Australia eyeing first major success in Asia
SYDNEY, July 5 (Reuters) - For a country that has won virtually every major international sporting trophy on offer, Australia's record in soccer is something of an embarrassment.
Australians have generally been ambivalent towards soccer but everything changed last year when they made their first appearance at the World Cup finals in 32 years.
The Socceroos did not win the tournament but their rollercoaster ride and never-say-die approach to the game finally aroused national interest.
While not as technically gifted as the major sides, Australia advanced to the second round where they were beaten by eventual champions Italy after a dubious last-minute penalty.
Though few gave Australia any chance of winning the World Cup this month's Asian Cup is a different matter. The Australians are the favourites and desperate to win.
Some of the team's senior players, including captain Mark Viduka, had considered retiring after the World Cup but opted to stay on for another year, drawn by the prospect of winning Asia's biggest soccer tournament.
'I walk past the trophy cabinet in Football Australia (offices) every day and it's empty, so it would be nice to put something in it,' Australia coach Graham Arnold told reporters before the team's pre-tournament training camp.
Australia swapped Oceania for the Asian Confederation at the start of 2006 in the search of better competition.
They swept through their Asian Cup qualifying matches with players from the domestic A-League but have called on their big guns from Europe for the main event.
The Australians boast a powerful and experienced squad of players, including Viduka, Harry Kewell, Lucas Neill, Mark Schwarzer, Vince Grella, Mark Bresciano and John Aloisi, who all featured at the World Cup.
Australia's biggest concern could be the weather and how they cope with the stifling heat and humidity.
'A pass is reaching the semi-finals, but I'll put pressure on myself by saying a failure is not making the final,' Arnold said.
Australia have promised to play 'sexy' football at the Asian Cup after being feted as rock-stars on their arrival in Bangkok.
'We'll try and play some sexy football,' Brett Emerton told a public reception on Thursday.
'It's really exciting to be part of this coming from Australia where it's not the number one sport. We're not used to this.
'It's a new experience for us going into this tournament as the favourites,' Emerton said. 'There's a lot of expectation from the Australian public which is first for us.
'But the mood in the camp is good. We have a good relationship with each other.'
Midfielder Mark Bresciano, who plays for Italian Serie A club Parma, said it was crucual for the Socceroos to not get carried away by all the publicity.
'Not all of the time the best teams win, look at Brazil at the World Cup,' Bresciano said.
'Everyone thought they'd win but they didn't, so there's always someone who will surprise the other countries.
'We have to take it one game at a time and try not to think that we're the favourites to win the tournament.'
He added: 'I think the fans are expecting a lot from the team and I think maybe, we are under pressure. People are expecting us to win. We've got a good team but the conditions don't help us.'