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The Socceroos will welcome high expectations and familiar surroundings in Qatar when they kick off their bid for Asian Cup glory in October.
IGraham Arnold’s charges were on Thursday night drawn to face two familiar foes in world No.74 Uzbekistan and No.90 Syria, with 101st-ranked India the clear minnows of group B.
Expectations are understandably high after Australia’s magnificent run at last year’s World Cup and Arnold was keen to deliver a second title.
“Looking further down the track, the World Cup qualifiers and qualifying for a World Cup is important but this is just as important to me and for the nation,” Arnold said from the draw in Qatar.
“You always have to go into these tournaments with the expectations to win it and we’ll give it a great shot.”
The tournament will be held from January 12 until February 10 next year after it was moved from China to Qatar, a happy hunting ground for Australia in recent years, due to the former’s COVID-19 restrictions.
“It’s been a home away from home for the Socceroos over the last couple of years due to COVID but also with the World Cup qualifiers and also the World Cup,” Arnold said.
“We’re very comfortable here, we’re familiar with the stadiums, the surroundings and we’re looking forward to getting this Asian Cup underway.”
The top two teams in each of the six groups progress to the round of 16, along with the four best-ranked third-placed finishers.
World No.29 Australia last played Uzbekistan in the round of 16 in 2019, when they drew 0-0 but ultimately progressed via a penalty shootout.
Australia beat Syria 3-2 in the group stage of the 2019 Asian Cup but famously prevailed in a dramatic play-off for the 2018 World Cup.
“We’ve played Syria in World Cup qualifiers, we’ve played Uzbekistan before,” Arnold said.
“We’re familiar with the way that they like to play and we’re looking forward to it.”
The Socceroos, albeit with a significantly different squad, are also eyeing redemption for their nightmare 2019 tournament as defending champions, when they exited in the quarter-finals.
“Last time it was with an older group of players, we had to find some youngsters,” Arnold said.
“But this time we’re more settled as a group and I’ve been in the job for nearly five years so I’m very familiar with all the players and what they expect from us and my expectations from them.
“We’re going into this tournament with a great mindset and looking forward to doing well.”