Doubts abound but Socceroos’ self-belief is unbreakable

Sometimes all it takes is a glance. A few words. A look in the eye. Either way, when somebody has confidence, it’s hard to describe – you just know it.


Socceroos Source: Getty Images

That’s what it’s been like being around the Socceroos camp in Tokyo this week. The mood around the team hotel and at training in Nishigaoka has been as focused as we’ve seen from an Australian team for some time.

Not even the rather extraordinary news that a missile fired by the North Korean military over Japanese soil seemed to ruffle the feathers much. Meanwhile, the rest of the city is on stage five alert, pending the actions of Messrs Kim, Abe and Trump.

Granted, come Thursday night, when the ring of noise around Saitama Stadium turns a 60,000-seat venue into one of the world’s most deafening cauldrons, all that confidence might count for nought.

But Ange Postecoglou’s men, at least for now, appear remarkably relaxed. It’s shy of being cocky, but there is a deep, resolute belief they can get the job done. And that doesn’t mean settling for a draw, either.

Some might ask why this is the case, given the recent commentary around the team – not least the controversial back-three experiment at the FIFA Confederations Cup – and the fact that Japan are the group’s leading team, albeit by a point.

But there is always a feeling that the Socceroos lift when they play Japan in World Cup matches, even when Samurai Blue have been overwhelming favourites, as they were when the two teams met at this exact stadium in a similar situation four years ago.

The Australia team, on that occasion, had exactly the same bullishness the present team does. Then-captain Lucas Neill privately told the press pack exactly what he thought: “You can see the boys are up for this.”

This time, at the luxurious base close to the sprawling Waseda University, the players have the same belief, even if might be the biggest match of the year for some of them.

It probably won’t be for Aaron Mooy, who jetted into camp on Tuesday morning, one of the latest arrivals. Usually a shy, humble type, he strode into the team hotel in his black shirt and radiated self-belief. Not surprisingly: his start to life in the English Premier League with Huddersfield Town has been superb, capped by the brilliant goal against Newcastle United.

Perhaps this is where the Socceroos spirits have their genesis. Some players are in strong form, while many others have made smart off-season moves that should see them get plenty of game time in a World Cup year.

Robbie Kruse was castigated by many in Australia for signing for second division German club Bochum, an unfashionable club in a notoriously unfashionable city, built on mining and steel.

But the 28-year old couldn’t be happier. He lives in nearby in ritzy Düsseldorf, where he used to play for Fortuna, and where his wife never left. Bochum are preparing to build a team around Kruse in a bid for promotion. His face features on major advertisements in the city centre.

Matthew Spiranovic is an even more curious case. It wasn’t that long ago that playing in China was problematic for Socceroos’ selection, let alone being in the second tier. But there he is, with relegated Hangzhou Greentown, and he’s hardly in a rush to get out.

He’s fit – finally – and no matter what anyone says about his club choices over the years, he remains the nation’s most gifted all-round defender by some margin. Despite not playing for the national team in almost a year, he still looms as the best option at centre-half.

Stories like that permeate the squad, especially among those jostling for a spot in the first team: Tom Rogic has made his mark at Celtic, Jackson Irvine is a star in the Championship, Tomi Juric’s form in Switzerland is sharp. Milos Degenek is doing great things with Yokohama. And Tim Cahill? He's always confident, not that it would surprise anyone.

Mat Ryan hasn’t had the best start to life with Brighton, but he at least returns to a setup where nobody doubts his ability and a manager who trusts him implicitly.

Granted it may not be the “Golden Generation”, but if belief counts for anything, the Socceroos are in with a real chance of achieving something they haven’t done since October 1969: victory over Japan, in Japan.

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Have a story or comment? Contact Us

Watch the FIFA World Cup, Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España, Dakar Rally, World Athletics / ISU Championships (and more) via SBS On Demand – your free live streaming and catch-up service.
Watch nowOn Demand
Follow SBS Sport
4 min read
Published 30 August 2017 at 6:14am
By Sebastian Hassett