Preview - Round of 16: Australia v Uzbekistan
Al Ain: Mathew Leckie will be available for the first time at the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 after Socceroos coach Graham Arnold confirmed the Hertha Berlin winger will start Monday’s Round of 16 meeting with Uzbekistan on the bench.
Leckie, a key member of the Australia team that won the AFC Asian Cup on home soil in 2015, has yet to feature for Arnold’s team at the tournament after joining up with the squad carrying a hamstring injury.
But the Socceroos’ head coach confirmed the 27-year-old would be available for selection in a squad that also welcomes back Josh Risdon from injury and Trent Sainsbury, who was suspended for the win over Syria.
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“The wonderful thing is Mathew Leckie is back and he will be on the bench,” said Arnold. “It’s like signing a new player halfway through a tournament. We planned when he got injured at Hertha Berlin that we needed to look at how the injury would come along.
“We were patient with that and our medical staff have done a great job getting him ready. And that, with his positive attitude and how he is in camp and in around the boys, has given the boys a lift already.
“Josh Risdon is back again, so he will be back, and Trent Sainsbury is back from suspension. Andrew Nabbout is the only one out at this stage so we’re getting stronger and stronger as the tournament goes.”
Australia played their last game on January 15 and, as a result, have had two days more rest than Uzbekistan and Arnold believes his players are ready to show further improvements in the knockout rounds.
“We’re into the last 16, so it’s a step up in the competition and a step up in the tournament and I expect our team to step up another level as well,” he said. “But we’ve analysed them and we expect to expose their weaknesses. They’ve had a three-day turnaround and we’ve had five so we’re mentally fresh and feel great and are ready to go for this game.”
Uzbekistan come into the game off the back of a 2-1 loss at the hands of Japan in their final game in the group phase of the competition, but coach Hector Cuper is confident his team can bounce back against the defending champions.
“We know the importance of tomorrow’s game,” said the former Egypt coach. “It’s the knockout stage, so we have no room to make errors. We will come to the pitch to win, but at the same time we realise Australia are a tough rival and one of the best teams in Asia."
“During the last three days we have tried to improve on all of our mistakes and we have tried to analyse the Australia side. Based on their advantages, we will make some changes but it doesn’t mean we’re going to change the system or style of our game.
“We will come to the pitch and the players will do their best to get the necessary result.”
Round of 16
Australia v Uzbekistan
Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
18:00 (Local Time)
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