Perennial “down-underdogs” Australia, were the first team to land in Brazil for the upcoming tournament. Their training should hopefully provide them with ample time and preparation to face what should be one of the toughest groups in the tournament. With Both finalists from the 2010 world cup drawn into Group B and a menacing dark horse in Chile, who boast the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal in a fast paced midfield.
The Socceroos find themselves in a unique wedge of expectation. Since the Oceania teams were integrated into the more competitive Asian Football Confederation. Australia, along with Japan and South Korea officially carry the hopes of Asia on their shoulders, and with this new expectation on the Aussies, there is also a fresh scrutiny bearing down on them, as they are occupying a place in the finals that could have gone to one of the original AFC members, such as Iran who ranked 37th in the overall FIFA rankings, the highest ranked team in the AFC. If you think this pettiness might be a bit of a stretch. Then you don’t know football. As the lowest ranked team to be entering the World Cup (59th), they now have to prove their worth in one of the most intense groups the tournament has to offer.
Not to despair, Manager Ange Postecoglu whose predecessor was sacked as recently as October, has turned the team’s fortunes around with his technical build-up play, and pragmatic approach that has allowed them to play to one of their few strengths; a resilient midfield. Australian footballer of the year and captain of both club and country, Crystal Palace’s Mile Jedinak will be the anchor of this tenacious midfield. At age 29, and with 40 caps to date, he will bridge defense and offense, and dictate the pace that Australia can only pray to set against their opponents. Their attack will be led by The Red Bulls’ and former Everton midfielder, Tim Cahill. Postecoglu will be in a position to alter his game-plan to accommodate the aerial threat that Cahill provides. However, they will remain true to the technical possession game that has brought them success during qualification.
Against opponents, the Socceroos have flown out of the gates, showing great tenacity and positive aggression, but have failed to maintain consistency throughout the match as fitness fades. Postecoglu must weather this reckless nature in order to prolong the precision of a team that is decidedly off-balance in experience. With veterans in the twilight of their careers, or players as green as the grass on the field, the battle will only take place uphill for this team, and if there were a case for any team to park the bus for 90 minutes, then Australia would have that claim. Australia will be up against oppositions who boast tremendous counter-attacking ability and a buffet of goal scorers and midfield architects. Australia will have to rely on veterans such as Mark Bresciano. Bresciano represents a cool presence in the midfield, despite being at the ripe old age of 34. He is aggressive, tireless and strong. Also keep an eye out for the quickness of winger Tommy Oar, and goalkeeper Matthew Ryan. Oar 22 year old has recently made his way into the squad for Erdivise team Utrecht and was named Australian young player of the year as recently as 2010. He is nimble, quick and an accurate passer and shot taker. Goalkeeper, Ryan will be looking to showcase his immense talent against some fiery opponents, the Club Brugge shot stopper has already proved to be a tower in goal, and will be looking to draw the attention of many EPL sides. Ryan may be the only thing prolonging the inevitable when it comes to this Australia side, but he will definitely be special to watch.
The South Africa friendly proved that the team still has a lot to work on. And many are relegating this tournament to a practice run for the next world cup, where Australia can perhaps try and usher in a new age of football. Or maybe even discover another Harry Kewell to rally around. The fact of the matter is football in Australia isn’t even the third most popular sport in the country. But like the United States, every year its popularity grows, and the beautiful game becomes increasingly undeniable in its magnitude and entertainment. With zero expectations comes nothing to lose. And with every Charles Bronson film as evidence, that makes them a very dangerous squad. In 2006, Australia was one poorly-judged penalty away from bringing down the eventual tournament champs. Let it be known that it would be nothing short of a miracle should the Aussies make it to the knockout stage in Brazil. But I don’t think I need to remind anyone, that this is indeed football, where last I checked, anything is possible.