It’s the end of the football world as we know it, and I feel fine

Scott Russell Roar Rookie

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    For the first time since 2002 there’s a very real possibility of a World Cup going ahead without the Socceroos being part of it.

    After a wasteful outing against Thailand and Saudi Arabia’s win over Japan the Socceroos have missed out on direct qualification for Russia 2018. Home-and-away playoffs against Syria and then the fifth-placed CONCACAF side now stand in the way of qualifying.

    It won’t be easy. War-ravaged Syria are already the feel-good story of qualifying and remain a banana-skin opponent for Ange Postecoglou’s men. If the Socceroos can overcome the Syrians, a date with the USA, Honduras or Panama looms.

    The narrative out of Socceroos HQ is that we will qualify, but lurking in the shadows is the ugly spectre of missing out, a nightmarish scenario that recalls the 1974 to 2005 wilderness years.

    If the Socceroos do miss out, they will be in good company. All up, 178 nations will fail to qualify for Russia. Most of them will be minnows. No-one expects Tonga or Gibraltar to be at the World Cup.

    You do expect to see Lionel Messi there, though. But after a 1-1 draw with Venezuela in their most recent outing, Argentina’s chances of qualifying are on life support. They sit two spots shy of CONMEBOL automatic qualification, one place ahead of Chile, themselves in serious trouble.

    In North America a tepid campaign has the US sitting precariously in the intercontinental playoff spot after a toothless draw with Honduras last week. Only earlier wins at home against Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago have saved America’s blushes – for now.

    The Netherlands, after not making last year’s Euros, are now in danger of missing out on a World Cup berth. The Dutch sit four points adrift of direct qualification and will need to conjure a miracle if they are to book their place in Russia.

    (Image: AAP Image/Matt Roberts)

    Only Brazil and Germany have qualified for every World Cup they’ve entered – France have failed to qualify fives times, Spain four times, England three times –
    they, together with the French, missed out as recently as 1994 – and the Italians and Argentinians once apiece.

    The Socceroos shouldn’t be assessed in the context of other nation’s failures. Failing to qualify is still a failure. But the point is that it’s bloody hard to qualify for the World Cup, and Australia can’t just turn up every four years and expect to phone it in.

    In the short term not making Russia would be disastrous. The repercussions would be damaging and wide-reaching. Revenue – the FFA received $US8 million for the Socceroos participation in Brazil 2014 – commercial reach, media exposure, player development, A-League attendances and the sport’s credibility would all be hit hard.

    But it need not be a catastrophic blow.

    On the contrary, in the long run – after the pain and embarrassment have subsided – it could turn out to be the much-needed kick up the arse that football in this country needs.

    It would shine a torch on the serious cracks in administration, governance, crowds and expansion (to name a few) that have been papered over. It would bring some uncomfortable truths about the FFA out into the open.

    The much-maligned Stephen Lowy-David Gallop nexus could be on the chopping block. Pressure on the FFA for much-needed governance reform would become overwhelming. The shackles that have bound the game’s development in recent years would be blasted off.

    But most importantly of all, we would never take World Cup qualification for granted ever again.