Australia's final puzzle piece

Former Socceroo Alex Tobin talks to Steve Kaless about Australia's Asian Cup foray.

    Alex Tobin, right, with Socceroos coach Graham
    Arnold and the Fifa World Cup Trophy [GALLO/GETTY]

    Alex Tobin, Australia's most capped Socceroo, believes that not only does his country have a very good chance of lifting the Asian Cup in Jakarta on July 29, but that the Asian Cup is the important final piece in the puzzle for the re-birth of football in Australia.
    With the retirement of many of Australia's footballing stalwarts at the end of their World Cup campaign in Germany, coach Graham Arnold has been forced to go with a more youthful squad, albeit one still with many household names… as long as those households follow football in Europe.

    But Tobin, who played a record 87 times for the Socceroos, believes the selectors have got the mix just right.

    "I think we'll have a very strong side, there is a nice mix of old and new, but the squad was always going to need some rebuilding after the World Cup, especially in defence," Tobin told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview.

    Alex Tobin

    Date of birth: 3 November 1965

    Born: Adelaide, Australia

    Position: Defender

    Adelaide City FC (1984-2000)
    Parramatta Power (2001-02)
    Northern Spirit (2002-03)

    National caps: 87

    "The good thing is we have a number of guys in good form, so I expect us to do very well at the tournament despite the different conditions and tropical weather."

    While the Australian sporting public quickly took the Socceroos' journey to heart at the last World Cup, the first for the country in 32 years, Tobin believes the same fans are in for a shock at just how big the Asian Cup will be when it kicks off on July 7.

    "I don't think it has dawned on the Australian public just the level of support the Asian Cup has in our region.

    "To be honest, I'm not sure how big everyone realised the World Cup was until we were there and I think that will be the same this time when everyone sees the incredible level of interest the Asian Cup creates."

    Once people are switched on to the Cup, Tobin feels they might be in for a pleasant surprise.

    "We played against China (a 2-0 victory in Guangzhou in March), which bodes well for the tournament in general."

    Home grown talent

    Tobin played 522 games in Australia's
    national league [GALLO/GETTY]

    With Australian sides Sydney FC and Adelaide United having recently faced Asian opposition in the Asian Champions League, Tobin, who is currently the assistant coach of the Central Coast Mariners, is happy to see some representation from the A-League in the squad such as David Carney, Mark Milligan (both Sydney FC) and Nick Carle (Newcastle Jets), and what's more he feels it is wholly justified.

    "In the past it was highly unlikely for anyone based domestically to be called into the national side, but I think it is a measure of the A-League that the standard of play in it warrants national selection."

    While Tobin, who played 522 games over 21 seasons in the previous incarnation of the National Soccer League, believes that no spaces should be held for players in the domestic league, he felt the selections benefited the growth of the game in Australia.

    "I think it's good for the fans in Australia to see a few faces from the game at home and it is also important for young guys coming through the ranks to see you can reach national selection by playing in the A-League."

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    While many of Australia's biggest names, such as Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill are well known around the footballing world, the same can't be said of their group opponents Thailand, Iraq and Oman.

    But Tobin feels that this might not necessarily be an advantage for the Socceroos.

    "I think on the whole it will be difficult for everyone to know what to expect. Obviously with Iraq's domestic situation it is going to be very difficult for them to have any sort of proper preparation and in the case of Oman, well even when being highly respectful, I think it is fair to say they are one of the lesser well known sides in Asia.

    "So with both of those sides we will really just have to have wait and see approach.

    "Even with Thailand, hopefully we will find out more about them by being based there, but I think on the whole it is fair to say they'll know more about us than we'll know about them."

    Physical advantage

    Denis Irwin, left, and Alex Tobin ahead of the
    Socceroos v Man United match in 1999 [AFP]

    One distinct advantage Tobin believes the Australians will have is a physical presence that is unlikely to be matched at the tournament.

    "Even when you look at the average weight of an Australian against the average weight of an Asian player there is a distinct advantage and I think it is the physical presence that will have most sides concerned."

    While there may not be a lot of homework to do, the former Socceroos captain believes the area needing the most attention in preparation is adjusting to a Cup style format of matches.

    "Prior to the World Cup, we obviously didn't have a lot of experience playing in a lot of Cups and that, along with playing in South East Asian conditions, is probably going to be what throws up the most questions for Graham Arnold and his team selection."

    The final piece

    Finally, the Asian Cup represents for Tobin the third and final piece in the puzzle for developing football in Australia.

    "After World Cup qualification and the successful launch of the A-League, the Asian Cup really is the final part of the plan to bring football to Australia," Tobin said.

    "I think fans at home will finally find out just how big the game is globally by playing in this tournament and also just how big a boost it will be for the team to be part of this confederation.

    "Not long after the tournament the World Cup qualifiers will begin which will be ten meaningful internationals at least for the side to be judged on."

    And if pulling on the green and gold all those times has made Tobin any sort of judge on the game, Australia may just start those qualifiers as Asian champions.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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