Socceroos will relish underdog status in Russia

The prospect of the Socceroos' fourth straight participation in a FIFA World Cup has generated a degree of apprehension within Australia's football family.

Emotions among the fans are mixed but it is safe to say that expectations are low.

Knowing the fighting Socceroos, however, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

It is not long now before the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Russia.

The Socceroos are in Group C and face former champions France in their first match in Sochi at 8pm on June 16 (AEST).

Their baptism of fire will be followed by less arduous matches against Denmark in Samara and Peru in Sochi.

At this point one wonders what the fans can expect from a national team that struggled to reach the promised land and lost their coach immediately after qualification was secured.

Incoming boss Bert van Marwijk has been appointed on a short-term basis and his tenure will cease when Australia's involvement in the competition comes to an end.

The Dutchman has inherited a group of players that contains no genuine big names except for veteran striker Tim Cahill, who is hellbent on taking part in his fourth World Cup and perhaps even scoring a goal which would make him one of only a handful of men to find the net in four tournaments.

The general consensus in Australia and abroad is that the Socceroos are highly unlikely to emulate the class of 2006 and reach the last 16.

The present scenario is similar to that of 2014 when Ange Postecoglou took a set of demoralised yet determined players to Brazil to face Chile, the Netherlands and Spain.

The Socceroos, as expected, were knocked out of the tournament in the group phase but surprised many people including yours truly with the quality of football shown in the second half of the match versus the Chileans and throughout the game against the Dutch, when for a few moments we dreamed of a major upset after Cahill's wonder goal and Mile Jedinak's penalty put the Socceroos 2-1 up.

The Socceroos eventually lost 3-2 and caught an early ticket home but were fully entitled to feel proud of their overall performance against formidable opposition.

So should we expect the same outcome in Russia?

Let's face it, the Socceroos are up against it and for this reason it is crucial that they do well against Les Bleus, who have a history of slow starts in major tournaments.

Remember Senegal in 2002, Switzerland and Korea Republic in 2006 and their disaster in 2010?

Even if the Australians fall to the French, it is imperative that they avoid a blowout score just in case Didier Deschamps's men win all three matches and second position in the group comes down to goal difference.
On a technical and tactical front it is hard to expect a repetition of the encouraging stuff provided by Postecoglou's troops four years ago.

You see, the main reason people were opposed to a short-term coach appointment is because van Marwijk is not interested in the long-term future of the Socceroos.

Van Marwijk enjoys a reputation for getting results even though the Netherlands team he took to the World Cup final in Johannesburg will be remembered mostly as an overly physical and negative version of a once admired and loved football nation.

He will do whatever it takes to obtain results with little or no regard to the broader interests of the national team. Why would he? It's not in his 'job description' after all.

This is not having a go at van Marwijk, but questioning the rationale of those who thought that a six-month position for our national team was a bright idea and not a clear band-aid solution to the Socceroos' conundrum.

Postecoglou, in sharp contrast, saw himself as a man on a mission to change the way we played our football when he took over the job in 2013 and his bold approach was rewarded when the Socceroos snared their first major honour by winning the AFC Asian Cup seven months after the World Cup.

Van Marwijk will do whatever it takes to justify Football Federation Australia's faith in him and he will ride away into the sunset when his contract is up, leaving incoming coach Graham Arnold with little time to prepare the Socceroos for their defence of the Asian title in the United Arab Emirates in early 2019.

It's not an ideal scenario and fans of the green and gold are not exactly brimming with confidence, but we must always trust the Socceroos and never write them off.

History teaches us that the Socceroos are usually at their best when faced with a challenge - the bigger the better - and they would love nothing more than be able to thumb their noses at their critics by scoring a major shock.

Well, if ever there was an opportunity to do so one more time ...

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5 min read
Published 12 May 2018 at 5:38pm
By Philip Micallef