Sunday, 24 Sep, 2023


Team from down under in the group of death

Saleque Sufi |
Update: 2014-05-30 01:12:00
Team from down under in the group of death

Australia, one of the proudest sporting nations in the world, enters the world cup with little expectation. Soccer is not exactly the game of choice. Rugby, Australian Rules Football, Cricket are higher in the popularity ranking. But since it started playing football seriously, Australia always aim to take its expectations higher and higher. It is now played at almost every suburb of all major cities by players of different ages. Australian male team is known as Socceroos and female team as Matilda.

Being pooled in the group of death with reigning champions Spain, South American Giant Chile and very strong European team the Netherlands, Australians won’t be expecting anything spectacular from the team. But the nation has strong mental toughness and will definitely demonstrate Never Say Die attitude. 

Damage control and playing for pride will be the prime objective. Reigning champions Spain, 2010 runners-up Netherlands and Chile with their strongest team in a generation will be sizing each other like a showdown in a spaghetti western. But whatever happens no Australian team has returned from world stage pointless ever.

In this football western, the Soccaroos don’t make it to the final shoot-out. Their hopes already seemingly buried in the surrounding cemetery in what for them is a group of certain death. In that cemetery also lie the bones of the Soccerroos “golden generation” and former manager Holger Osieck. Australia’s third successive world cup appearance from Asia-Oceania came at a cost as a thoroughly unconvincing qualifying campaign laid waste to guided reputations. The irony was far from lost when a man dubbed “Jesus (Josh Kennedy) saved the Socceroos bacon in the final minutes of the final group game against Iraq and secured them a golden ticket to Brazil.

The final straw came in two subsequent friendlies against fancied Brazil and France where Osieck’s strategy was exposed. Socceroos were overwhelmed by 4-0 and 6-0. Osieck had to depart. After 10 days of intense speculation, the FFA announced that Melbourne Victory’s Ange Postecoglou would be the man to replace Osieck. The decision was met with widespread approval, as the FFA opted for a home grown coach to implement a long-term plan, rather that looking abroad as they have done in recent years.

The shrewd coach quickly realized that it is not a sultry capped competition like A-League. He realized the challenges in dealing with inferior ingredients compared to the golden generation and making them perform respectably on the rarefied international stage. The task became tougher after being pooled in the group of death.

Postecoglou has a major job on his hands. It’s little wonder he was offered a five-year contract because he is likely to need all that time and more to engineer the sort of drastic changes Australian soccer needs.

His first challenge will be to rejuvenate an ageing squad and ensure that the Socceroos avoid any embarrassments akin to the ones that spelt the end for Osieck.

The squad still relies on the likes of Mark Schwarzer and Tim Cahill, while Bayer Leverkusen’s Robbie Kruse is the only player who features regularly for a top European club. Captain Lucas Neill’s lack of pace at the back is one of many problems Postecoglou must face up to.

Provisional 30-man Australia Squad

Goalkeepers: Mark Birighitti (Newcastle Jets), Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United), Mitchell Langerak (Borussia Dortmund), Mat Ryan (Club Brugge).

Defenders: Jason Davidson (Heracles Almelo), Ivan Franjic (Brisbane Roar), Curtis Good (Dundee United, on loan from Newcastle), Ryan McGowan (Shandong Luneng Taishan), Matthew Spiranovic (Western Sydney Wanderers), Alex Wilkinson (Jeonbuk Hyundai), Luke Wilkshire (Dinamo Moscow), Bailey Wright (Preston North End).

Midfielders: Oliver Bozanic (Luzern), Mark Bresciano (Al Gharafa), Joshua Brillante (Newcastle Jets), James Holland (Austria Vienna), Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace), Massimo Luongo (Swindon Town), Matthew McKay (Brisbane Roar), Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory), Tommy Oar (Utrecht), Tommy Rogic (Melbourne Victory), Adam Sarota (Utrecht), James Troisi (Melbourne Victory), Dario Vidosic (Sion).

Forwards: Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Ben Halloran (Fortuna Dusseldorf), Josh Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus 8), Matthew Leckie (FSV Frankfurt 1899), Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets).

Coach Ange Postecoglou

The new man has a number of issues he needs to address, primarily the regeneration of an ageing squad. Postecoglou likes his teams to press and dominate possession, although the latter will be hard to achieve against what will be high caliber opposition in Brazil.

Postecoglou will be expected to get his team fighting, with a heroic group stage exit probably deemed acceptable in the knowledge that the squad lacks quality in key areas.

Players to Watch

Almost certain to be Cahill’s last world cup, the New York Red Bulls midfielder will want to go out with a bang. Cahill epitomizes the Aussie spirit that was missing under Osieck and has had no problem finding the net since his move to the US. In a squad that will feature several younger players, Postecoglou will be looking to Cahill to provide leadership out in Brazil.

Veteran Mark Bresciano, Josh Kennedy, Tommy oar, Mathew Ryan, Mathhew Lekie, Jason Davidson and Ivan Franjic will probably form the backbone of the team.

Group Matches

Friday 13th June v Chile (18:00 local time in Cuiaba)

Wednesday 18th June v Holland (13:00 local time in Porto Alegre)

Monday 23rd June v Spain (13:00 local time in Curitiba)


There is an element of 'damage limitation exercise' about Australia's 2014 world cup campaign. This is one of the worst groups they could have got and they will not pick up a point. Postecoglou is building for the future and will be looking for encouraging signs from the youngsters he selects, rather than holding onto any realistic ambitions of getting out of the group. 

No Australian team has returned from a World Cup pointless. The primary aim will be avoiding any humiliation, remaining competitive on the pitch and building for the 2015 Asian Cup. Although it may sound too optimistic Australia can aim to hurt one of the big three burying their hopes. But I find Aussie friends are carefully optimistic. Some of my Melbourne neighbors are planning to watch matches in the big screens at Federation Square.

BDST: 1103 HRS, MAY 30, 2014 

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