Asian Cup looks like it's Australia's to lose
IT APPEARS as though the Asian Cup is all of a sudden Australia's to lose, heading into tonight's massive semi-final against the UAE at Newcastle Stadium.
The Socceroos are near unbackable favourites for a game that will be watched by millions across Asia and the world.
And rightfully so for a number of reasons.
Physically, the Australian team is in a good space, according to coach Ange Postecoglou, with his rotation policy a key part of that.
That is despite the criticism he received for giving stars such as Tim Cahill, Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse limited game-time in Australia's final group game - a 1-0 loss - against one of last night's other semi-finalists, South Korea.
"We knew that our planning had to go right to the end of the tournament," Postecoglou said.
"There is no way we were going to be able to get a top-level performance for six games from every player in the squad.
"It hasn't just been about rotating; it's just that we feel the teams we were putting out were giving us the best chance of success."
The Australian squad has also had an extra day to recover for this game compared to the UAE, after comfortably disposing of China 2-0 inside 90 minutes, in last Thursday night's first quarter-final at Suncorp Stadium. The Whites - unlike the men in green and gold - endured a roller-coaster extra-time and penalties scenario against tournament favourite Japan - for a spot in the last four.
Then there is the return of defender Matthew Spiranovic, who will add another layer of security to the Socceroos' back four.
And after getting 90 minutes under his belt, skipper Mile Jedinak shrugged off his early rustiness against China, and said he believes he will be ready to patrol the centre of midfield.
He will need to be at his sharpest, though, with the ever-dangerous Omar Abdulrahman lurking just behind the UAE front line.
How Jedinak contains this rising star of Asian football will be a key factor in deciding the contest.
The Socceroos play a high-pressing game under coach Postecoglou, and a number of them have said that is the key to containing a freakish talent like Abdulrahman, who they feel can be lazy at times.
The Socceroos know teams tire heavily in the final third of games when they put the physical blowtorch onto their opponents.
That happened against China last week, with Tim Cahill scoring two second-half goals.
In transition, though, Gulf Cup Golden Boot Ali Mabkhout, Ismael Al Hammadi and Ahmed Khalil can hurt the Socceroos when given a chance in wide positions.
And if Abdulrahman can keep Jedinak occupied centrally, there could be some more opportunities on the counter for the Whites.
AUSTRALIA v UAE
Hunter Stadium, Newcastle, 7pm (AEST)