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Three Burning Questions: Socceroos v UAE

by Ben Somerford on Jan 25, 2019

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Prior to the 2019 Asian Cup, most Australian football followers agreed reaching the semi-finals was a pass mark for coach Graham Arnold. Saturday morning’s quarter-final is his exam.

The Socceroos take on 2019 Asian Cup hosts UAE from 3am Saturday morning, fresh from seeing their goal scoring woes re-emerge during the tense last 16 penalty shootout win over Uzbekistan.

There’s other headaches but, on the bright side, numerous players are fit again including Mathew Leckie, Josh Risdon and Andrew Nabbout and pushing for selection.

GGArmy’s Ben Somerford asks three burning questions ahead of the UAE showdown.

How to replace Tom Rogic?
The Celtic midfielder’s enforced absence due to suspension leaves a creative hole for the Socceroos, which will be keeping coach Graham Arnold awake at night.

If the rumours are to be believed, Arnold is considering a formation switch from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, with Jamie Maclaren and Awer Mabil in the gun to lose their spots. Apostolos Giannou and Mathew Leckie could jump into the starting XI up front, with Robbie Kruse in the mix to return too. Alternately, Leckie could play out wide, with Maclaren retaining his spot up top. Andrew Nabbout is in contention but only off the bench.

Mark Milligan would play a defensive midfield role, with Jackson Irvine or Massimo Luongo freed up like when he won the 2015 Asian Cup MVP. Chris Ikonomidis and Kruse would play wide.

Where does Mathew Leckie start?
Leckie’s return to fitness and subsequent impact against Uzbekistan, where he ended up playing an hour, suggests he’s ready to start.

The Hertha BSC winger’s spot on the flank has been occupied by Chris Ikonomidis and Awer Mabil with success throughout this Asian Cup, so Arnold has another dilemma. There has been a suggestion Leckie could start up front, although he’s never been the most polished finisher.

I’ve got my reservations about that idea, but then again we’re not blessed with options and Maclaren’s form over the past six months hasn’t been up to scratch. Playing Mabil in attack is another option, but again that depends on the formation. So, we’re none the wiser.

How big will the 'home factor' be?
Four years ago as hosts, Australia knocked out the UAE in the semi-finals in Newcastle. Now the Emiratis will be seeking their revenge in front of their home crowd in the quarters in Al Ain, with a parochial attendance expected.

The Socceroos won’t be overawed, with numerous members of the side having vast experience playing as the away side in front of big crowds. And Australia, of course, won 1-0 over UAE in Abu Dhabi during the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign when Ange Postecoglou’s famous ‘sweat shirt’ look was fashioned.

However, this is a totally different side (Tim Cahill scored the winner that night) to the one which triumphed over UAE in 2016. The Jordan defeat and unconvincing win over Syria shows that the Socceroos have struggled against quality Middle East opposition playing in their familiar conditions this tournament. UAE will be their biggest test yet.