East Asian Cup adds spice to busy year
"I think overall some of the boys showed some good performances that they'll probably qualify for further commitments in the squad" ... Holger Osieck. Photo: Getty Images
The Socceroos will be working overtime between March and July next year when they play four World Cup qualifiers and four matches in the East Asian Cup finals in South Korea.
Australia qualified for the latter on Sunday night by beating Chinese Taipei by a large enough score to top their qualifying group ahead of North Korea on goal difference, sparing Holger Osieck's blushes and giving him the opportunity for invaluable competitive games less than a year out from the World Cup.
Quite what the mood and approach to Australia's first essay at the East Asian Cup will be is certain to be determined by the outcome of those first four World Cup qualifiers - at home to Oman (March) and Iraq (June) in Sydney, and Jordan (June) in Melbourne, as well as the away tie in early June against Japan.
If, as expected, the Socceroos qualify for Brazil in 2014, the East Asian Cup will be an essential part of the preparation, pitting Australia against two Asian powerhouses in South Korea and Japan and a giant nation with aspirations to join the elite in China.
Osieck will get the chance to further refine his mix of the tried and tested veterans, a handful of whom are still expected to be in the mix for Brazil, with some newcomers who have come to the fore in recent months. But if Australia unexpectedly crashes out of the World Cup, all bets will be off.
Osieck, it must be assumed, would be history, as would those aforementioned veterans who would surely need little encouragement in those circumstances to bow out of international football.
In that case, the East Asian Cup would provide a fascinating stage for a new Socceroos coach to get a feel for competition in the region and for the players at his disposal, especially those who have been knocking on the door with little opportunity to date.
Osieck had a look at a host of A-League players in the qualifying tournament, and the coach has pledged to continue the experimentation in July. Naturally, he is assuming it will be part of his World Cup preparation program. ''I think overall some of the boys showed some good performances that they'll probably qualify for further commitments in the squad.'' the German said after the 8-0 triumph over Chinese Taipei.
Given that the July tournament is not on FIFA dates, A-League players are once again likely to figure heavily in his selection. ''Our priority now is to qualify for the World Cup and any additional commitments will give me the opportunity to build for the future,'' he said.