Seeking to avoid a repeat of their nightmare Asian Cup start four years ago, left back Aziz Behich believes Australia must approach playing minnows India as if they are facing world champions Argentina again.
The Socceroos begin their Asian Cup campaign on Saturday (10.30pm AEDT) with bookmakers predicting Graham Arnold’s side will stroll to victory against $36 outsiders India.
Despite a population of 1.4 billion people and one of international football’s most prolific goalscorers in the veteran Sunil Chhetri, the Blue Tigers sit in just 102nd spot on FIFA’s world rankings.
But Behich, whose Socceroos side are ranked 25th, knows all too well how a tournament opener can be laced with booby traps.
At the same competition four years ago, the Socceroos dominated possession but slumped to a shock 1-0 loss to world No.109 Jordan.
The result left Australia chasing their tails before an eventual quarter-final exit.
And Behich is keen to underline that against India, who are expected to be supported by a large contingent of expats, the Socceroos must keep their foot to the floor.
“We don’t disrespect any opponent,” Behich said.
“Whether we’re playing Argentina or coming up against India in our next game, we treat it like it’s a final and we’re going into every game to win.
“We’ve set ourselves a high standard inside these four walls.
“A lot of boys are playing their first major tournament for the country.
“So it’s exciting, and for us that have been here before, it’s another opportunity to put things right from what happened last time.”
Behich will play in his third Asian Cup and, alongside goalkeeper Maty Ryan, is one of just two survivors from the 2015 squad which lifted the trophy under Ange Postecoglou.
The 33-year-old has been one of the first names on the team sheet under Arnold but now faces a challenge to hold onto his starting leftback spot following the emergence of Jordan Bos.
Behich got the nod in the Socceroos’ last competitive game – an uninspiring 1-0 win over Palestine in World Cup qualification in November – while Bos started last week’s 2-0 friendly victory over Bahrain.
“Competition is healthy when it comes to a major tournament,” Behich said.
“Everyone’s going to be needed, we’ve got games coming in rapid and you only get a few days to recover and there can be suspensions and injuries.
“He (Bos) is a good lad and he’s got qualities.
“For me, it’s just about training hard and I’ve shown what I can do when I have the opportunity to represent the country.”
Meanwhile, Behich said captain Ryan was tracking well to recover from a broken cheekbone in time for the group stage where Australia have been drawn alongside Syria and Uzbekistan as well as India.
Ryan didn’t feature in the friendly win over Bahrain.
“He looks good,” Behich said. “He’s training with the mask on and we’ve still got a few more days before the game so the fact he’s on the training park is positive.”