The odds are against them, but the Socceroos dare to dream

After a narrow loss to France, Australia have history against them as they try to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup second round.


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On Friday, at the press conference ahead of Australia’s World Cup opener against France, Socceroos manager Bert van Marwijk wanted to talk about probability.

“If we play 10 times against France, maybe we lose eight or nine times,” he explained.

“We have worked hard to get a situation that maybe we lose five or six times, but also we can win a few times and a few times we draw.

“When you are well organised and you believe in something, and everybody knows exactly from each other what they have to do, and you have the guts to play and be yourself, then we have a chance.”

Unfortunately for van Marwijk and his charges, on Saturday the house won.

From here, the odds don’t look much better.

Since 1998, when the World Cup was expanded to 32 teams, just seven of the 60 nations to lose their opening match have progressed from the group stage.

In other words, recent history suggests the Socceroos have just over a 10 percent chance of qualifying for the round of 16.

While predicting group stage permutations is a fraught endeavour, following Denmark’s 1-0 victory over Peru, Australian fans should be cheering for France.

Australia’s best case scenario would see Les Bleus win both their remaining matches.

In that situation, if the Socceroos beat Denmark in Samara on Thursday, a draw with Peru would be enough to secure progress.

If Australia leave Samara with a point, then a win over Peru would see them level on points with the Danes and hoping for a better goal difference.

All of which means: the Socceroos’ encounter with the Danish Dynamite is critical.

The good news is that a win over Denmark seems eminently achievable.

While France underwhelmed, Australia perfectly executed their game-plan at the Kazan Arena and were unfortunate not to come away with a point.

A similar calibre of performance against Denmark would likely earn victory for the Socceroos.

Indeed, following Saturday’s match, the team had earned themselves an unlikely admirer.

France star Antoine Griezmann admitted he thought Australia could qualify for the next round.

“It is a tricky team, very well organised from a tactical point of view,” said the Atlético Madrid forward. “I think they may raise real challenges for Peru and Denmark.”

The big question for van Marwijk is how he modifies his tactical plan for game two.

Knowing that anything less than a win will leave the Socceroos perilously placed, van Marwijk needs to adopt a more expansive ethos.

How he sharpens Australia’s attacking threat without adversely impacting the compact midfield that performed so well against France is a major dilemma.

Both Australia and Denmark (and to an extent Peru) are better suited to a reactive game plan.

As Ante Jukic wrote in The Guardian, group C could “descend into a giant game of cat and mouse.”

Denmark’s victory has given them the upper-hand: the Danes can comfortably sit back in Samara, knowing that a draw would leave them well-placed qualify for the second round.

For Australia, on the other hand, a win is critical.

That changes the tactical complexion of the encounter, and will give van Marwijk much food for thought in the coming days.

Mile Jedinak and Aaron Mooy will again need to dominate the base of the midfield, keeping Christian Eriksen quiet in the same way they mainly silenced the French attack.

If he starts again, Andrew Nabbout will need to make more of his half-chances.

And Tom Rogic, largely anonymously against France albeit one of the few players to drive Australia forward (a contribution that was noticeably absent following his substitution), needs to display more of his sublime attacking talent.

Following the loss to France, Socceroos captain Jedinak apparently told his team-mates: “Let it hurt but know we did a lot of good things in this game.”

The odds might be stacked against them, but then again, for the Australian national team, they almost always are.

The Socceroos have upset the house before.

After Saturday’s spirited performance against France, it would take a brave gambler to bet against them doing it once more.

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4 min read
Published 17 June 2018 at 11:00pm
By Kieran Pender in Kazan