Socceroos ready for Chile encounter
Sebastian Hassett and Michael Lynch preview the Socceroos' opening game against Chile in Cuiaba, Brazil.PT4M7S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-39zp1 620 349 June 12, 2014
What are our chances?
Buckley’s, and then none. No one in the football world expects the Socceroos to qualify from one of the groups of death at this World Cup.
Unassuming character: New Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak. Photo: Getty Images
They are up against two of the genuine powerhouses of world football in defending champion Spain and The Netherlands, while Chile is a highly fancied contender on South American turf. There are plenty willing to wager Australia will not score a goal and could concede upwards of six in its three matches. This is an inexperienced side chock full of players new to the international game, a result of new coach Ange Postecoglou’s decision to purge the old guard and rebuild for the future, especially the Asian Cup, which Australia hosts early next year. While the defence is coming together well, a lack of firepower up front renders the Socceroos somewhat toothless.
Of course they have a puncher’s chance in any given game, but if they could replicate New Zealand’s efforts of 2010 and remain unbeaten, then that would be a major triumph. But they are up against better opposition and Postecoglou will not ‘‘park the bus’’ to frustrate opponents, as Ricki Herbert, the All Whites coach, did then.
What about the coach?
High hopes: Lionel Messi of Argentina. Photo: Getty Images
Postecoglou has had to do a lot in a very short space of time. He quickly began the Herculean task of cleansing the ancient Socceroo stables and got rid of virtually all the veterans in the camp, headed by skipper Lucas Neill. As a result he goes to Brazil with only two men – Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano – who have started games in previous World Cups.
He is a man of footballing principle, however, and will not compromise on his tactical approach, which is to hustle and bustle and try to take the game to the opposition, no matter how well credentialled.
Will the Socceroos score?
The bookies have zero goals as their favourite but I think they might have one or two in them, if only from set pieces or breakaways following periods of sustained pressure. The evergreen Tim Cahill remains the most likely option from a header – what else. But Mark Bresciano with a speculative free-kick, centre back Matt Spiranovic from a set piece, or wide man Ben Halloran or Matthew Leckie, on the break, might also be worth a punt.
Is the opposition as good as they say?
Well, yes, it is. On paper at least, although as Gordon Strachan, the former Scottish international, memorably told the press pack as he pointed to the grassy area outside his office, games are played on pitches not paper. Still, Spain has won the last two European championships and the last World Cup. Two of its club teams, the Madrids Real and Atletico, met in the Champions League final, while Sevilla won the Europa League. The Netherlands have a tendency to blow up and argue among themselves in major tournaments, but when they stay solid they are formidable: they lost the World Cup final to Spain in 2010 and reached the knock-out stage in 2006. Twice runner-up in the 1970s with the team that was immortalised as the inventors of total football. And Chile –well, in Arturo Vidal they have one of the most coveted midfielders in the competition and are comfortably established among the top four in Latin America, capable of giving anyone a game.
Who’s the captain again?
Mile Jedinak – possibly the most unobtrusive, little-known captain of any national team. In any sport. Jedinak, as they say, tends to lead more by example than by word. Quiet and calm, Jedinak is, however, the Australian playing at the highest level of the game right now having captained Crystal Palace to Premier League survival this season. Where once the Socceroos had a bevy of stars in the EPL, Jedinak is now our shining light. Tough, physically committed and hard-working, he plays in the engine room of the team as a defensive midfielder.
One of life’s grafters and late bloomers, his leadership qualities will be called on like never before over the next fortnight.
And what if miracles do happen?
OK, for the fantasists among you, here’s how it works. If Australia somehow was to top the group, it would play the runner-up in Group A – likely to be one of Croatia, Cameroon or Mexico – in the round of 16. If it finished second, then get ready for the big one. Host nation Brazil is in Group A and is red-hot favourite to win it. So the prize for finishing second would be a clash with Neymar and company in the first knock-out phase. Not too bad then . . .
What can we realistically expect?
With the best will in the world, it is hard to be anything other than pessimistic for the Socceroos’ progress. This World Cup will be measured more on their performance and development than the scorelines. I’m going for: Chile 3 Australia 1; Netherlands 2 Australia 0; Spain 3 Australia 0.
And the winner is ....
Step forward pocket-rocket, mini-dynamo and all-round footballing genius Lionel Messi. Surely this is Argentina’s time. Blessed with a marvellous array of attacking talent, the Albicelestes are as close to home turf as it gets without the enormous pressure that being host brings. It has a reasonably benign draw and although its defence might not be the best, its forward line puts it in any match. Messi might lead Argentina to victory and a third World Cup to go with 1978 and 1986.