Aziz Behich has tasted triumph and disaster at the Asian Cup, and wants this generation to get the chance to ‘touch that trophy’.
Aziz Behich is one of a very select few to have “touched that trophy” – now the Socceroos left-back wants that prospect to inspire his teammates to another Australian triumph.
Behich and captain Mat Ryan are the only survivors from the 2015 AFC Asian Cup triumph in the 2024 Socceroos group aiming to win back the trophy under Graham Arnold.
A veteran now with 56 caps, Behich knows this may be his last chance to write another page in Australian football history, particularly as he is also one of just three players from the 2019 Asian Cup squad that lost in the quarter-finals.
A key driver in the rebuilding of the Socceroos culture over the past 20 months, Behich can use memories of both triumph and disaster to inspire a squad where more than half the players are attending their first major international tournament.
His experience will be a calming factor when Australia kick off their campaign against India on Saturday, and Behich repeated a well-drilled message he expects his teammates to absorb.
“These opportunities don’t come around very often, not just the tournament but playing for your national team,” he said.
“It should always feel like a final when you have a chance to pull this jersey on. Me and Maty were lucky enough to touch that trophy in 2015 on home soil.
“We were actually speaking about that this morning and we have another opportunity to do it again. It’s a feeling you can’t explain to people when you win silverware, but to win it for your country is just special.
“So we’ve put ourselves in this position to have the chance to go again. The boys know what’s at stake here.”
While most of the squad have spoken with a quiet confidence about targeting victory in the final, Behich will be one of the senior players driving home the message that after a year of playing top-flight opposition, precisely the same mentality is needed against the 109th-ranked India side.
“Whether we’re playing Argentina or coming up against India in our next game, we treat it like a final,” he said. “We’ve set ourselves a high standard within these four walls and the expectation (is high), not just during the games but at training as well.
“We train like we play so the standard is high. We’re here to win it, that’s our main goal. So the messaging has always been the same for us.
“When you have the opportunity to represent your country, you’re out there to win. A lot of boys are playing their first major tournament for the country.
“So it’s exciting and for us that have been here before, it’s another opportunity to put things right from what happened last time.”
The memory of that quarter-final exit clearly still rankles, and Behich spoke passionately about the efforts made by the senior players to build a strong mentality in the years since.
“We’ve set a great culture within this group and for us, it’s just about making those young boys feel comfortable and to be able to perform at their best level with no pressure,” he said.
“Look at all the boys that have come in, they all say the same thing – they just gel straight away and we just make them feel welcome.
“We try to tell them that they don’t need to do anything different from what they do at their club because they’re selected for a reason and that’s because of whatever they’ve been doing, the coaching staff can see that.
“If they get the call, they’re ready to go.”
Australia v India
Asian Cup: Saturday, 13 January 2024
Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Kick-off: 2:30pm local (10:30pm AEDT)
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+