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Australians will watch the World Cup in their millions, but a tough group means a repeat of 2006 could be difficult for their team

Walk through any Australian airport terminal and a massive billboard tells you to “be at the World Cup with the Qantas Socceroos”, or words to that effect.

It’s a reminder that it’s that time again, when Australians, who are more likely to be titillated by other sports between World Cups, suddenly become infatuated by soccer – or at least by the grand tournament that they know matters more to some than The Ashes, a rugby battle between the Wallabies and the All Blacks, or the AFL Grand Final.

The country down under will go nuts about the World Cup come June, just as it did during Germany 2006 when over 12 million Australians – out of a population of 21 m – watched the competition. And this when kick-off times of 2.30am and 4.30am were commonplace, all in the dead of winter.

But while the anticipation will be high once again this year, the confidence is not as much so. The Australian team is basically the same as the one that performed in Germany and made the second phase, but it’s four years older. And it is not coached this time by Guus Hiddink, who is just about a living deity in Australia for his achievements in 2006.

The draw also worries the local pundits. Germany, Ghana and Serbia are seen as more formidable opponents than Brazil, Japan and Croatia were in 2006.

Also worrying is the sequence of group matches in which Australia face the Germans first, unpredictable Ghana second and a fearsome Serbia last. This is less sweet than having to face Japan first up four years ago – a match the Socceroos won, which relaxed them and gave them confidence. Now they face the historic might of Germany, who don’t have a recent track record of losing opening games.

Viduka break
The Australian first XI just about picks itself. It will be, by and large, the same as the preferred team in 2006, minus Mark Viduka who, though not officially retired, is taking a break. The ageless Mark Schwarzer, Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell (now revitalised in Turkey) will be the backbone of Australian hopes. Brett Emerton and Vince Grella of Blackburn Rovers will be there too, as will Dynamo Moscow’s Luke Wilkshire, a wonderful utility player who since 2006 has been turned into a wing-back.

But Australian hopes, more than last time, will rest in the team’s mental strength, a commodity in which they are up there with the best. Psychologically they will not play second fiddle to Germany in their opener and will hope to catch them cold.

Driving the Australians, the team and the nation, will be the prospect of meeting England in the last 16. They will love that.

The view from Australia

“Australia is Asia’s No1 ranked nation and will be seeking to underline its regional superiority in South Africa. A tougher group, though, combined with a milder climate, disrupted preparation of key players, and a coach in Pim Verbeek without prior finals experience, makes the assignment tougher than 2006. A point, if not three, is a necessity in the first match against Germany.”
Craig Foster, former international

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