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They've been building for the Asian Cup, but can the Socceroos beat the odds and take the title in Qatar?

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17th January, 2024
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Australia will go into Thursday’s game against Syria with confidence following their routine victory over India in their first group stage match of the 2023 Asia Cup.

The India win was the 5th consecutive victory for the Socceroos, momentum they’ll be confident of building on as the tournament progresses. Their last defeat came in a spirited game againt England at Wembley, a game where England were expected to turn over Australia with ease. Yet Graham Arnold’s men were able to keep things relatively tight at the back (thanks to a solid performance from Harry Souttar) and make a game of it.

While England were the ones to break the deadlock and come out as narrow 1-0 victors, Australia had more shots and shots on target, so they have shown that they are capable of punching above their weight. Of course, the dynamic of tournaments and the intense pressure that comes with them is a different kettle of fish to friendly matches. Nevertheless, it was something to take confidence from.

Jordan Bos of Australia celebrates goal against India

Jordan Bos of Australia celebrating the Socceroos’ second goal against India at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. (Photo by Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Socceroos will be confident of going on to top their group ahead of India, Syria and Uzbekistan. Should this target be achieved, many will wonder how they will fare against the sterner tests in the competition, namely Japan and South Korea.

Japan went toe to toe with Vietnam in their opening fixture, which turned out to be an entertaining game for the neutral. The favourites for the trophy won 4-2 and will be looking to impose their quality on the rest of the teams they come up against.

They have shown they can mix it with the best teams in the world – their famous victory against Germany in the World Cup was considered a shock. With hindsight, the result, while certainly an upset, probably wasn’t as unbelievable as it was made out to be at the time.

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Some of the players at Japan’s disposal on that day and right now have performed to a high standard in some of Europe’s top leagues. Current Liverpool midfielder Wataru Endo (then of VfB Stutgart) was integral to their victory against the 4-time World Cup winners in Qatar. Endo captains Japan this tournament, taking over from Maya Yoshida.

Qatar players celebrate their Asian Cup win.

Qatar are the reigning AFC Asian Cup holders. (Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)

Former Liverpool player Takumi Minamino scored two of the goals and set up another against Vietnam. Part of Liverpool’s first Premier League triumph in 2020, their first topflight English title in 30 years, Minamino is another member of the Japan squad who is not out of place playing at the very top level of the game.

Kaoru Mitoma is recovering from a minor injury at the moment, but Japan will be hoping he can be fit for the later stages of the tournament should they fulfil expectations. Mitoma hasn’t performed to the heights he did last season in the Premier League but at his best is undoubtedly a world class player. The Brighton & Hove Albion left winger holds the X factor that can prove crucial in major tournaments.

A potential weakness for Japan could lie in their defence, with 2 goals conceded in the game against Vietnam. The old saying ‘strikers win games, defences win tournaments’ is one that tends to be accurate so Japan will want to improve this going forward.

South Korea breezed past Bahrain 3-1 in their first match. They, like Japan, also possess some big names, namely Kim Min-jae of Bayern Munich and Son Heung-min of Tottenham Hotspur. Their Manager Jurgen Klinsman is obviously no stranger to international tournaments, either as a player or a manager. He won the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championships as a player with Germany, and led the USA to victory as a manager at the CONCACAF in 2013.

South Korea celebrate a goal. (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

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Whether Australia can overthrow the titan of the tournament in Japan remains to be seen. South Korea will also prove to be an extremely tough challenge for the Socceroos if the two teams meet.

There is however an outside possibility Japan and South Korea lock horns in the last 16, if Japan finish second in group D and South Korea won Group E. While it is likely Japan progress comfortably as winners of their group, if they were to slip down to second and face South Korea in the last 16 it would take a huge favourite out of the competition at a relatively early stage, regardless of who came out on top.

Ultimately, Australia’s fate is in their own hands. There’s no doubt the task ahead of them is tough. One thing to remember is the resilience shown in recent matches against big teams like England and Mexico, a key ingredient for success in international tournaments.

Combine that with the performance they put in the last time they played a tournament in Qatar and the Socceroos will be confident they can upset the apple cart and come out as champions.

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