10 December 2018
France, Peru and Denmark will be Australia’s opponents at the World Cup in Russia next year, and if you believe the FIFA rankings, Australia has little chance to progress from the group. In truth, the FIFA rankings are as farcical as FIFA itself, so the approximate 30 point gap to all three teams is not a reflection on the true evenness of the group. The fact Peru, which struggled to finish fifth in South America and advanced only by a playoff against New Zealand, is ranked 11th, proves the absurdity of the rankings. France is ranked 9th, Denmark 12th and Australia 39th. France will obviously be tough to beat for all 3 teams, while Australia should feel itself comfortable against both Peru and Denmark.
That Australia plays France first up doesn’t really matter. Despite the hyperbole of “you must win your first game”, there’s no extra points for winning the first game. It’s about accumulating enough points from all three games. In fact, an upset is more likely in the first game when teams haven’t quite gelled or fully prepared. Spain lost their first game in 2010 before winning the World Cup, and we all remember Cameroon upsetting eventual finalists Argentina in 1990. If Australia loses to France, then a win against Peru gets it to the same position it was in 2006 – 3 points after 2 games and most likely only a draw required against Denmark in the final game to reach the knockout stage. That probably will be the second toughest game as the Danes showed some stunning results in qualifying, including a 4-0 win over Poland and thumping Ireland in the playoffs.
Australia entered the World Cup draw without a coach, and won’t get a coach until early next year, after the “will he” or “won’t he” saga with Ange Postecoglou continuing his coaching career with the Socceroos ending in he won’t. This seemed always the case after he never denounced media reports speculating about his departure, nor showed an enthusiasm to continue coaching – something particularly odd after just qualifying your team for a World Cup. He cited a couple of things, notably his family and the pressure of the job. He’s had two children while coach to now be a father of 3 sons, and the constant travel would have been unsettling. After overseas coaches qualified Australia the last 3 times, Postecoglou also said the pressure was amplified in that he didn’t want the legacy of an Australian coach failing and the harm it would do for future aspirants being given a chance.
Sydney journalist Roy Masters raised an interesting point on the ABC that Postecoglou is the sort of coach that operates best on positive vibes, and with Football Federation Australia failing to back him when he was being criticised by sections of the media, he began to resent the working environment and, recalling the time he was sacked as national youth coach, figured it was best to get out now – possibly even to stick it to the FFA. Indeed, at the press conference, FFA CEO David Gallop still seemed confused about Postecoglou’s decision and, of course, Postecoglou wanted to stick it to his critics too. You saw this petulant stubbornness manifest on the field with his obsession for the team to always play out the back. No kick outs from the goalie at all – even if a player was in acres of space on a wing. This almost crucified the team as it made them so predictable. Opponents began to pressure them high, and often win possession in dangerous situations. Thankfully Australia could recover in the Asian 5th Placed playoff when Syria managed to score early from such a situation.
Then there’s Postecoglou’s idea of “leaving a legacy”, He’s now realised it’s nonsense. Even if he coached at Russia 2018, the next Socceroos coach will do as he pleases. He’ll certain say it’s ok for the goalie to kick out! Heck, he might even try a counter-attacked game-plan rather than a high possession one. Postecoglou would have also been frustrated with a lack of control. Unlike at a club where he can recruit, build and mould a team, with the national team his playing stock is limited and, even more frustrating, is the lack of a daily process to coach. Finally, he almost certainly has a job lined up, most likely in Japan. Their season runs February to November and apparently Yokohama F Marinos has him on their radar.It’s a sad end to a period that should have the country still in wild jubilation. Australia resoundingly overcame Honduras, winning the final leg and the tie overall 3-1, thanks to a hat-trick by captain Mile Jedinak (a free kick and two penalties). It meant five Asian teams have qualified for a World Cup for the first time ever and, more importantly, Australia gave something back to the Asian Football Confederation for accepting Australia in the first place. Our entry was never meant to be an easy ride and to take a spot from one of the other Asian teams; it was meant to help boost the region as a whole, qualify five teams and hopefully gain an automatic fifth. That Australia had to do it the hard way – through the playoffs, and after a mammoth 22 games – meant they fulfilled this duty themselves, and made qualifying far more rewarding.
Qualifying after such a tough campaign really does add more mystery to Postecoglou’s decision to quit. It really should have inspired him to stay on. As much as he thinks leaving early doesn’t detract from his legacy, it does. At Brazil 2014 he lost all three games, and quite convincingly too, so surely you’d expect a man of his pride to want to try reverse that. As someone that thrives on a challenge, the real legacy would be to take this team to a new level and qualify Australia for the knockout stage. As it stands, Postecoglou’s World Cup record is three blots, and you can add a fourth for leaving the Socceroos with mission incomplete.
Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos record
49 games, 22 wins, 12 draws, 15 losses
Winner Asian Cup 2015
Qualified for World Cup 2018