Always look on the bright side of the Socceroos

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By , Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    While the reflection and analysis of Australia’s failure to secure an automatic qualifying spot for Russia 2018 starts to simmer, two things have become obvious.

    Firstly, the assault on both the players and the manager has been persistent, ruthless and at times completely misinformed, and secondly, Australian football fans have the bonus of two further qualifying matches.

    I was as pleased as punch when the Australia versus Syria match venue was announced. Being a member of ANZ Stadium, it was an unforeseen benefit, not thought of amid the frustration and angst of the Thailand result.

    With a successful result against Syria, a tough test against Panama, the USA or Honduras awaits and another home game for the Socceroos. Greedily, I would love ANZ to host what could be a dramatic encounter yet I am sure Queenslanders would appreciate the opportunity even more, having been starved of national team action for some time.

    Being able to enjoy the bonus internationals, forgetting the horrors of a third-place finish in the group stage and celebrating the rare joy of watching the national team in action, will undoubtedly be a case of adorning a rather obvious pair of rose-coloured glasses.

    Most would prefer to sacrifice the upcoming games for the automatic qualification that looked well within our grasp. Instead, it might be wise to face some cold hard facts and practice some humble acceptance when it comes to the Socceroos.

    We seem stuck with a low-on-confidence coach, an ageing legend whose effectiveness is waning, a group of attackers unable to produce consistent goals and a back three who appear yet to have introduced themselves to each other.

    Perhaps the time is nigh to just accept the reality and use one of the most awful cliches in our current lexicon.

    ‘It is what it is.’

    The raw data appears to suggest that we aren’t where we thought we could or should be after the Asian Cup triumph. Ange Postecoglou trialled vast numbers of players trying to mould a squad to bring home the biggest prize in our confederation.

    He backed A-League players, blooded youngsters and had the team humming along. Sure there were dips along the way yet the trend appeared upward.

    Lately the graph has started to taper off, descend and, in the view of many, flat line. In the midst of all the doom and gloom, perhaps we need to think back to the Chile game, reflect on the attacking chances we did create against Thailand and accept the fact that qualification in Asia is tougher now than ever.

    Throw in the fact that we might not be as good as we thought we were and the frightening fact sinks in.

    As grassroots football, participation numbers and the attention the game is grabbing in Australia continues to rise, we need the national teams to be consistently tracking the same curve.

    Having both the Matildas and the Socceroos in World Cups is vital, however, it cannot always be the case.

    Matthew Leckie Australia Socceroos 2016 Football

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    Much of the commentary around the disappointment of the qualifying campaign has been cutting yet has it all been deserved? Sharp-edged criticism from football writers, analysts of the game, ex-players and commentators seems fair play.

    However, some of the vitriol I have heard informally, anecdotally and through interactive media sources has been astonishing.

    Postecoglou, once touted as potentially the best coach of any code in the nation, has been reduced to a rude and media-shy mentor, with the frustrations of leadership beginning to erode his belief.

    The journey from ‘In Ange We Trust’ to ‘Ange Must Go’, has been an astonishing one. This week I have read of his mental instability, crazily optimistic formations and wonky selections for the Thailand game, which all supposedly led to our downfall.

    I have witnessed the man himself reach his wits end with the expected inquisition that has taken place as we lament our performance. I have even heard commentary that his original appointment was merely a cash-saving exercise by the FFA.

    Talk-back callers have told me he is out of step, out of ideas and frankly, out of time. Sportspeople whose greatest achievements lay in other codes and pursuits have suggested that Tim Cahill, Mathew Leckie and Brad Smith should never have been considered for the matches against Japan and Thailand.

    Their expert analysis tells me that Mustafa Amini and Jamie Maclaren were better options. Bernie Ibini’s name even got a mention.

    For many, it is clear. The coach is floundering, the back three is a nightmare and our passing game is slow, conservative and ineffective. However, for all the tactical criticism, most still throw a little rider on their comments.

    It usually goes a little something like this, ‘We just don’t have the players’.

    The cyclical nature of the argument is doing my head in. If the depth and quality in the squad is lacking at this point, then why is the coach copping heat from all quarters?

    Alternatively, why is he experimenting in the middle of a World Cup qualifying campaign with a revolutionary change to a back three, if he doesn’t possess the players to execute the plan?

    And what of the players? Things seemed positive in the Confederations Cup. Has the coach merely been let down by underperforming players and their inability to connect and gel when they gather in the national squad.

    Something tells me we are lacking in the playing stocks a little right now. And he technical experimentation might have been somewhat bold and foolhardy and some players do look out of form, slow and ineffective.

    In addition, the coach looks lost, frustrated and bereft of ideas to fix the issues. Conversely, Postecoglou is and always has been, a blue-sky thinker and has a history of doing the unexpected.

    Perhaps there is some truth and merit in each and every one of these ideas. In turn, it might be high time to just sit back and enjoy the bonus international matches, all the while acknowledging two simple realities.

    Maybe we aren’t that good right now and ‘it is what it is’.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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