By Robert Smith, BANGKOK, AFP
Australian coach Graham Arnold warned Saturday an unpredictable Oman could create serious problems for his pumped-up side as they attempt to win the Asian Cup for the first time.
The tournament favorites line up their European star-studded team in their opening Group A match at Rajamangala Stadium on Sunday with expectations high that they can land their first silverware at a major tournament.
In Hanoi, Group B kicks off on Sunday off with co-host Vietnam facing United Arab Emirates, with three points crucial for both teams who also have to contend with defending champions Japan and Asian Games winners Qatar.
The Socceroo players have been making all the right noises about not taking their rivals lightly, but Arnold raised the bar when he said anything but reaching the July 29 Jakarta final would be considered a failure.
He knows Oman is going to be a true test of their character.
“I see Oman’s strengths as their athleticism and their unpredictability,” he said at a press conference.
“They can do some crazy things and they can do some great things and they are probably the hardest team to play against when teams are unpredictable.
“The first game of any competition is always the hardest because everyone’s starts off on zero points and there is a lot of adrenalin going through the players.”
The Australians, fielding their biggest names — Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill, Mark Schwarzer and Vince Grella — have been the attention-grabbers since landing in Asia to prepare for the tournament.
They come into the 14th Asian Cup full of confidence after reaching the second round of the World Cup in Germany, overwhelming Japan along the way and only bowing out to a disputed last-minute penalty to eventual champions Italy.
Oman are listed 74th on the FIFA rankings to Australia’s 48 and were runners-up in this year’s Gulf Cup to the United Arab Emirates.
With a population of just 2.5 million, they are making their second tilt at the Asian Cup, having lost to Japan, drawn with Iran and beaten Thailand at the last edition in China in 2004.
Former Argentine international Gabriel Calderon, only in the coaching job for a matter of months, said his team have been working hard and are ready for action.
“The players were on holidays before starting training and it’s been just one month to prepare for the Asian Cup and perhaps it’s a little bit short to be at the top of our game at the moment,” he said.
“But the players have worked very hard over the last month and I’m hoping the team will be ready for the start of the competition.
“We are playing the best team in the group and it will be a good test for the quality of the team and its preparation.”
In Hanoi, Vietnam coach Alfred Riedl said he felt no pressure, with his side the underdogs in their group.
“Everybody is fit and ready. I personally have no pressure. The team prepared well,” said the Austrian.
“We know all three (other) teams are stronger than us. But it doesn’t mean we will not try to do everything to win all three matches.”
The UAE’s French coach Bruno Metsu said he had no injury worries and was eager to get their first match out of the way.
“It is always difficult to play the first game. Against Vietnam, we will play against the team and the fans. If you win the first game, it will help us through the tournament,” he said.