Nightmare curse threatens Socceroos dream
There is not a lot more that could have gone wrong in the Socceroos' preparation for their Asian Cup defence.
Australia famously won the Asian Cup in 2015 at home with an extra-time victory over South Korea but plenty has changed since.
The last Asian Cup was two coaches ago - funnily enough the same number of Prime Ministers we've had since January 2015 - with two of Australia's greatest ever stars hanging up the gold jersey.
Since the World Cup in Russia last year, Australia has farewelled inspirational captain Mile Jedinak and all-time leading goalscorer Tim Cahill.
Several players have also fallen out of favour under new coach Graham Arnold while the Socceroos' preparation has been interrupted with injuries and concerns aplenty.
The Socceroos have not had an ideal start to their Asian Cup title defence.
Midfield star Aaron Mooy was named number one on the Sky Sports Premier League power rankings at the end of November, despite his Huddersfield team being anchored to the bottom of the ladder.
He was a big part of Graham Arnold's plans until the 28-year-old tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee in December, meaning he'll be sidelined until February.
"I'm gutted to be missing an important time for club and country," Mooy told Huddersfield's official website.
"We've got a lot of fixtures over the Christmas period at Huddersfield Town, but I back the team to continue our good performances and get the results that we're targeting.
"I'm also sad that this injury will rule me out of the Asian Cup. I'd like to wish the Socceroos all the best as they head to the UAE. I'll be supporting them from afar."
He joined World Cup find Daniel Arzani on the sidelines after the young gun tore his ACL playing for Scottish giants Celtic.
And just last week Hibernian striker Martin Boyle was ruled out for "an indefinite period" with a knee injury. Scottish-born Boyle, who qualifies to represent the Socceroos as his father was born in Sydney, said he devastated.
"The Socceroos have become a big part of my life in a short period of time and I'm gutted that I won't be able to be with the boys in the UAE at the tournament," he said.
"My focus now will be on my recovery and returning to the pitch as soon as possible with Hibs."
With Australia needing goalscorers, it's another huge blow.
Boyle's replacement, Apostolos Giannou, has literally taken the long way into the Socceroos' Asian Cup squad.
Overlooked by Graham Arnold in his original 23-man squad for the tournament, Giannou was handed a path back earlier this week as Boyle's injury replacement.
Giannou received the call from Arnold on New Year's Day at his home in Cyprus and quickly headed to the United Arab Emirates. Arriving around 1am on Thursday, Giannou's path to the squad was delayed further when a taxi took him from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, not Al Ain, where the Socceroos are based ahead of their tournament opener against Jordan.
Giannou eventually arrived at the team hotel, passed a medical and, by Thursday afternoon, was training with the rest of the squad.
Arnold has described Giannou as his "plan C" should Australia need to find a path to goal in the dying minutes of a match.
"Something completely different. If we need to play long, if we need to play more direct, if we need a Plan C in the last five minutes of a game," Arnold said of his reason to turn to Giannou.
It's a role the jet-lagged, but relieved, Giannou is happy to take on.
"I'm just happy to be here," Giannou said. "I'm going to be ready whenever he (Arnold) needs me. Either I'm plan A, B or C - I'm just going to be happy to help out."
Giannou's call-up confirms Tomi Juric faces an uphill battle to regain his international place. A mainstay of Australia's 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Juric seemingly lacked the off-the-ball skill set Arnold demands from his players - an aspect the Socceroos coach says Giannou definitely does not lack.
"He also understands the principles of what we put into the boys from the Turkey camp in September and then the camp in October against Kuwait, so he's spent some time with us."
SOCCEROOS READY TO THRILL
Fox Sports commentator Brenton Speed has said Australia is ready to play "sensational football" during the Asian Cup with Arnold bringing an attacking sensibility to the Socceroos.
The former Sydney FC and Central Coast Mariners coach has seen 13 goals scored by his troops in his four games in charge while they've conceded just one.
Speed thinks it will lead to some entertaining action in the UAE.
"I think the style under Arnie, if it can be, is even more attacking than Ange (Postecoglou)," Speed told socceroos.com.au.
"We're going in with three number nines, three strikers up top rotating around, and Australia is going to play sensational football.
"The early signs are good, racking up the goals already in the games he has played.
"They were friendlies, now he's got to do it on the competitive stage."
Despite the injury concerns, including that of Mathew Leckie, who has stayed with the squad and is expected to play, forward Jamie Maclaren said there is great striking depth in Australia even after the retirement of Cahill.
A 5-0 win over Oman in a trial match showed the side was ready for the tournament as it aims to move out of the style of football that saw it only score two goals from three matches at the World Cup, both from penalty kicks.
"It was nice and intense for starters, just embedding the way we want to play moving forward obviously scoring goals and being sure at the back," McLaren said.
"(After a) great win against Oman the boys are confident."
After being criticised for being too defensive, the Socceroos are eager to entertain. Even left back Aziz Behich said he was enjoying the more attack style.
"I think you've seen in the last few games the fullbacks are really high up and really attacking," he said. "We have to join in the attack a lot but at the same time do our defensive duties.
"That's something that I love. I have the engine to go up and down but I love to get forward and help the team in attack. I think the system playing under Arnie is really exciting."
AUSTRALIA'S PATH TO GLORY
The Asian Cup kicks off in the United Arab Emirates on January 6 with Australia in Group B alongside Jordan, Syria and Palestine.
Australia is the second ranked side in Asia behind Iran (29th in the world), and is ranked 41st in the world.
The Socceroos play 109th ranked Jordan first on Sunday January 6 at 10pm AEDT, before taking on the 99th ranked Palestine on Friday January 11 at 10pm AEDT and finishing the group stage against 74th ranked Syria at 12.30am AEDT on Wednesday January 16.
Should Australia finish in the top two in the group or have the best record of the third placed finishers, it will move onto the knockout stage between January 20-23, ahead of the quarter-finals, semis and final on February 2 at 1am AEDT.
HOW TO WATCH
Every match of the Asian Cup will be available live with no ad breaks during play on Kayo Sports.
With over 50 sports Live and On Demand - it's a multi-sports streaming service for the digital generation.
With access to FOX SPORTS Australia, ESPN and beIN Sports, Kayo features the best Australian sports including Cricket, AFL, NRL, A-League, Supercars as well as favourite international competitions such as NBA, NFL, Formula 1, MLB, European football, International Rugby, American college basketball and football plus plenty more.
Kayo also has game-changing features which include:
'SplitView'- which just means you can watch up to 4 games at the same time if you want.
'Key Moments'- which means you can get all the best bits
'No Spoilers'- no scores when you log on - if you don't want them.
Picture in Picture - Another of Kayo's features is 'PIP' mode (picture in picture) which gives sports lovers the ability to have the game playing in the corner of their desktop screen while they are working at their desk.
Sports fans can sign up for $25 per month to access two concurrent streams, allowing them to watch games or events at the same time on two different devices. For $35 per month, users can access three concurrent streams, allowing them to watch games or events at the same time on three different devices.
All this non-stop sport can be streamed on iOS and Android devices, laptop, PC and on TV with Telstra TV, Apple TV and Chromecast Ultra.
The Asian Cup will also be available on Fox Sports.
2019 SOCCEROOS ASIAN CUP SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Mathew Ryan, Mitchell Langerak, Danny Vukovic
Defenders: Trent Sainsbury, Aziz Behich, Milos Degenek, Mark Milligan (captain), Josh Risdon, Matthew Jurman, Alex Gersbach, Rhyan Grant, Awer Mabil
Midfielders: Tom Rogic, Massimo Luongo, Jackson Irvine, Mustafa Amini, James Jeggo
Attackers: Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie, Andrew Nabbout, Jamie Maclaren, Chris Ikonomidis, Apostolos Giannou