AFC Coach of the Year Tony Popovic saw encouraging signs in Australia’s performance against Japan last month, despite the AFC Asian Cup 2015 hosts losing 2-1 to the reigning champions in Osaka as the Socceroos continue their regeneration under Ange Postecoglou.
Since taking over from Holger Osieck prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Postecoglou has significantly increased his squad with a raft of players handed international experience in both Brazil and in recent friendlies.
And while results since the Socceroos’ encouraging performance in Brazil have not matched expectations ahead of the AFC Asian Cup, AFC Champions League-winning coach Popovic is expecting Postecoglou to have fine-tuned his side in time for the January 9 tournament opener against Kuwait in Melbourne.
“They are going through a transition at the moment with a change of coach and they are really trying to bed in new players, a lot of young players, and I think on home soil they will do very well,” said former Australia international defender Popovic.
“I am sure Ange will get it right by January. He has a process in place that he is following.”
Following a goalless first half in Osaka last month, Japan netted a quickfire double midway through the second half only for Tim Cahill to pull a goal back in injury-time in the re-match of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup final in Qatar.
“I thought the first half against Japan was very good, unfortunately they couldn’t score while they were on top, and in the second half Japan showed their quality, but they definitely are on the right track,” added Popovic.
After kicking off the tournament against 1980 AFC Asian Cup winners Kuwait, 2011 finalists Australia will face 2014 Gulf Cup semi-finalists Oman in Sydney four days later before rounding off their Group A campaign in Brisbane on January 17 against Korea Republic, who finished third in Qatar.