Australia not underestimating India in Asian Cup
Australia has learned a thing or two from its last Asian Cup performance and coach Holger Osieck said it will demonstrate that when it opens its campaign against lowly India on Monday.
The Socceroos first foray into the Asian continental competition started with an embarrassing draw against Oman and ended in a disappointing quarterfinal exit at the 2007 tournament, losing on penalties to Japan. Australia is the top-ranked team in Asia and was the pre-tournament favorite back then as well, but their desire and professionalism were questioned by then-coach Graham Arnold.
This time around, Osieck says the team, which includes Everton's Tim Cahill, Galatasaray teammates Lucas Neill and Harry Kewell, Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and Middlesbrough forward Scott McDonald, is fit and will not underestimate any opponent - even one ranked No. 142 in the FIFA rankings.
''My point is that I never pay attention to statistics and rankings,'' said Osieck, who was an assistant with West Germany when it won the 1990 World Cup. ''We have a saying in German what counts is on the field. We are far from being arrogant.''
Australia captain Neill has attempted to play down expectations for the Socceroos, saying Sunday that it was too early to make any predictions on whether it can win the tournament. As a member of the 2007 team, Neil remembers the troubles the team faced and said it has learned from that experience.
''The previous tournament was disappointing for us,'' Neill said. ''The negatives and experience from that we've turned into a positive and used it to our advantage for this tournament.
''Therefore our preparations have been extremely good and very thorough and our mindset is to concentrate on game by game. The outcome and desire is no different. There is still a dream and want to win the tournament.''
Australia couldn't have asked for a better opponent than India, not only the lowest-ranked team in the tournament but also one coping with problems on and off the pitch.
The India team manager left just before the tournament and the team has had a string of key injuries to its front line, including inspirational striker Bhaichung Bhutia.
Those problems were exacerbated with the announcement Sunday that striker Sushil Kumar Singh has been suspended for two matches by the AFC Disciplinary Committee for elbowing an opponent during a 2010 AFC Challenge Cup match against North Korea. He will miss the team's first two matches in the tournament.
''We were not aware the red card actually prohibited him from playing in this tournament,'' coach Bob Houghton said. ''That is a blow to us. We've lost one front player very late to suspension. That has left us with a little bit of a problem.''
Houghton said the team, which qualified by winning the second-tier AFC Challenge Cup and is making its first appearance in the tournament since 1984, recognizes that beating Australia will be difficult. But he wouldn't rule out ''a surprise'' in the team's biggest game in a major competition.
''I think it's a big achievement for us to get here and a good performance for players here to have gotten us this far,'' Houghton said.
''When we qualified 18 months ago, we knew this would be a tough competition and that was underlined when we were here for the draw,'' he said. ''It's a tough group. Australia, Korea and Bahrain are three of the top five or six teams in Asia. We are under no illusions. This will be a tough tournament for us.''
Houghton said India's lowly standing could benefit the team, since ''very few people expect us to win the tournament so I think we can play without too much pressure.''
Striker Sunil Chhetri, who is coming back from an ankle injury, said the team ''would do its best'' and hoped its appearance could boost the game in the world's second most populous country, where cricket still reigns supreme.
''It's a big tournament for us,'' he said. ''We are playing against two World Cup playing countries and Bahrain. I think it's huge.''