Imposing Australia bank on secret weapons in Asian Cup title charge

Australia go for Asian Cup glory boasting few stars but with a record-breaking coach in Graham Arnold, an in-form striker born in Uruguay and an imposing defender whose goal-scoring exploits are more akin to a forward.

With their run to the last 16 of the 2022 Qatar World Cup and good form since, the Socceroos have climbed to their highest FIFA ranking in over a decade at 25.

They return to Qatar for the Asian Cup and are among the favourites to repeat their 2015 exploits, when they beat South Korea 2-1 in the final on home soil.

Australia’s opening game is on Saturday against India.

Their first and only Asian title was achieved under now Tottenham Hotspur manager Ange Postecoglou and with a team boasting talisman Tim Cahill, Crystal Palace skipper Mile Jedinak and Valencia goalkeeper Mat Ryan.

Ryan, who now plays for AZ Alkmaar, is the only survivor from the starting XI and with 86 caps the most experienced player in a squad where 15 of them have appeared fewer than 10 times and three are rookies.

None currently play in the English Premier League or Spain’s La Liga.

But Arnold, who recently became the longest-serving coach in Socceroos history, called it a “top squad” that he is “really, really happy” with.

Since taking over in 2018, Arnold has often spoken about building depth, having been dealt a difficult hand by a number of high-profile retirements including Cahill and Jedinak.

He believes his Asian Cup line-up has finally achieved that.

“I think you can see by this squad, when I first took over in 2018 I didn’t have anywhere near this depth,” he said.

“Half a dozen to 10 players could’ve come in as well. It shows where I feel confident, finally I can sit here, if we’ve got an injury, we’ve got depth.”

– ‘Tallest in Asia’ –

Australia’s secret weapon in attack could be a 36-year-old born in Uruguay.

Bruno Fornaroli has only featured twice before for Australia but got the nod after a prolific season with Melbourne Victory, scoring 13 times in 10 games.

“The most important thing with the Socceroos is form,” Arnold said.

“Bruno has done a fantastic job and he fully deserves his selection. He definitely gives you something different.”

Arnold is banking on Fornaroli and Ryan, along with fellow senior players Jackson Irvine and Aziz Behich, to mentor the younger players and new faces in Qatar.

“I’m excited about the potential within this group,” he said. “We’re welcoming in some new players who I think will prove fantastic additions to that.”

Along with Fornaroli, they have another weapon in Scotland-born defender Harry Souttar, who has been frozen out at Leicester City but is a rock at the heart of Australia’s defence.

With 10 goals in 21 appearances for Australia he is also a major threat at corners and set-pieces.

Partnered with Ipswich Town’s Cam Burgess in defence, Australia have what Arnold said was “probably the two tallest centre-backs in Asia”.

Arnold wants Souttar to use his time with the Socceroos to “show your coach at Leicester and ask the question why you’re not playing and show the fans how good you really are”.

“I feel fortunate that I’ve got the boss backing me and keeping his faith in me even though I’ve not been playing football,” Souttar said. BSS

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