07 December 2013
Group of death, group of dread or, possibly the most accurate as it initially suggested, group of suicide. Aren’t we forgetting one thing? Australians aren’t supposed to lay down in a fight. Considering yourself in a group of death is self-defeatist. To think, given Australia’s lowly position at the moment, that many suggestions were that any group would be a group of death, it’s even more self-defeatist. While there’s no reason to go with an arrogant and bullying attitude that appears in many areas of the Australian sporting psyche, our true psyche of a confidence in ability and respect of our own opponents, will only serve our nation well next year.
Group B of Spain, Netherlands and Chile will provide Australia both a challenging and an exciting time. When Australia was drawn with Spain, I gave a fist-pump. When it came to the final pot, that of the Europeans, when the Dutch emerged, it drew a wry smile. This is not a daunting moment; it tickled our intrinsic sporting values. The challenge is on. Bring it!
As I wanted new teams, I was pumped that Croatia came out first from that pot to go in Group A. Earlier, I was dreading Australia entering Group G with opponents of 2010, Germany and Ghana. Australia’s group filled nicely. If there’s a switch I could make given the choice, it would into Group D with Uruguay, England and Italy. That’s the quintessential group of rivals. Costa Rica took the spot there.
Coach Ange Postecoglou echoed the mood well, impishly rebuffing the lead question from the media about a tough draw with “No, no, it’s great” (they laughed). He’s excited, and loving the challenge. Who wouldn’t? Probably Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek. You could imagine, especially from Verbeek, a defeatist shroud of body language coming from him. Osieck, just may not been as effusive as Ange. In fact, Ange must be pinching himself. Only a few weeks ago he’s coaching A-League; now he’s in Brazil at the World Cup Draw and preparing to lead his country into the biggest battle arena in the world on arguably the home of football. The fact he remains so composed and professional, it’s the hallmark of the man.
Being placed in slot 4 of the group, suits Australia well. Chile is the first game and if Ange has any tricks up his sleeve, that’s the match to try them and snare a win. Australia has a decent recent record against Holland, with a win and two draws, even if those were friendlies. A 2-1 in Holland and 0-0 in Australia under Verbeek, a draw under Guus Hiddinck just before the 2006 World Cup. Not to forget qualifying for the 1992 Olympics ahead of Holland. Holland are not the team of superstars like Spain or Brazil are. There are ways to exploit such teams, and a draw is certainly not beyond Australia. The final game, it may not matter for Spain, or even for Australia. Who knows?
If Australia can make the knockout phase, the cross-over group is Group A… of Brazil. Wow. Survive that and the quarter final is an opponent from Group C or D.
Saturday 14 June – 0800 AET | Chile v Australia | Arena da Baixada – Curitiba
Thursday 19 June – 0200 AET | Australia v Netherlands | Estadio Beira-Rio – Porto Alegre
Tuesday 24 June – 0200 AET | Australia v Spain | Arena Pantanal – Cuiaba
Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia
Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy
Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras
Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA
Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea
It would be remiss not to slam FIFA for their unwieldy and unnecessarily complicated draw. The pot of 9 that facilitated an “X” pot for the extra European team, the pot system itself that arbitrarily segregates cross-regional teams from playing each other (for instance Asia mixed with CONCACAF means those two regions can’t play each other), plus the absurd use of FIFA’s flawed rankings system to decide seeds. Spain and Netherlands were the 2010 World Cup finalists and now face each other in a group stage? Fine if that’s the result of a true random draw. Bad if it’s a result of fiddling and coercion as it proved. FIFA obviously want some unpredictability in the group stage, whether that be some big name clashes, or even the chance of moderate teams progressing as more likely to happen in a group with a weak seed. Be transparent about it instead of making even bigger fools of yourselves and a mockery of the process. The solution is a single pot system, as detailed in the preview.
From the other groups, Brazil faces an interesting opposition in Group A. Croatia could conceivably hold them, while Mexico can’t be as bad as their fourth-placed qualifying suggests, and Cameroon are unpredictable. Then there’s the pressure of being home nation. No win against Croatia and it could be interesting.
Group C, with Greece and the enigmatic Colombians, would have been nice for Australia. Japan are good enough to progress from there. It’s one of the more even groups thanks to a weak top seed.
Group D is the truly luscious group for Australia, and they definitely would have a chance for progression. Just playing England would be enough for most Australians. To beat them, especially to deny them progression, would make the nation delirious and stoke the rivalry for eons. Remember, Uruguay qualified as fifth best South American, essentially making them sixth best with Brazil automatically qualified as hosts. It’s not difficult to hold Italy to a 0-0. It’s in their DNA. Ask New Zealand in 2010.
The chance of a weak Group E didn’t quite happen as France – one of the stronger Europeans – slotted in. Ecuador are flighty while Honduras – as have all teams outside Mexico and USA from CONCACAF – have done little on the world stage.
Iran has it interesting in Group F. That’s definitely a group in which Australia could have challenged. With Argentina likely to dominate, a team could qualify in second with one win – the team that loses least heavily to Argentina.
Group G is probably the most predictable, with Germany and Portugal the likely top two.
The dogdy seeding produced the most even group, with Group H. If Belgium’s high ranking is validated, they should sail through. They are an intriguing team and will be interesting to watch after 12 years out of the tournament. For Korea, all the opponents seem manageable.
Quotes – coach Ange Postecoglou
“No, no, it’s great. It’s a World Cup, and we’re playing against the best nations in the world, and our group will be really exciting. It’s a massive challenge, and I look forward to it. It’s going to be great.
“We’re going to see some good football in our group, that’s for sure. There’s some great footballing nations and our job is to play our part. It’s an enormous challenge for us but for a nation like ours that’s exactly what we want. We’ve got a chance to make some headlines when the World Cup comes around.
“We know what Spain are like and the Dutch have always played good football and in this qualifying campaign Chile have been outstanding. So there’s going to be some real footballing challenges ahead of us. We want to keep growing and keep getting better and that’s our measures.
“There wouldn’t be one of our players who wouldn’t be looking forward to this immensely. To play the world’s best teams that’s why you go to a World Cup. Everyone will be writing us off in this group, which is I think is logical. From our perspective we’ve some great opportunities to show the world we can play some good football against the best nations in the world. Our group looks the most difficult group but I hope it’s the group that plays the best football and we’ll play our part in that.”
Quotes – Players
Tim Cahill: SPAIN, HOLLAND AND CHILE. What an amazing group to be in. This is the beauty of WORLD CUPS
Mile Jedinak: It’s one of the toughest groups you could think of and we have been dealt a pretty tough hand. These sorts of challenges are really another level and it’s something as a player you relish and embrace.
Matthew Ryan: Spain chile and holland. Excited that we’ll get to test ourselves against some of the best players in the world!
Tom Oar: Spain Netherlands and Chile! What a group!
Jason Davidson: As a footballer you want to challenge yourself against the worlds best
Quotes – Netherland’s coach Louis van Gaal
“We have to play the world champion, we have to play Australia who we have never beaten and Chile was 3-0 up recently against Colombia before it ended 3-3, so that is not a weak team. The opponents are tough, but for the playing conditions it is not too bad.” But Van Gaal noted that if the Netherlands progress from the group stage they will have to play one of the teams from the group headed by host nation Brazil. That is a tough group and you travel north and the playing conditions get worse.”
Quotes – Chile’s coach Jorge Sampaoli
“It’s such a difficult group. We’ll try to be as competitive as possible to give us a chance to reach the knockout stages. In the career of a coach, you know this is the path that you may have to take. So we have to prepare well. After getting out of the war of the group stage, you don’t move on to an easier fate with having to face winners of Group A.”