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  • Writer's pictureMatt Olsen

The AFC Asian Cup: Patience and respect key for Australia ahead of Syrian assault

The second round of fixtures at the AFC Asian Cup will look to provide action as thrilling and captivating as what we saw the first time around. With underdogs increasingly showing their worth across the board, it may be the wrong time for the Socceroos to face an eager and buoyed Syrian side. But they will not be alone in that challenge, as many sides have proven they are capable of an upset.

The Socceroos train ahead of what is expected to be a stern Syrian test. (Football Australia)

Having come into their own in the second half against India, the Socceroos hope a relaxed approach in camp is enough ahead of a meeting with a familiar foe.

At Monday's press conference, Riley McGree quickly pointed out that although a slow start panned out on the surface, Australia found their way through India's low block with a patient mentality, hoping to be adorned throughout the squad.

"I think we need to have patience, as we showed against India. Teams are going to show us respect, as we are with them. If they are going to sit in a low block or they are going to press, we have the outcomes, and we know how to deal with set situations. We are not going to be surprised, and it showed against India the patience we had," the midfielder said.

For sure, McGree is not wrong; Syria approached their matchday one fixture with Uzbekistan, a fairly well-structured attacking side, by frustrating and absorbing the effort displayed directly and from wide areas and maintaining a superb level of discipline, fouling just 11 times across the 90 minutes to the Uzbeks' 12.

The X factor of a player like McGree, should he be a late inclusion as he was on matchday one, or perhaps the more flair-like nature of fellow substitute Bruno Fornaroli, could be crucial in deciphering how to overcome Syria with a multi-faceted attack.

Akin to Australia's recent World Cup qualifying match with Palestine, the set-piece routine headed home by Harry Souttar may be another plausible route to the goal that Syria will have difficulty containing.

Regarding the attacking prowess the Syrians may offer on the counter, it is expected to be limited. Despite the clean sheet they obtained against Uzbekistan, they provided no shots on target, and star man Omar Khribin was limited to only a 20-minute cameo.

Having started against India, Kye Rowles also spoke to the press on Monday, emphasising the unique challenge a plucky side like Syria can pose.

"India were robust. Syria, I expect to be the same. The match isn't won in the first minute, so we'll proceed with a unique game plan as we did on Saturday. So we'll go for, be it 95, 98 minutes, whatever it is; we'll do what we can and keep on grinding," the defender said.

It must be accepted the mentality in camp is consistent. A game of patience and self-belief is laid out and promised without a convincing victory. You can be forgiven for thinking that was ever in the script, given Australia's past ugly wins against Syria.


Jackson Irvine celebrates after giving Australia the lead against India. (AFC Media)

Syria was one of many sides to excel beyond their means on matchday one. There were abundant surprises and waves of passion and shock.

After a fast start to the second half, Bahrain equalised against Jurgen Klinsmann's South Korea. Tajikstan provided some of the most entertaining attacking football of the tournament in a 0-0 clash with China, leaving them primed for a shot at the Round of 16.

Hong Kong put the UAE to the sword several times, with a contentious penalty decision keeping them away from a potential point, having scored the 1000th goal in Asian Cup history via Siu Kwan Chan's boot.

Elsewhere, Palestine scored against Iran, a moment so encapsulating for the local audience that even the Iranians were celebrating it. Vietnam led Japan in a clash where both sides showed their very best, one proclaimed as the match of the tournament in its early days. Indonesia stunned Iraq by equalising. Iraq was settling into a comfortable lead, albeit they restored it quickly. But the energy and speed a young Indonesian side displayed will challenge anyone.

Undoubtedly, this tournament has been one where the underdogs have had moments. The Australians should remain buoyed by simply cutting and pasting the game plan of a patient yet clinical performance to shine against Syria. But they would be hard-pressed to find one side that would ignore the warning signs, especially against the Syrians, who lay ready and able to punish the Socceroos at any cost.

So, just how well can Graham Arnold and his men adapt to the challenge? All will be revealed as matchday two comes alive for another chapter of Asian Cup history.

Click here to read our full preview of the AFC Asian Cup!


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