Mark Milligan is expecting a stern test from Syria.
Mark Milligan is expecting a stern test from Syria.

Socceroos’ challenge: ‘They’re not an easy nut to crack’

Socceroos captain Mark Milligan expects "fire and intensity" from a tough-to-break-down Syria when the two teams meet with everything to play for in the Asian Cup.

Australia sit second in Group B and need at least a point against Syria, who will be out for revenge against the country that knocked them out of World Cup reckoning and also need a win to have any chance of progressing to this tournament's knockout phase.

It means Tuesday night's clash in Al Ain will almost certainly start in more open fashion than the Socceroos' first two group games, when Jordan and Palestine put men behind the ball and played on the counter.

"One thing we do know is they will try and have a go at us," Milligan said.

"They're going to play with a lot of fire and intensity, too. We played them not too long ago. They're not an easy nut to crack.

"While there will be aspects that are similar (to Palestine), it will be a different match for us. There will be different challenges.

"We will have a look at them but again the main focus needs to be where we can break them, us executing that well."

The Socceroos cannot afford to lose, especially given Jordan have qualified as group winners and could rest some legs against last-placed Palestine, who are still in the running.

And there's less predictability in a Syria side whose coach Bernd Stange was sacked moments after Thursday's 2-0 loss to Jordan.

Milligan wasn't sure what effect the upheaval would have.

"There normally is (a response), although in a tournament situation I don't know. Is it more helpful or more disruptive?" he said.

"The core of the team has been the same for a while. We can get a general idea of what to expect."

Milligan knows Syria well. In November, 2017, the minnows came within inches of knocking Ange Postecoglou's team out of World Cup qualifying in the second leg of a ­playoff at ANZ Stadium, when Omar Al-Somah's last-minute free-kick cannoned off the outside of the post.

"It's another high-pressure match situation," he said.

"I think in a one-off game, you can't leave anything in the tank. You have to go out and show all your cards in that match."


Mark Milligan faced Syria during Australia’s World Cup qualifying campaign in 2017. Picture: Getty Images
Mark Milligan faced Syria during Australia’s World Cup qualifying campaign in 2017. Picture: Getty Images


Selection changes and key injuries mean this Socceroos contingent looks markedly different to then.

But it's also one that, having learnt the lessons from an opening loss to Jordan, picked apart Palestine with relative ease.

A big part of that was the leadership of Milligan, who ran his team from the base of midfield and whose range of passing prompted a more ­direct style of play.

The 33-year-old might be shifted to central defence to cater for the suspension of Trent Sainsbury, opening the door for Massimo Luongo's return.

Graham Arnold may also opt to retain his skipper in the midfield for continuity and install back-up centre-back Matt Jurman alongside freshly minted Al-Hilal signing Milos Degenek.

"I'll do whatever's asked of me," Milligan said.

"We do have other options at centre-back, as we do in the midfield.

"There has been a bit of talk about injuries and things like that but the depth that we still have here is ­impressive."


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