Asian Cup exit to be avoided
Australia's players are determined to avoid the misery of their 2019 Asian Cup exit in the UAE. Image by EPA PHOTO
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Socceroos trio learn from 2019 Asian Cup heartbreak

Anna Harrington February 2, 2024

Five years after watching their Asian Cup title defence go up in smoke, the Socceroos are determined not to suffer a similarly devastating quarter-final exit.

In 2019, Australia crashed out with a 1-0 loss in Al Ain to the tournament hosts, United Arab Emirates.

Only skipper Maty Ryan, Jackson Irvine and Aziz Behich remain from Graham Arnold’s squad.

Behich on the ball
 No.16 Aziz Behich is one of the three Socceroos who were in the side that lost to UAE in 2019. Image by AP PHOTO 

All three are likely to start against South Korea at the Al Janoub Stadium in Doha on Friday evening (Saturday 2.30am AEDT), determined to vanquish memories of 2019 and seal a semi-final berth against Tajikistan or Jordan.

“It was a kick in the teeth, to be honest,” Behich told AAP.

“We went in there as reigning champions, a lot of expectation – and then it didn’t go to plan. 

“So it did hurt at the time. When you get knocked out of any tournament, it hurts and I felt the same at the World Cup, even losing to the world champions (Argentina). 

“Because you feel like you’re that close, but it’s taken away from you.”

The lessons of 2019 have driven the current group.

“When some challenges and difficulties, adversity gets thrown your way you don’t curl up in a ball and cry and be overwhelmed and all that,” Ryan told AAP.

“You cop it on the chin, you learn from those moments to try and improve and grow and become better. 

“So the last Asian Cup, obviously it was disappointing to go out how we did but we cop it on the chin, we take what we can learn from it, and we use that moving forward now as a group.

“This Friday, it’s a new opportunity for us and we’ve got to go out there, first and foremost, with the belief that we can get the job done.”

Irvine knows the contest will come down to big moments – and who can make theirs count.

“They’re fine margins that decide these games at this level – it doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” Irvine told AAP.

“When you do all the basic stuff right and add the individual quality that we have, then you give yourself the best chance of those small fine margins swinging your way.”

Graham Arnold downtime
 Australia coach Graham Arnold believes his side need some downtime in their Asian Cup campaign. Image by AP PHOTO 

Coach Graham Arnold has changed since 2019, which was his first tournament as head coach.

“Probably what I didn’t do right last time was give the players some downtime,” Arnold conceded.

“I was obsessed with football, football, football. 

“This time, when you’re in tournament mode, what’s important is a bit of downtime and letting them be away from my voice, away from me and the staff and giving them a bit of a life as well while we’re here.

“It’s important to freshen the brain, freshen the legs, freshen everything and get ready.”

The Socceroos won’t hold anything back.

“The messaging from me and Maty is just ‘no regrets’. Leave everything on the pitch,'” Behich said.

“Then we can say we gave everything, whether it goes our way or not.

“But I’m pretty confident it’s gonna go our way.”