Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou is adamant his largely inexperienced squad won’t get stage fright in Saturday night’s Asian Cup final, as Ivan Franjic took a huge step towards proving his fitness for the decider.
Franjic took part in Friday’s final training session and looked to be showing no ill-effects of the hip injury suffered in the semi-final win over UAE just three days ago.
If the right-back pulls up fine when he awakes of Saturday morning, he will start against Korea Republic at a sold-out Stadium Australia in arguably the Socceroos’ biggest-ever match on home soil.
Postecoglou told reporters on Friday he hadn’t even thought about potential replacements, confident the Torpedo Moscow man would be right to go against Korea.
Given what’s at stake for his young squad, there have been suggestions the huge occasion might get to some of the youngsters but the Socceroos boss isn’t worried.
“There’s nothing that I’ve seen that suggests the occasion will get to anyone tomorrow,” Postecoglou said.
“Anyone who saw us after the semi-final, the players pretty much by the time I got back to the rooms were in recovery mode and focusing on what they had to do for the final. I can speak more highly of their professionalism over the last month.
“We’ve got some fantastic experienced players, well lead by [skipper Mile Jedinak] and there’s nothing I’ve seen to suggest we’ll freeze tomorrow.
“It’s a big game, a big day and there’s always that possibility but I’ve got a great deal of faith in these players to perform the task tomorrow.”
And they will have to be at their very best to topple a Korean side that’s won all five matches without conceding a goal on their way to the final.
That run included a 1-0 defeat of the Socceroos in Brisbane a fortnight ago, a result Postecoglou says will have absolutely no bearing on Saturday night’s re-match.
“We lost but we felt we performed well on the night. There was no negatives out of it and it didn’t cost us too much in a tournament perspective,” he said.
“We left that game knowing we can match it with the Korean team.
“Regardless of who you play in the final, previous form becomes irrelevant just because of the occasion.”
The appearance in the final comes at the end of 14 months in charge of the national team for Postecoglou.
It’s seen the highs of some superb performances at last year’s World Cup, coupled with some criticism of the poor results in friendly matches since.
“It’s not supposed to be smooth. Roller-coasters go up and down, that’s why they are exciting and it’s no different to any journey we’re on,” Postecoglou said of his time in charge.
“We were preparing a team for what was going to be a fantastic tournament, we wanted to put our best foot forward and represent our country proudly and to do that we had to make some tough decisions along the way and chart a tough course.
“I enjoy the ups and downs, it means you’re doing something.”
Robbie Kruse’s Bayer Leverkusen team-mate Son Heung Min is seen as the man who will possess the biggest danger to the Socceroos' hopes of capturing the Asian Cup trophy.
“We don’t like focusing on individuals. He’s a quality player but he’s not the only one,” Postecoglou said.
“What’s held us in good stead this tournament is we’ve treated every opponent with equal respect. Korea are a very good side and the reason they are in the final is collectively they have been more consistent than other teams.
“Yes they have individual threats and Son is one of them but we’ll never focus on individuals. If you do you fall into the trap of disrespecting other players in their team.”
Saturday night's AFC Asian Cup final between the Socceroos and Korea Republic will be broadcast LIVE on Fox Sports 505 and LIVE on ABC 1 from 8pm AEDT.