'Need for speed': New-look Australia target back-to-back Asian Cups

New manager Arnold blends youth with experience as Australia look to follow up their 2015 success in the UAE

Milos Degenek (C) of Australia celebrates with teammates after scoring the fourth goal during the international friendly match against Oman at Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai on Sunday. Australia won the match 5-0 as part of their 2019 Asian Cup preparations. The tournament is being held in the UAE from January 5-February 1. Getty Images
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Australia are banking on pace and versatility up front to win back-to-back Asian Cups as they embark on a new era without stalwarts Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak.

The makeup of the Socceroos squad for the 2019 Asian Cup is markedly changed to the one that triumphed against South Korea in the final on home soil four years ago.

Gone is tough-as-teak manager Ange Postecoglou, the architect of that Asian Cup success. At the helm now is Graham Arnold, who returns to the international fold having last coached his country in 2007 when the Aussies bowed out of the Asian Cup at the quarter-final stage.

The majority of the 23-man squad in the UAE for the January 5-February 1 tournament have never experienced the cut and thrust of Asian Cup football before.

Since taking the reins after Australia's poor showing at their fourth consecutive World Cup in Russia under Bert van Marwijk, Arnold has asserted his authority with the team unbeaten in his four games in charge.

He has jettisoned several players and changed the style of play.

For years Australia relied on the goal threat of Cahill, who called time on his international career after last summer's World Cup with 50 goals in 107 caps.

With Cahill gone, Arnold favours an attacking troika. "The need for speed is up front," Arnold declared, naming players who can "make a difference" in such a role - Matt Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout, Chris Ikonomidis, Awer Mabil, Robbie Kruse and Tom Rogic.

"They're technically very good but quick," he said. "People talk about the goalscoring side of it - we've got goalscorers everywhere."

Arnold is keeping opposition teams guessing who will lead the line. Maclaren and Leckie would seem to be the frontrunners.

He was also banking on Martin Boyle, but the Hibernian striker was ruled out of the eve of the tournament after picking up a knee injury in their 5-0 rout of Oman in a warm-up game on Sunday.

It is a blow for Australia with Boyle already scoring two goals in three appearances for a country he had never even visited until Arnold travelled to Edinburgh to convince him to switch allegiances in recent months.

Australia are already without their two most creative players. Midfielders Daniel Arzani and Aaron Mooy of Manchester City and Huddersfield Town respectively have been ruled out due to knee injuries.

Arnold has opted for a mix of old and new. Mark Milligan, Kruse and Leckie have plenty of experience, while there are youthful additions such as Chris Ikonomidis and Mabil, a Sudanese refugee who came to Australia in 2006 and made his debut in October.

Only South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia have managed back-to-back Asian Cup titles. Australia first need to get through Group B, which also includes Jordan, Syria and Palestine.


Read more:

Lowdown: Groups, teams, tickets and all you need to know

In pictures: A look back on the last time the Emirates host the Asian Cup in 1996

Son Heung-min can ignite South Korea: Five players to watch at the Asian Cup

2019 Asian Cup Group B: Teams, fixtures and key players

Celtic asked that he be rested: Arnold on why Rogic did not play for Australia against Oman

2019 Asian Cup: Mark Milligan upbeat on Australia's prospects for title defence in the UAE