Former Socceroos captain Paul Wade says Australia retaining the Asian Cup is a pipe dream but he still expects Tommy Rogic to flourish in gold.
The Socceroos were stunned in the opening match of their title defence with a shock loss against Jordan and now face an uphill battle to get out of their group.
They'll need wins against Palestine on Friday and Syria next Wednesday to guarantee their spot in the knockout rounds, but Wade says even if Australia get there they won't win the tournament.
"We're in one of the easier groups but the great thing about football is the goal at your end is exactly the same size as the goal at the other end and if you're really clever anything can happen," Wade said.
"You don't have to be bigger, stronger, faster, you just have to be clever and there are some very clever footballers and coaches who know all about us because of our success. Every team in this competition can hurt you.
"I don't think we can win it and not because we’re no good, I just think there are so many better teams, it's not a slight on any of the Socceroos or [coach] Graham Arnold.
"It's not even because we’ve got quality players missing like [Daniel] Arzani, Aaron Mooy and company, it's that the Japanese and South Koreans are just playing beautiful football.
"When you think about what happened in the last Asian Cup, we needed a last-minute goal to beat South Korea in the final, and now they have enough firepower to stop us."
Socceroos star Martin Boyle joins Mooy and Arzani in the injury ward. Rogic will play on Friday despite breaking his hand against Jordan and Wade backed the Canberra export to keep the Socceroos in the tournament.
"You can have all the best plans in the world but if you've got Rogic and people so unpredictable then that's the X-factor and key to success because you can’t plan against that," Wade said.
"Mooy isn't playing but Rogic can change his mind in a split second, it's the same with [Jackson] Irvine and even [Mark] Milligan.
"They see an option then all of a sudden choose something else and if you're not set up for that they’ll crucify you with one pass."
But Wade emphasised they will need more than flair and fancy footwork to lift the trophy again.
"We're still going to need our big mouths, your players who do the coaching on the park, Rogic might be the most skilful but he doesn't have the biggest mouth," Wade said.
"You don't see him shouting and screaming and whoever does that and orchestrates things is the key. Then it's up to the flair and imagination of Rogic to make something unpredictable happen."
Rogic was caught in tugger war between his club and country last month when Celtic FC wanted to keep the 26-year-old for their Scottish Premiership derby against Rangers before the Asian Cup.
Rogic went into national camp instead and wasn't used in a friendly against Oman but Wade said international duty should always take precedence.
"They were right to tell them to go and shove it. It takes me back to the days when players were threatened that if they left to play for their country they wouldn't get picked down the track, but we’re past that," Wade said.
"You coach your team and we’ll coach ours. I love [Celtic manager] Brendan Rodgers because he coached Liverpool and I have so much respect for him but he was only doing it to do save his own.
"Just let us play for our country like we love to do. Ask anybody and international football takes precedence because a club will give you the flick tomorrow, there's no such thing as loyalty there, but there is for the Socceroos."
Friday: Australia v Palestine in Dubai at 10pm.
Wednesday: Australia v Syria in Al Ain at 12:30am.