Australia assistant coach Ante Milicic has admitted the holders will have a target on their back when the Asian Cup kicks off in the UAE in early 2019, but the ex-international insists it is a challenge the Socceroos will not shy away from.
Milicic was assistant to Ange Postecoglou as the Socceroos lifted the continental title for the first time in 2015 on home soil, beating South Korea 2-1 after extra-time.
Milicic, 44, has been in the role since 2014. He stayed on in the same position as Dutchman Bert van Marwijk’s No2 following the resignation of Postecoglou a week after guiding the Socceroos to the 2018 World Cup last November, in the wake of a play-off victory against Honduras.
“I think so (we do have a target on our back) but that’s not a challenge we’ll shy away from,” said a defiant Milicic, speaking to media after the 2019 Asian Cup draw was concluded at Dubai’s Armani Hotel on Friday night.
“We’re looking forward to defending our title. We’re proud to be Asian champions and it’s a very big honour for us to be the best team in Asia.
“Now we’ll look to do well away from Australia which comes with its own challenges. But it’s one we’re looking forward to and one we’ll be prepared for.”
Australia were drawn in Group B where they will be reunited with Syria, as well as taking on Palestine and Jordan.
Current Sydney FC supremo Graham Arnold will be in charge for the tournament, as Van Marwijk is stepping aside after the World Cup.
And Milicic added: “You know one thing you’ll get from an Australian team is a well prepared side. We’ll do our research and prepare for all three sides. We know we will have to beat the best to get to the top and that’s what we will do. We’ll look forward to it.”
Milicic spoke highly of next year’s tournament hosts the UAE, who Australia overcame during qualification for this summer’s World Cup. He was full of praise for Alberto Zaccheroni’s side – despite their struggles since a brilliant third-place finish at the Asian Cup three years ago.
“I know from winning the Asian Cup at home what it means to be playing at home. We played them at home and I look at their team and on paper there’s so much talent, particularly going forward,” said Milicic.
“They’re defensively sound and I feel Zaccheroni will bring a good defensive structure to their game, which I think they need going forward.
“They have one of the best attacking trios I’ve seen in (Ahmed) Khalil, Ali Mabkhout and Omar (Abdulrahman). I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do well with the players they have but also with the coach they’ve brought in, and playing at home. There’s a lot of positives for them.”
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