Australia coach Graham Arnold has voiced criticism against the scheduling of the Asian Cup in January, contending that it favours Middle Eastern nations but poses challenges for teams with numerous Europe-based players.
Arnold expressed concerns about the pressure on his squad members from European clubs, highlighting the clash with their league schedules.
"If I was going to say anything about the AFC, they should really seriously look at when they do play the Asian Cup in January because, yes, it suits the Middle East nations," Arnold remarked. He noted that other coaches, like Hajimi Moriyasu of Japan and Juergen Klinsmann of South Korea, likely face similar issues.
Arnold, whose recent squad featured 19 Europe-based players, emphasised ongoing discussions with European clubs about player releases. The January 1 assembly date in Qatar could result in players missing up to eight club games if Australia reaches the final, affecting their European league seasons.
Despite the challenges, Arnold expressed confidence in Australia's ability to win the Asian Cup, drawing parallels to his optimistic prediction before the 2019 tournament. While acknowledging the squad's lesser experience compared to 2019, Arnold felt more relaxed about their prospects, having worked with the players for five years.
Reflecting on their return to Qatar, Arnold mentioned the decision to choose a different hotel for the squad, aiming to create new memories distinct from their World Cup experience. Arnold highlighted the loss of players to injuries but expressed hope for the fitness of veteran forward Mathew Leckie, emphasising Leckie's versatility and experience as valuable assets.
Overall, Arnold conveyed a positive outlook for Australia's participation in the Asian Cup, recognising the challenges but emphasising the team's preparation and commitment to creating new experiences in Qatar.