Mark Milligan said the surface the Uzbekistan game was a ‘concrete carpark’.
Mark Milligan said the surface the Uzbekistan game was a ‘concrete carpark’.

Milligan confident slicker surface will help Socceroos

CAPTAIN Mark Milligan has revealed a pitch like "a concrete carpark" severely hampered the Socceroos' fruitless attempts to break down Uzbekistan.

And he's eager to utilise conditions less susceptible to a "game of basketball" against the United Arab Emirates in the hunt for an Asian Cup semi-final spot.

Ausralia scraped through the round of 16 via a heart-stopping penalty shootout after struggling to penetrate a well-drilled Uzbekistan over 120 minutes.

 

The match was held at Al Ain's Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium, where Graham Arnold's side delivered some genuinely aesthetically pleasing moments to see off Syria 3-2 in their final group game.

But Milligan said the surface wasn't conducive to attacking football, and he looked forward to playing Saturday's (AEST) quarter-final at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium across town, the venue of Australia's 1-0 tournament-opening loss to Jordan.

"It's extremely hard and extremely fast, so we had to play more at our feet to make sure we kept possession," Milligan said.

"We didn't want to turn it into a game of basketball, because you take the control away and it's just luck.

"We would have liked to have been a bit more potent in the front third, but as I say the circumstances and conditions made that a little bit tough.

"Sometimes you need to dig in against teams like that and take away that attacking threat. I think it'll be similar, we just need to make sure that when we do get to the front third we're a little bit more ruthless.

The Socceroos snuck through to the final eight by the skin of their teeth.
The Socceroos snuck through to the final eight by the skin of their teeth.

"I think the pitch and conditions will allow that more so than it did on Monday. We're back onto a grass pitch, not a concrete carpark, so that'll suit us in the way we want to play and being able to reward more of the front three's work in running in behind and things like that."

The return of Mat Leckie will be critical in the absence of suspended Tom Rogic, and Arnold will hope the Hertha Berlin forward's hamstring survived the longer-than-expected 60-minute shift against Uzbekistan, when he added sorely needed spark off the bench.

The UAE are also missing their star playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, the mop-haired magician sidelined with an ACL injury.

But Milligan was wary of other qualities, having spent two years playing with and against members of the national team while at Emirati club Baniyas and featuring in both World Cup qualifying wins, including a hard-fought 1-0 victory in oppressively humid Abu Dhabi conditions in 2016 made famous for Ange Postecoglou's sweat-drenched business shirt.

Tournament results so far indicate the UAE will go for a defensive approach, especially against the defending champions, but Milligan wasn't so sure.

Tom Rogic will be missing for the quarter-final clash.
Tom Rogic will be missing for the quarter-final clash.

"It's still a very attacking side, they've still got an attacking mentality," he said.

"It's as much a part of the game as scoring goals, you need to defend well and I think we've conceded a few more goals than we would have liked in this tournament so we need to make sure we get both parts right."

Veteran UAE striker and captain Ismail Matar has already vowed this clash doubles as "payback time" for the 2015 Asian Cup semi-final, which Australia won 2-0 in Newcastle.

But the reality is The Whites were underwhelming throughout the group stage and it took a controversial penalty to scrape a 3-2 extra-time win over Kyrgyzstan in the round of 16.

Italian coach and former Serie A and Asian Cup-winning manager Alberto Zaccheroni has admitted his side have their work cut out unless they improve.

They also must travel, having played their last match in Abu Dhabi, while preparing to face a team Zaccheroni admits to knowing nothing about.