Australia captain Mile Jedinak promised Thursday that the Socceroos will embrace the pressure that goes with being Asian Cup hosts ahead of their tournament opener against Kuwait.
With most of the golden generation of players who reached the 2011 final long gone, Australia’s coach Ange Postecoglou will be under intense scrutiny when they take on former champions Kuwait in Melbourne.
But Jedinak backed the home side to rise to the challenge, despite failing to win the Asian Cup since joining the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2006.
“I didn’t play (the Asian Cup) in 2007 but I played in 2011 and think it was a great tournament for us,” said the Crystal Palace midfielder.
“As a group we grew. We didn’t get the final result that we wanted but you’ve got to use that a little bit as motivation going forward, whether you’re hosting (the tournament) or not.
“It’s something that makes you grow as a footballer. It doesn’t always go as smooth as you want, but does that put any more pressure on? I personally don’t feel it. You put pressure on yourself to do well no matter what.”
“Everyone wants to be involved in a major tournament in their own back yard playing in front of family and friends,” he added. “We’re no different so it’s something we all have to embrace.”
Kuwait, Asian Cup winners in 1980, have beaten Australia in five of their previous 10 meetings, losing just three times with two draws.
The Socceroos last came out on top in 2006, and Jedinak warned against looking beyond the Gulf side with games against Oman and South Korea to follow.
– Kuwaiti mission –
“Our biggest rivals in the tournament are Kuwait tomorrow night, pure and simple,” he said. “We won’t be looking too far ahead. I won’t allow myself to do it and I won’t allow my team-mates to. Our sole focus has to be Kuwait, then Oman, then Korea.
“We have to give our undivided attention to Kuwait. They are very quick on the break and they will be a handful.”
The Australians, beaten by Japan in the 2011 final, are only the 10th highest-ranked team at the Asian Cup, but Postecoglou dismissed the significance of his side’s current world ranking of 100 — or a woeful record of just one victory in 11 matches last year.
“We have blooded a lot of players since the World Cup,” he said. “We’ve tried to broaden the base and to expose as many players as possible to international football. I’ve now got so many options across the park, it makes it easier. If we play well, we’ll be a handful for anybody.”
Jedinak, who along with talisman Tim Cahill will be crucial to Australia’s hopes, called on the Socceroos to put football on the map in the sports-mad country.
“Football in Australia is a sleeping giant,” he said. “Obviously it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Hopefully now everyone else can see, with the country hosting such an important tournament. A lot of it is going to come down to us performing well, starting tomorrow night.”