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Middle East teams better suited to Asian Cup’s January scheduling: Australia coach Arnold

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Australia coach Graham Arnold has criticised the Asian Cup’s January scheduling, saying it suits Middle East nations while causing problems for others that have a significant number of Europe-based players.

According to FIFA rules, clubs must release players for the Jan. 12 to Feb. 10 continental championship in Qatar but Arnold said some of his squad were under pressure from their European teams about playing at the tournament, which is run by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

“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,” he told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

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“But I can imagine (Hajimi) Moriyasu in Japan and Juergen Klinsmann at South Korea are probably having the same issues we’re having with clubs at the moment because all of our boys are playing in Europe.”

Arnold’s last squad of 23 for a recent World Cup qualifier against Palestine featured 19 Europe-based players.

Saudi Arabia, by contrast, had none for last month’s qualifiers against Pakistan and Jordan.

Arnold said he was still having conversations with European clubs about releasing players.

His squad are due to assemble in Qatar on Jan. 1, meaning some could miss up to eight club games through the middle of their European league seasons if the Socceroos reach the final.

Arnold, nonetheless, said he expected 2015 champions Australia to win the Asian Cup, a call he also made in the leadup to the 2019 tournament in the United Arab Emirates where their title defence ended in the quarter-finals.

His squad have less experience than the 2019 roster he largely inherited from former coach Bert van Marwijk after the Socceroos’ group stage exit from the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

However, Arnold said he felt more relaxed about their prospects in Qatar as he has had time to get to know his playing group better.

“This time I’ve been working with these boys for five years and obviously the younger players coming through with the Tokyo Olympics,” he added.

GREAT MEMORIES

Arnold said his players were looking forward to getting back to Qatar, a little over a year on from the World Cup where they won two matches and made the round of 16, Australia’s best performance at the global tournament.

However, he said the Socceroos will not seek inspiration from their World Cup by basing themselves at the Qatar government-backed Aspire Academy again.

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“No. Those memories can’t be repeated,” he said.

“If you go back to the same place … and it’s not set up exactly the same as it was at the World Cup, it ruins those great memories.

“So we’ll be staying at a different hotel … A beautiful hotel where obviously new memories, new experience will come.”

Arnold has lost winger Brandon Borrello and right back Ryan Strain to long-term injuries in the past two weeks but is hopeful veteran forward Mathew Leckie will be fit for Qatar.

Leckie returned to action for Melbourne City last week after a long lay-off due to a knee problem.

“Leckie brings something to this squad that we don’t really have a big luxury in which is his capacity to play in different positions,” he said.

“And with his experience it brings you something different.”

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