After a mediocre qualifying campaign and two hammerings at the hands of Brazil and France, Socceroos fans already had low expectations heading into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
But to be drawn against defending champions Spain, 2010 finalists the Netherlands and a South American team on the rise in Chile, Australia’s prospects became even more grim.
The appointment of local coach Ange Postecoglou has put smiles on some faces, with the former Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory coach promising a more attacking style of play for the boys in green and gold.
Australia: World Cup facts
- FIFA world ranking: 59
- World Cup appearances: 4
- Best finish: Round 2 (2006)
- Leading World Cup goalscorer: Tim Cahill – 3
Postecoglou was named Socceroos coach shortly after Holger Osieck’s sacking, after his team copped 6-0 hammerings against Brazil and France.
Osieck guided Australia through a difficult qualifying campaign, where the Socceroos passage was only secured in the final match with a 1-0 win over Iraq.
Exciting as the last-day qualification may have been, Osieck’s tenure was ended before the World Cup not only for the heavy friendly defeats in September and October, but for not transitioning more younger players into the national mix.
The likes of Harry Kewell and Lucas Neill from the ‘golden generation’ that propelled Australia to a round-of-16 placing in 2006 are now out of the picture, with Postecoglou looking to develop a younger team in Brazil, in the hope of leading a better equiped side in the Asian Cup and 2018 World Cup.
The combative style of 2006 and 2010 looks to have been replaced with a more attractive, attacking verve, demonstrated in Australia’s 4-3 loss to Ecuador.
The first stanza saw the Socceroos race to a 3-0 lead, stunning the higher-ranked Ecuadorians, before Mitch Langerak’s red card early in the second half saw the defensive wheels fall off.
Australia’s chances in Brazil have not been helped by injuries to key forward Robbie Kruse and centre-back Rhys Williams.
In their place, Postecoglou has not been afraid to promote A-League talent, with the likes of Mark Milligan, Ivan Franjic and James Troisi all pushing for places in defence and midfield.
Some old faces remain in the picture, with Mark Bresciano continuing to provide creative spark in the centre of midfield.
But Australia’s attacking fulcrum still remains manifested in Tim Cahill, formerly of Everton and still going strong in the United States’ Major Soccer League (MLS).
Cahill’s aerial threat remains undiminished, while he has also shown an increased penchant for goals from distance for MLS side New York Red Bulls.
Ultimately, Australian fans harbour realistic expectations of the Socceroos’ chances in their third consecutive World Cup appearance.
Improvement will be evident if Australia can keep losses to respectable scorelines, but Postecoglou will remain bullish about his underdogs’ hopes.
- An early exit beckons for the Socceroos. At the very least, Australia will expect a restoration of the fighting spirit that once defined the team and was wholly absent in last year’s Brasilia and Paris humiliations.
Australia’s 23-man World Cup squad
|Adelaide United (AUS)
|Borussia Dortmund (GER)
|Club Brugge (BEL)
|Heracles Almelo (NED)
|Brisbane Roar (AUS)
|Shandong Luneng Taishan (CHI)
|Western Sydney Wanderers (AUS)
|Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (KOR)
|Preston North End (ENG)
|Al Gharafa (QAT)
|Fortuna Dusseldorf (GER)
|Austria Vienna (AUT)
|Crystal Palace (ENG)
|Brisbane Roar (AUS)
|Melbourne Victory (AUS)
|FC Sion (SUI)
|New York Red Bulls (USA)
|FSV Frankfurt (GER)
|Newcastle Jets (AUS)
|Melbourne Victory (AUS)
Star player: Tim Cahill
Age has not diminished the talents, will to win or patriotic flair that have defined Cahill’s career in a Socceroos shirt.
Cahill’s ability in the air is just as potent as yesteryear, nodding home goals from corners and set pieces with startling regularity despite being surrounded by taller defenders.
Robbie Kruse showed glimpses of his star potential during Australia’s qualifying campaign, but his injury means the goal-scoring onus remains firmly on Cahill’s shoulders.
Traditionally played as an attacking central midfielder with Everton and New York, Cahill has developed into a unique forward for Australia, either playing just behind target-man Josh Kennedy, or up front on his own.
When up front, he will harry and hassle his marker tirelessly while looking to get on the end of crosses from the wing.
A ferocious competitor, this is likely to be the 34-year-old’s final World Cup appearance.
He will insist on Australia’s chances despite a group featuring more esteemed opposition, in the hopes of dragging his team into the knockout rounds.
Coach: Ange Postecoglou
The brightest coaching talent to emerge out of Australia for some time, Postecoglou’s appointment as Socceroos coach came earlier than expected.
He was seen as a likely successor to Holger Osieck after the World Cup, potentially in time for the Asian Cup in 2015, but Osieck’s axing means Postecoglou has been thrown into a difficult mission in Brazil.
Postecoglou has a history of reinvigorating struggling teams, none moreso than when he took a middling Brisbane Roar team and transformed them into A-League champions.
He picked up two A-League championship medals with the Roar, leaving a legacy of astute possession play and solid defence as the foundation for future success.
His time with the Melbourne Victory was short before he was snapped up by the FFA to commandeer the Socceroos’ World Cup bid.
Postecoglou has already said he plans to inject more attacking vigour into the Socceroos, while also giving young players a chance in national colours.
While the coach has realistic expectations against Spain, Chile and the Netherlands, Postecoglou will not die wondering as he looks to take the attack to Group B.