, of the 16 nations on show this month, only debutants Australia have made less Asian Cup appearances.
Oman-s inaugural Asian Cup appearance in China three years ago further enhanced the credibility of the west Asians, who have since established themselves as one of Asian football-s truly competitive forces.
In China, Oman held regional heavyweights IR Iran to a 2-2 draw in Chongqing - even leading the match by two goals at one point, with only Japan-s stalemate with the Iranians on the final match day preventing Oman from snatching an unlikely berth in the final eight.
"They can do some crazy things and they can do some great things and they are probably the hardest teams to play against," said Arnold of Oman.
"We watched them against Saudi Arabia and at the Gulf Cup, so we know quite a bit about them and the players have been given a lot of homework about them.
"They are a very good side and the first game of any competition is always the hardest because everyone starts off on zero points and there-s a lot of adrenalin going through the bodies of the players."
Oman-s form in qualifying for their second Asian Cup finals appearance was impressive.
Despite defeating group winners the United Arab Emirates in Muscat, Oman finished second in Group B to earn their place alongside Australia, Iraq and Thailand in Bangkok.
Led by diminutive strike pairing Ismail Al Ajmi and Imad Ali - both highly rated 23-year-olds based in nearby Qatar, Oman are, at the very least, a fighting chance against the much fancied Australians.
In addition, goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi is one of an elite band of west Asians playing in Europe at present, albeit without much consistency for English Premier League challengers Bolton Wanderers.
"Finally, it-s game time," said Arnold.
"This is pretty much all I-ve thought about for the last six months, getting my head around the Asian Cup and doing my homework on the opposition teams and getting the squad together that I have."
The Socceroos play their historic first ever Asian Cup match on Sunday, 8 July, against west Asian qualifiers and Group A rivals Oman. Kick off is at 5.20pm local time (8.20pm AEST).
Fox Sports will feature live and exclusive coverage of the match from 8pm AEST. Click here for the entire Fox Sports broadcast schedule.