Every game could be a “banana skin”, says Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou, who admits he hoped to avoid drawing heavyweights South Korea in the pool stage for next year’s Asian Cup.
Australia was pitted against fellow World Cup contestants South Korea, Oman and Kuwait in Group A at the draw ceremony at Sydney’s Opera House on Wednesday night.
The opening game of the 16-team tournament will be played between Australia and Kuwait at Melbourne’s AAMI Park on January 9.
They’ll then meet Oman at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on January 13 before playing their last group match against South Korea four days later at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
As top seeds, Australia avoided top-ranked sides – four-time winners Japan, triple champions Iran and Uzbekistan – with each side being drawn into one of the four groups.
However, South Korea, who have reached eight World Cups in a row, shaped as the most dangerous side in the second pot of teams.
Oman will be no easybeats either, with the Middle Eastern side testing the Socceroos in their World Cup qualifier in March last year when Australia looked headed for certain defeat before coming back from 2-0 down to snatch a draw.
Postecoglou said it was critical to get off to a strong start in the tournament opener against Kuwait and get three points in the bank before facing Oman and South Korea.
“Yeah you want to avoid South Korea, but are you going to avoid them the whole tournament?,” Postecoglou asked.
“Yes everyone will be focusing on South Korea and that makes it challenging, we want to finish top spot in our group, but you can’t discount the other two nations either.
“Every game could be a banana skin.
“Kuwait in that first game is going to be a challenge, Oman they proved when they came here last year that they’re a tough team to beat and they’ll come here with no fear.
“So we’re not going to discount anyone.”
Should both Australia and Japan top their group they could be headed for another grand final showdown.
Both teams met in the final of the 2011 tournament where a stoppage-time winner secured the silverware for Japan.
Postecoglou expects Australia to make the final again next year, but this time he wants to go one step further.
With six hosts having previously won the Asian Cup he feels the Socceroos will have a major advantage.
“It’s in our backyard this tournament,” he said.
“We want to play in these big tournaments but you don’t get the chance very often to play them in your home country.
“If you think about that last game against South Korea in front of 50,000 people at Suncorp Stadium, I like those conditions.
“Those are golden opportunities you want to grab with both hands so we want to do well in it for sure. We want to try and win it.
“This group will mean that if we do win it we will have earned it.”