Oman coach Paul Le Guen at a team training session at the AIS on Tuesday. Photo: Jeffrey ChanOman coach Paul Le Guen believes his side can “create trouble” for the Socceroos and South Korea and be the surprise packets of the Asian Cup.
Seven places above the Socceroos on the FIFA rankings, Oman will base themselves in Canberra for the duration of the tournament before their opening game against South Korea at Canberra Stadium on January 10.
Oman will shake off jet lag with a training game against Qatar at the AIS Athletics Track on Wednesday night.
While South Korea (ranked 69th) and the Socceroos (100th) are the two favourites from Group A to progress to the quarter-finals, Oman have proved themselves to be an emerging force.
It took an 89th-minute equaliser by Brett Holman to salvage the Socceroos a 2-2 draw in a World Cup qualifier with Oman in Sydney last year.
Le Guen said his team’s recent performances in the Gulf Cup gave him confidence they could rise to the occasion.
“It will be very tough,” Le Guen said.
“We know we are not favourites because Australia is at home and South Korea are a quality side, but we have improved.
“We had a good tournament in the Gulf Cup and I think we can create trouble.”
Le Guen was impressed with the Socceroos at the World Cup, and said it would be hard to read too much into last year’s result given the change of coach and the number of new players in the squad.
Stability at the top is one of Oman’s advantages.
Le Guen has been in charge for the past three-and-a-half years after coaching Cameroon at the 2010 World Cup.
Before that, the 50-year-old Frenchman represented his country 17 times as a player and won three Ligue 1 titles with Lyon as a manager before stints with Scottish giants Rangers and Paris Saint-Germain.
Le Guen has witnessed a signficant change in Omani football, with the country’s first professional league getting off the ground.
“We have to be humble,” Le Guen said.
“Compared to Australia and South Korea, we are not a strong nation of football, but we have many good players.
“They are not experienced enough, but they are on the right way and are getting better and better.”
The exception is veteran goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi.
The 32-year-old has played in the English Premier League with Wigan Athletic and is on loan with Brighton and Hove Albion.
“I hope he will be in very good shape,” Le Guen said of Al-Habsi, who will join the Oman squad on January 3.
“He’s had a difficult period in England, he was on the bench and he needs to play games to be back to his best.
“I am totally confident. He’s a clever player, he knows he has to work hard and I look forward to welcoming him here.”
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