Australia play down threat of crowd violence
Australian football officials insist they have few concerns over crowd violence, despite being drawn today to face Lebanon in the preliminary rounds of the 2007 Asian Cup.
The Australians - who officially became members of the Asian Football Confederation at the start of the year - will meet Lebanon, Kuwait and Bahrain in the group phase of the continental championship, the finals of which will be played in south east Asia next year.
The draw comes just weeks after race-related violence in Sydney's suburbs as white Australians carried out revenge attacks on people of Middle Eastern appearance in the coastal towns of Cronulla and Carringbah, with members of the Lebanese community targeted in particular.
Australia are due to host Lebanon on March 1, although that game could be postponed until September 1 because of the Socceroos' World Cup preparations.
John Boultbee, head of the Football Federation of Australia's international department, believes violence is unlikely.
'I think there's a great opportunity for the bad press to be laid to rest with a match between Lebanon and Australia in the world's biggest sport,' he said.
'It will send a very strong message. We have a member of our national squad who is of Lebanese descent, Ahmad Elrich, and there's a very strong following of the team by the Lebanese community. My concerns would be very, very small.'
Australia's first official match as a member of the Asian Football Confederation will be against Bahrain on February 22 in Manama - and the fact all three away games will be played in the Middle East means the Australians may be able to field a number of their Europe-based players in the qualifiers.
'As far as convenience is concerned, playing the games in the Middle East is good for our Europe-based players,' said Boultbee.
'Of the 23 players in the World Cup qualifying team in November, 22 are based in Europe - so it's quite convenient.'
However, the scheduling of the first match - against Bahrain - could cause problems for the team because the date has not been included on FIFA's list of official matchdays.
Coach Guus Hiddink will miss the match because he will be in charge of PSV Eindhoven's Champions League game against Lyon the night before, while a number of players can expect to be involved in European action.