Rene Meulensteen, the new assistant coach of Australia, wants the team to mark the beginning of Graham Arnold’s tenure with a “statement” performance against Kuwait.
The Asian champions, preparing primarily for the defence of their title in the UAE in January, take on the Gulf side in Kuwait City on Monday, in what is the first match since Arnold took the reins following this summer’s World Cup.
Arnold has previously managed his country, a stint that included the 2007 Asian Cup, but replaced in the hotseat Dutchman Bert van Marwijk after the team’s group exit in Russia.
Now, though, attention switches to the 24-team tournament in the Emirates from January 5. Australia spent last week training in Dubai, using their second camp with Arnold to become more familiar with the new manager.
A new-look squad, without the experience of recently retired pair Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak, will seek to put into practice the work done on the training pitch at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence, when they meet Kuwait at Al Kuwait Sports Club.
“The test comes from our personal expectations, more than anything,” said Meulensteen, a former assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. “Obviously we respect every opponent that we play, but we would like our players to try and implement the things we have been working on and make a positive statement.
“It’s a new start; there’s a lot of fresh faces coming into the group, a lot of young kids being introduced into the group set-up, which we want to try to nurture through over the coming years. So that’s going to be a great experience.
“But as with every new start, what we want and what we expect is for the players to make a really positive statement on Monday.”
Read more on 2019 Asian Cup:
Asian Cup in UAE gets green light for four subs from AFC
2019 Asian Cup will be the 'jewel in the crown' of UAE's sporting calendar
VAR set to be introduced at 2019 Asian Cup in the UAE 'at some stage'
UAE hailed as 'the perfect host' as 2019 Asian Cup tickets go on sale
Expanded Asian Cup UAE 2019 'a big advantage' to attract more fans
The management opted against playing any friendly matches during the last international break in September, a decision to ensure the players would be given ample time to take on board Arnold’s footballing philosophy.
The camp in Turkey was therefore deemed a success, both in helping get across a fresh message and in integrating into the squad a number of younger players. Melbourne Victory youngster Thomas Deng, Scottish-born winger Martin Boyle, PEC Zwolle playmaker Denis Genreau and Denmark-based Awer Mabil are all uncapped players while attacking duo Mathew Leckie and Tom Rogic, of Celtic, have returned to the group.
Meulensteen is part of that new set-up, with the former Fulham manager accepting the role after Arnold first approached him at the beginning of the year. The pair first met years ago at Old Trafford and had remained in regular contact.
Meulensteen is enjoying his introduction to international football thus far, but is eager to see some early results on the pitch.
“It’s important because this is our second camp, there were quite a lot of changes after the World Cup,” he said. “We have Graham as the new head coach, and we used the Turkey camp to bring a large group of players in, to really have a decent amount of time with them for them to understand where we want to come from, what sort of environment we want to create, and what direction we want to take in terms of playing style.
“We wanted to build on that for this camp. And there’s no better way than give the players the opportunity to put things into practice on the field in a friendly game. We expect them to do that on Monday against Kuwait.”
Australia have been drawn in Group B for the Asian Cup, alongside Syria, Palestine, Jordan. They kick off their campaign against Jordan in Al Ain on January 8.