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Who the Socceroos are facing as the Asian Cup kicks off, and when to watch

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The AFC Asian Cup is upon us and, as reigning champions, all eyes will be on the Socceroos to see if they can retain their crown under new coach Graham Arnold.

Arnold has coached the Socceroos in an Asian Cup before, with the former Sydney FC boss taking over just before leading the side to the quarterfinals in 2007.

Since then, the Socceroos have reached the final in both 2011 and 2015, winning the latter with a 2-1 extra time victory over South Korea in Sydney, and will now aim to become the first team to win back-to-back titles since Japan did so in 2000/2004.

For the 2019 tournament, the Socceroos have been drawn in Group B alongside Jordan, Palestine and Syria — and will be favourites to progress as group winners.

Two teams will qualify automatically for the round of 16, with the four third-placed teams with the best record in their groups also qualifying — but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

After thrashing Oman 5-0 in a warm-up game last week things were looking pretty rosy for the Socceroos, but that feel-good factor took a major hit after live-wire Hibernian midfielder Martin Boyle was ruled out of the tournament with a knee injury.

Australia are currently ranked 41st in the FIFA rankings, the second-highest team in the Asian Confederation behind Iran (29).

Follow the action from all of the Socceroos’ matches in our live blogs.

 

Jordan

FIFA Ranking: 109

Nickname: The Chivalrous.

When do the Socceroos play Jordan? At 10:00pm AEDT on Sunday January 6.

How have the Socceroos fared against them?

The Socceroos have played Jordan in two separate World Cup qualification campaigns in recent years, winning both games at home by comfortable margins (4-0 in 2013 and 5-1 in 2016) but twice lost in Amman, 2-1 under Holger Osieck on the road to Brazil 2014 and 2-0 under Ange Postecoglou in 2015.

What’s its form like?

Jordan suffered a 1-0 defeat in its warm-up game against Asian Cup newcomers Kyrgyzstan just before Christmas and have only won one of its seven since September, a 2-1 victory over India at the King Abdullah International Stadium in Amman on November 18.

That game against India was notable for talismanic captain (and goalkeeper) Amer Shafi scoring the opening goal of the match — and first of his career — from inside his own area.

Palestine

 

FIFA Ranking: 99

Nickname: Lions of Canaan.

When do the Socceroos play Palestine? At 10:00pm AEDT on Friday January 11.

How have the Socceroos fared against them?

Well actually, we’ve never met in a competitive match.

Maccabi Tel Aviv toured Australia in 1939, and were referred to as Palestine in some reports, but the game on January 11 will be the first official meeting.

How’s its form?

Palestine has won just one of its 10 games in 2018, a 2-1 victory over Pakistan in Jerusalem in November.

Other than that bright spot, it’s been a barren year for the Lions, especially considering they lost just once in the third round of qualifying for the Asian Cup in 2017.

The Lions finished in second spot in Group D on goal difference behind Oman, despite scoring 25 goals in six games, including hammering The Maldives (8-1) and Bhutan (10-0) at home.

What else should we know?

Palestine qualified for its maiden Asian Cup in Australia in 2015, although finished bottom of a tough Group D that included Japan, Iraq and Jordan, scoring once and conceding 11.

Key player: Abdelatif Bahdari.

The most experienced player in the side with 89 caps, defender Bahdari plays his club football for Markaz Balata in the West Bank Premier League and will don the captain’s armband during the tournament.

 

Syria

FIFA ranking: 74

Nickname: Qasioun Eagles.

When do the Socceroos play Syria? At 12:30am AEDT on Wednesday January 16.

How have the Socceroos fared against them?

Australia has very recent history against Syria, meeting the Eagles in the dramatic Asian confederation play-off on the path to qualifying for last year’s World Cup in Russia.

The Socceroos travelled to Malaysia to face Syria in October 2017 and were held in the first leg after a contentious late penalty gave the Middle Eastern team (playing as hosts) a last-gasp 1-1 draw.

In the return leg at the Olympic stadium in Sydney, a 2-1 victory after extra time thanks to two Tim Cahill goals — and the width of the post — rescued the Socceroos and secured progress to the intercontinental play-off against Honduras.

What’s its form like?

Syria has won its last two matches, including a 1-0 victory over Yemen on New Year’s Eve and a 2-1 victory over Kuwait in November.

Aside from that, 2018 has not been too kind to the Qasioun Eagles, with the only other victories coming against Azerbaijani club side Qarabag FK and a 1-0 friendly victory over Bahrain.

Since losing to Australia and missing out on the 2018 World Cup, Syria have played ten games, winning four, drawing four and losing two.

Syria is appearing in its sixth Asian Cup, having missed out in 2015 after failing to qualify amidst the tumult of the country’s civil war.

Player to watch: Omar Al Soma.

A prolific goal scorer for Saudi giants Al Ahli, for whom he has scored 84 goals in 82 league appearances, winning three consecutive golden boot awards. The Socceroos are well aware of the threat the 29-year-old poses.

Al Soma scored two of his seven goals for Syria against Australia in those World Cup play-off matches, and also hit the post with a last-minute free kick that left Matt Ryan floundering.

Asian Cup 2019: Group B

Australia
Syria
Jordan
Palestine

 

R/ABC

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