Had everything followed the script, the host-nation would have been playing their semi-final at Sydney’s 84,000-seater Olympic Stadium on Monday, which also happens to be Australia’s National Day.


But after losing to South Korea in the group stage, Australia’s path was diverted and now they are playing their semi-final in Newcastle, a stadium with about a quarter of the capacity, against UAE, who upset Japan in the quarter-finals.

The Socceroos will go into Tuesday’s match as heavy favourites but Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou has been at pains to play down local expectations the result was a foregone conclusion.

“I haven’t seen a major tournament where the tournament goes to script,” Postecoglou said.

“We haven’t looked past our next opponent. If people were assuming we were preparing to meet a certain team in the final, they have missed the point of what we have been doing.

“We didn’t want to be the ones who missed out on a semi-final because we were thinking so far ahead.”

Most people expected Japan to beat UAE and join Australia in the semis but Postecoglou said he had been keeping a close eye on UAE in case they met each other.

The teams played a friendly last year which ended in a scoreless draw and Postecoglou is acutely aware of their ability, especially with star midfielder Omar Abdulrahman.

“We have got a great respect for them and we have been tracking them since the World Cup,” he said.

“We had a feeling they could be an opponent, as even though we did not get them in the group, we thought they would be one of the teams we would get in the knockout rounds.

“We know them really well and we have analysed them well and we know it will be a tough challenge for us.”

Australia will be boosted by the return of key defender Matthew Spiranovic, who missed the quarter-final win over China due to suspension.

Spiranovic is likely to be rushed back into the starting lineup in one of several changes the Australians hope will give them the edge over UAE.

“Everyone has pulled up really well from the quarter-final game. Everyone is available and in good condition which means they have played enough games, but not too many in the most part,” said Postecoglou.

“We will make some changes, but they will be designed around putting out a team who we think can be successful.”

(Writing by Julian Linden in Sydney; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)