Socceroos: Qualifying was the easy part

by Neil Sherwin

Socceroos Cahill AustraliaAustralia qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by overcoming Iraq in front of over 80,000 passionate supporters in Sydney last night and can now look forward to their third successive appearance at the finals.

However, while Germany 2008 was littered with memories such as Tim Cahill’s goals in the comeback against Japan and a brave display against Italy in the last 16, the 2010 campaign in South Africa saw Pim Verbeek’s side exit at the group stages amidst rumours of internal rifts and rebellion.

The tournament couldn’t have started any worse as an excellent German side tore the Aussies to shreds in the first set of Group D fixtures, running out more than comfortable 4-0 winners.

Craig Foster was among to those to come down heavily on the manager in the wake of that defeat, calling for Verbeek’s head as word of unrest began to emerge from the camp.

SBS pundit Foster even went so far as to suggest that Verbeek face a group of former Socceroo captains to discuss tactics and the team’s approach going forward.

“Send some (former) captains in there and sit him down and say ‘you justify how you are going to approach Ghana,” he said.

“What’s the approach, what’s the team’, and if we don’t like it we’re going to change it and if you don’t like it you can walk.”

While many thought Foster’s reaction was over the top, there was general agreement with the sentiment expressed by the former international.

“We will always die on our feet rather than live on our knees; that’s the Aussie way, and we didn’t do it against Germany,” Foster concluded.

In the next game against Ghana, things began well with Brett Holman giving Australia the lead after 11 minutes.

However, less than a quarter of an hour later, Harry Kewell was sent off for handling the ball on the goal line and Asamoah Gyan levelled things from the spot.

The Socceroos bravely hung on for a point but even a win over Serbia in the final group game wasn’t enough and they finished in third place behind Ghana on goal difference as the Germans claimed top spot.

Almost immediately reports started emerging that senior players had lost faith in Verbeek early on in the tournament and had undermined his tactics.

Respected journalist Les Murray claimed that captain Lucas Neill had led a mutiny against the coach, rubbing the Dutchman’s tactics off a drawing board in the dressing room before telling the players to go out and play the way they normally would against Germany.

Forward Josh Kennedy spoke publicly about his bemusement at being left out of the side to play Germany having been part of all the preparations going into the tournament.

“I expected to play. I would have loved to play, that position would have suited me perfectly,” he said.

“Who knows, it might have changed the game completely … we’ll never know.”

It wasn’t just the players who were unhappy either, with the Daily Telegraph running with the headline “Let down by an erratic Pimbecile — Coach well offside with his strategy”, while The West Australian opted for “Shockeroos — How Pim blew it”.

Of course, the current Socceroos are operating under a different regime, that of Holger Osieck.

Like Verbeek though, Osieck’s reign has not been plain sailing with many supporters and members of the media unhappy with his tactics and player selections, and his recent misogynistic comments did the FFA’s public relations department no favours.

Decisions like playing Lucas Neill in a friendly when he was suspended for the following competitive qualifier have built up a case for the prosecution against the German, and the “lump it up to Cahill and hope for the best” kick and rush style of play has become mind numbing to say the least.

Osieck has also fallen out with a high profile star with Kewell expressing his disappointment recently with how he had been treated.

“He [Osieck] could have had a look at me first hand for two weeks,” said Kewell.

“If he did that then he could say, okay, Harry, you are not going to be right or, actually, you are going to be right and I have a job for you to do. I could still do a job for Australia. The only thing I am missing is some match fitness.”

Cahill also openly expressed his frustrations towards the coach after being substituted for eventual goal hero Kennedy when Australia were pushing for that much needed goal against Iraq.

While last night’s game at ANZ Stadium was a wonderful affair and a great spectacle for Australian football, the truth of the matter is that it should never have come down to the final fixture and qualification should have been sealed a long time ago.

March’s embarrassing 2-2 draw at home to Oman, where a Holman goal five minutes from time was needed to save a point, was just the latest in a line of questionable results over the past twelve minutes which includes a 2-1 defeat to Jordan.

Looking ahead to 2014 and many of the old guard are on their last legs in terms of international football with Mark Schwarzer set to retire at the grand old age of 41 and Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill, Sasha Ognenovski and Archie Thompson amongst others all highly unlikely to be around in 2018.

With Australia in the Asian pot for the December World Cup draw, they will face one of the top eight seeds, a side from South America or Africa and one from Europe so we know it won’t be easy.

A repeat of the unrest and shambolic start from four years ago simply cannot be allowed to happen, the fans that have supported the green and gold for decades deserve better than that, but it’s impossible not to be a bit concerned with Osieck at the helm.

This article first appeared on The Football Sack.

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