SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will raise their game in front of their own fans at next year’s Asian Cup and deserve to be among the favourites despite their poor recent form, according to former Socceroos stalwart Brett Emerton.
Expectations of Asian Cup success have dived in Australia during a year in which the Socceroos managed to win just one of 11 matches as coach Ange Postecoglou overhauled the squad.
Emerton, who played in two Asian Cups and won 95 caps before retiring in January, believes enough quality remains despite the departure of his ‘golden generation’.
“I think they’ll do well, I‘m optimistic we can go all the way,” the former Feyenoord and Blackburn Rovers midfielder told Reuters in an interview.
”Although things haven’t been that positive of late, I still think we’ve got a team, especially on home soil, that can win it.
“It’s a definite advantage to be playing at home, history suggests that we’ve always been strong here on home soil so I think that’ll help our chances of lifting the trophy.”
With little more than a month until Australia begin their campaign against Kuwait in Melbourne on Jan. 9, few would say they have a firm idea of what coach Postecoglou considers his best side.
Such experimentation was essential, Emerton thinks, once it became clear that the squad needed regeneration.
“Ideally you’d like to have a more settled side, but like Ange has said, he’ll never have another opportunity to try and test players again,” he said.
“I think the testing period is now over and Ange will be judged on the results in the Asian Cup.”
Australia left the Oceania region to become a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in January 2006 in search of tougher competition and a chance at direct qualification for World Cups.
Emerton played in Australia’s first Asian Cup campaign in 2007, where they reached the quarter-finals, and said it had been a steep learning curve.
“It was all quite new to us and took us quite a while to adjust and realise the level of competition was high,” he recalled.
While Australia players are now well-acquainted with Asian football -- Emerton was in the side that reached the Asian Cup final in 2011 -- there has also been a shift in the way they play.
Emerton hopes, though, that Postecoglou’s drive to instil a flowing passing game into his team does not mean an end to the uncompromising physicality that once defined the Australian game.
“I think it’s an aspect of our game we can’t afford to do away with,” he said.
”It’s an important part of the way we play football, to be a physically demanding team, and we should use it to our advantage.
“But as the years go on, I think technically we are getting better and better as footballers as well.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford