Cup rivals put a target on Socceroos
THERE'S a massive difference in sport from being the hunter to becoming the hunted and that's what our Socceroos will face when the Asian Cup kicks off on Sunday.
When you're the hunter the pressure on you to perform is a lot less - you aren't shackled by the restraints of expectation and you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
When you become the hunted the pressure on you to perform is great. The level of expectation can cripple even the best of teams and you have everything to lose.
I was lucky enough during my playing career to be in sides who were the hunted.
My advice for the Socceroos, who will be the hunted at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, is to embrace the tag.
When you're the hunted there's no such thing as an easy match. You can guarantee every side you face will come after you with everything they have.
I know it's the biggest cliche in sport, but there truly is a step up from the 100 per cent teams put in every match and the 110 per cent they will put in when they play the hunted.
As defending champions, the Socceroos enter this tournament with a target on their back - every side competing in the Asian Cup will want to be the side that takes down the titleholders. The trick for the Australians is to use that pressure as motivation.
They will need to be careful in their opening pool games against Jordan and Syria, but if they can claim the three points in those two games, like they should, the Socceroos will set themselves up nicely for a shot at successfully defending their title.
Players such as Tim Cahill and Tomi Juric may not be part of the Socceroos squad for this campaign, but Graham Arnold has picked a very exciting squad who are capable of going all the way again.
Many would feel Juric was unlucky not to have booked a place in the squad for this tournament but in all fairness he did himself no favours against Lebanon. In saying that, I think he still has plenty to offer the Socceroos.
The challenge for Juric is to put his head down and his backside up and get to work for his club side. If he does that, he will force national selectors to pick him in the World Cup squad.
There's still plenty of experience in this Socceroos squad. Players such as Mathew Leckie (if fit), Massimo Luongo and Mark Milligan have been there and done it before in the green and gold, but the player I'm looking most forward to watching is Perth Glory midfielder Chris Ikonomidis.
We've had the chance to watch Ikonomidis week in and week out in the A-League and he's an exciting prospect.
Arnold has chosen an attacking side for this Asian Cup, which will suit the way Ikonomidis plays, but the Socceroos also need to be strong defensively.
Asian teams are notoriously great defensive units - they look to bottle up games and suffocate teams.
While the Socceroos will look to play an attacking brand of football, they also need to make sure they close the back door and are defensively strong on the counterattack.
The Socceroos may enter this tournament as the reigning Asian Cup champions, but that doesn't mean they'll have it all their own way. Iran, South Korea and Japan will be tough to beat.
With a World Cup looming, the minimum requirement for the Socceroos to gain a pass mark at the Asian Cup is a semi-finals appearance.
If the Socceroos can make their way to the final four, there's no reason they can't fend off the hunters and make it back-to-back Asian Cup titles.
FOX SPORTS will show every game of the Asian Cup LIVE, ad-break free during play and in HD with FOX SPORTS 505. All football, all the time in January.