The Socceroos will embrace facing unfamiliar opponents Indonesia in the Asian Cup round of 16, and have no qualms over the daunting prospect of either South Korea or Saudi Arabia awaiting in the quarter-finals.
Australia and Indonesia will meet for the first time since the Socceroos claimed a 1-0 Asian Cup qualifying win in Brisbane in 2010 – making the world No.146 a fresh challenge for Graham Arnold’s current charges.
“It’s really exciting, obviously, to have a new opponent in Asia,” midfielder Jackson Irvine told AAP.
“Over the last Asian Cup, obviously in 2019, we had Syria, Palestine, Uzbekistan.
“It’s nice to play against different new teams, new opponents, totally different kinds of football.”
Claiming top spot in Group B gave the Socceroos the nominally easier path of facing one of the best third-placed teams in Doha.
Until Kyrgyzstan scored an 80th-minute equaliser in their 1-1 draw with Oman on Thursday, knocking their opponents out of contention to progress, Australia had appeared destined to play Palestine.
Indonesia qualified with three points from a difficult group that included Iraq, Japan and Vietnam, scoring in all three games, with their win over Vietnam proving enough to seal progression.
They joined Palestine, Syria and Jordan (all four points) as the best third-placed finishers, with Oman (two points) eliminated.
“I’ve just watched them play against Japan and they lost 3-1 and they’re well set up,” Arnold told AAP.
“They’ve got a lot of legs – we know they’re gonna run and fight and frustrate probably for 90 minutes.
“But I do believe that compared to the Bahrain game (pre-tournament), compared to the Uzbekistan game, we’re improving all the time and the boys are getting what we want to do.
“And I think that we’re just about to click, and it’s the perfect timing for that.”
Craig Goodwin is available after Arnold took a cautious approach to a knee knock suffered after the Syria game, naming the winger on the bench against Uzbekistan but opting not to use him.
“He’s fine. I didn’t want to risk him when we’d already qualified for the knockouts,” Arnold said.
Mitch Duke (hamstring) will have to prove his fitness at Friday’s training in Doha after missing the last group game.
If Australia do get through, a heady task awaits in the quarter-finals against either world No.23 South Korea or world No.53 Saudi Arabia.
“It’s that old saying – if you want to win, you’ve got to beat the best,” defender Harry Souttar told AAP.
“But we’re not looking past Indonesia at all.”
Arnold added: “We just need to focus on ourselves, one game at a time.
“I’m not even really thinking too much about them because I could start thinking about ‘we’re gonna play South Korea’ and then all of a sudden it’s Saudi.
“All I’m thinking about today is Indonesia and getting the boys right for that and getting ready and putting on a great performance.”
South Korea have struggled to impress under Jurgen Klinsmann and a shock, dramatic 3-3 draw with Malaysia resulted in a second-placed finish in Group E, behind Bahrain.
But they have plenty of talent, headlined by Tottenham star Son Heung-min, who pleaded with fans and the media to cool their criticism.
“I would like to ask for a favour … to protect the players during the tournament and just to help the team. It is really sad, it really hurts a lot in the locker room,” he told reporters.
Klinsmann’s charges will face Roberto Mancini’s Saudis, who topped Group F after a 0-0 draw with second-placed Thailand in their final match.
Tajikistan-United Arab Emirates and Iraq-Jordan are the other round-of-16 clashes on Australia’s side of the draw.
ASIAN CUP ROUND-OF-16 DRAW:
* Australia v Indonesia
* Tajikistan v United Arab Emirates
* Iraq v Jordan
* Qatar v Palestine
* Uzbekistan v Thailand
* Saudia Arabia v South Korea
* Bahrain v Japan
* Iran v Syria