Stand tall: The Socceroos need to never take a backward step. Photo: Getty Images
Cut the pessimism. Understanding where the Socceroos stand and the difficulty of the group they are competing in is a very different thing from writing off the team’s chances of success.
It just depends how you define success.
Australia is, in fact, in a wonderful position that most countries would envy, in the second of four stages that every World Cup nation must face.
The first stage is simply to make the tournament. This was us for 32 long years, a spell broken in 2005 and helped by joining Asia.
In our new confederation, we are in an extremely enviable position of being not just capable, but overwhelmingly likely to qualify for successive World Cups, as we shortly enter our third straight tournament.
In Europe or South America, which are far more difficult regions with greater depth, many countries are stuck in this stage of qualification focus, never to progress.
We are most fortunate to be included in a confederation which is fast growing and represents the future, but which lacks great depth at present and allows us to evolve along with the region while experiencing the top level at World Cups every four years.
The second stage, which we are now in, is made up of nations aiming to progress beyond the group stage. Many multiple entrant countries have never done so and we are spoilt to have achieved this in our second qualification.
The third stage is quarters and semi-finals, the fourth to become a potential winner.
In this context, we enter every World Cup with tremendous optimism with a view towards one thing, progressing every time to become good enough to enter the next developmental stage.
The beauty of regular participation is one simple thing, we have the luxury of learning on each occasion, assimilating the lessons into our system, and taking another step forwards.
Learning the lessons, that’s the key. So what is the lesson from 2010? Simply that we should face every challenge with bravery, in the way we want to play the game, to test our level against the best in the same way we are now doing at youth level, with a clear approach and philosophy, which will ultimately produce the fastest progress.
In learning a new way, results will of course be compromised in the early stages of any change process, but consistency brings evolution.
A national team must represent its people, their mentality, their culture, and Australia does not walk backwards or cower. Ever.
In 2010, we stepped backwards and let Germany destroy us. Copping four goals is no fun, but it’s far, far worse when your national team loses its identity.
This was a great lesson we should never forget. We can get beaten, we might even get thrashed on occasion by stronger nations much advanced in their development, but the approach and the aggressive posture is non negotiable.
This Socceroos team, despite its relative inexperience and the consequentially lower expectations, must do only one thing - take the approach that reflects this country, and fight til the end.
And to think that a result is not possible is utter garbage.
Firstly, strong nations typically start slow, knowing they must arrive at their sixth or seventh match in good health. Secondly, even the last world champions experienced stress last time, beaten by Switzerland in their first match.
Paraguay, a country we have repeatedly proven better than, should also have beaten Spain in 2010. Not because of quality - there was no comparison - but because of their bravery.
Just when plenty said it couldn’t be done and was folly in the extreme, Paraguay pressed Spain in every part of the pitch, harassed them to the point where no player, no matter how good, likes to play and took the eventual winners to the brink.
Might they have lost, even heavily as a consequence? Yes, but so what? Paraguayans could be proud of the way their representatives approached the occasion, and the result be damned. Without this attitude, what great achievements would ever be produced in life?
Ange Postecoglou is absolutely right when he says that, win or lose, no opponent should ever have been pleased to have played Australia, and they must know they’ve been pushed all the way.
Let’s learn from the mistake of South Africa, and resolve never to take a backwards step again.
We’ll take four if we have to, but only after one almighty tussle where every goal has to be earned, and the opponent’s blood spilt before it hits the net.
With this approach, we not only honour our appearances in consecutive World Cups, which almost 200 other nations would give everything for, but we play in congruence with our culture and have a foundation on which to grow.
At times in Brazil, it might not feel like it, but this approach will get us to stage four in decades to come.