By Rohith Nair
DOHA (Reuters) – Australia and India have two of the longest-serving coaches at the Asian Cup and Saturday’s Group B opener between the teams promises to be a battle of styles between the pragmatic Aussies and an Indian side attempting to shed a defensive mindset.
Australia come into the Asian Cup as one of the pre-tournament favourites having won the competition in 2015 and coach Graham Arnold said on Friday that their goal is to lift the trophy once again in Qatar, where they have fond memories.
They reached the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where they gave eventual champions Argentina a run for their money in the last-16.
Arnold, who has been at the helm since 2018, said he had reinforced the message that the trophy was the ultimate goal.
“We’ve come here for a reason — to win this Asian Cup. It’s the only tournament that we probably can win,” Arnold told reporters.
“It is difficult, but we’re coming here to Qatar where we have a lot of familiarity, all the boys love coming here.
“You’ve got to reach for the stars and have high expectations, we’ll do that right from the start.”
Although Arnold has admitted that established goalscorers have been in short supply for Australia since the retirement of Tim Cahill, he believes that a superior defence will help them.
“If you have clean sheets and you have the energy to counter-press… you’re only one goal away from winning things,” he added.
“So it’s important that we continue to keep clean sheets, it’s crucial.”
The match could see two of the tallest players in the tournament — Australia’s Harry Souttar (2 metres) and Indian keeper Gurpreet Singh (1.97 metres) — go head-to-head.
Indian coach Igor Stimac identified Australia’s strength at set pieces and crosses into the box.
“They have a wonderful team… You can see the patterns, they know how to execute things and play pragmatic football,” Stimac said.
“Going to the flanks and putting in crosses, they made problems for England with set pieces. So we expect a storm coming from there.”
India have had disappointing campaigns at the Asian Cup where they exited the tournament in the group stage in their last two appearances.
However, there is some optimism this time and Stimac reeled off statistics to show how much he has raised their technical level since taking charge in 2019, with the Croatian saying their ambition is to ultimately play “fearless football”.
“We definitely didn’t come here to defend on the edge of the box. We’re going to go out there and try to enjoy football, as we did in the last four years,” Stimac said.
“That’s been the process we’ve been working on and if the defeat comes through that process, I have nothing against it.”
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Doha; Editing by Toby Davis)