Socceroos must defy history to avoid another slow start

Australia already have enough to overcome when they arrive at a FIFA World Cup, but if we're completely honest with ourselves, the national team has done itself no favours in coming out of the blocks in major tournaments.

2006 Socceroos

Source: Getty Images

Ahead of Saturday night’s opening match at Russia 2018 against France at the Kazan Arena, much has been made about the need for Bert van Marwijk’s side to be defensively tight, especially early on. But recent history would suggest Australia has failed miserably at executing that objective.

Every time since Australia returned to the World Cup stage in 2006, they have conceded in the opening 26 minutes – an extraordinary statistic.

While the 3-1 victory over Japan in 2006 led Australians to think the team had no problems early doors, a wider look at facts are hugely concerning ahead of this year’s first match.

That game against Japan in Kaiserslautern has set a worrying tempo for the Socceroos. While they were able to cancel out Shunsuke Nakamura’s opener, in subsequent events those early blows could not be countered.

The overly-confident 2010 Australian team was put squarely on their backsides by Germany in Durban, with Lukas Podolski (eight minutes) and Miroslav Klose (26 minutes) both scoring early goals. The Germans then skewered the Australians in the second half with two more goals. The World Cup was effectively over.

With a dramatically different age profile in 2014, Ange Postecoglou’s lambs were put to slaughter by Chile, with Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia smashing Australia inside just 14 minutes in Cuiaba.

It is perhaps worth noting that the only Australian side not to concede in the first half of their opening World Cup match is the 1974 Socceroos. They held out until 58 minutes, when Colin Curren’s own goal gave East Germany the lead.

But the nasty trend of conceding early isn’t confined to World Cups, either. Since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, Australia has been to three Asian Cups and haven't shone there, either.

In 2007, Badar Al-Maimani’s 32nd minute goal for Oman ensured that Australia was on the back foot at their first foray into Asia’s showpiece tournament, and had to wait for injury time in Bangkok to avoid total embarrassment, grabbing a later equaliser through Tim Cahill.

It wasn’t until 2011 that Australia was able to survive unblemished at a major international debut tournament, defeating football minnows India 4-0 – a mismatch if ever there was one. Incredibly, it is the only major tournament in the post-AFC era that Australia has scored first in.

But reverting to type for the 2015 edition, Australia conceded first against Kuwait as Hussain Fadhel poked home from close range after just eight minutes. While Australia eventually took charge against their lowly-ranked opponents, that the Socceroos dropped their guard – against totally unfancied opposition and on home soil – should not be overlooked.

For some reason, it is often reported in the Australian media that big teams don’t always start well at World Cups, but if we're going by the facts, surely it’s the Socceroos who are the ones who need to prove history wrong.

As kick-off approaches in Kazan, it's surely this challenge that looms largest for van Marwijk and his defensive unit.

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Published 15 June 2018 at 11:13pm
By Sebastian Hassett in Kazan