October looms as critical juncture for Australian football

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By , Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    As October approaches, so does an occasion that most of the football-loving public are anticipating with some trepidation.

    No, it isn’t hayfever season, although those of us afflicted are already pre-dosing with equine-grade antihistamines.

    No, it isn’t Halloween, although the thought of a horde of incendiary sokkah hooligans descending certainly keeps the country’s more feeble-minded in a state of fretfulness. 

    The dates in question are the two days, back-to-back, of 5 and 6 October. The first is the Socceroos’ first-leg World Cup qualifying tie with the Syrians, and the second is the opening day of the A-League’s 13th season.

    They make for an odd cocktail, these two occasions. Depending on the result of the Socceroos match, the league season opener might be played under a heavy shroud of dread – almost all of the A-League’s enthusiasts have an equal or greater interest in the fate of the Roos.

    Melbourne City will likely be without Tim Cahill for the opener against Brisbane as he’ll almost certainly be included in the final squad to face Syria. Normally that wouldn’t be a huge blow to City, but without the injured Bruno Fornaroli and without Fernando Brandan their front line is shallower than a Kardashian marriage.

    Rumours of Ross McCormack’s impending arrival appear to be very reputable. The Aston Villa owner tweeted out something that resembled confirmation. It looks like they’ll need him on opening day.

    On the other hand, if the Aussie side win big in the first leg, to be played in Malaysia, then the country can commence the domestic season buoyed by the renewed hopes of World Cup progression.

    Who we meet in the second playoff is yet to be determined, with a crunch tie against the United States still on the cards. Regardless, the first opponent is the most important, and Syria will be keen to make good on their fairytale playoff berth, a passage they secured on the final group matchday in added time.

    Ange Postecoglou has changed his squad, recalling a few notable players, including Craig Goodwin – wisely – as well as Josh Risdon and Nikita Rukavytsya, the latter something of an unexpected addition.

    It’s a perilous all-or-nothing route to be diverted down and one that will surely shape Postecoglou’s legacy as national manager. Qualify and he will leave the post having stewarded the team through two World Cups as well as having won the Asian Cup. Fail to qualify and the lingering impression of his tenure will be stained in bitter disappointment.

    Ange Postecoglou Football Australia Socceroos 2017

    (Image: AAP Image/Matt Roberts)

    That disappointment will inevitably seep into the A-League, curdling the fever for what should be the most successful season yet.

    The Channel Ten television rights deal has stoked hopes that the game will receive the free-to-air exposure it deserves, and the latest batch of international marquees are shaping up to be a highly potent group. We’ve already seen a preview of Sydney FC’s continuing strength in their FFA Cup win over City; there will not be an Adelaide-esque plummet from grace in their title defence.

    An added spritz of excitement comes along with this. Although we’ll have to wait until January to see, it appears as though the A-League will have a proper, intact entrant in the 2018 AFC Champions League.

    Sydney will have realistic ambitions of success in that competition, and their squad depth in such that the added travel and fixtures shouldn’t be too brutal an imposition mid-season. 

    The FFA Cup has already whetted the appetite, with Blacktown’s near-Cup-set over the Wanderers in the quarter-final a truly breathless spectacle.

    As deflating as it was for them to lose in a penalty shootout, it has set up the prospect of a Sydney derby final. At times it seems odd to set up cup fixtures as de facto preseason ties for the A-League clubs, but the current timing does really lead in well to the season proper. 

    Add into all of this the Matildas’ stunning, raucous success, and we can see football rising to a glorious new peak in 2017.

    Tameka Butt Matildas Australia Football 2017 tall

    (Image: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

    Even the FFA have been making some good decisions lately, moving the FFA Cup final to accommodate for the Matildas’ fixture against China in November.

    The topic of A-League expansion will no doubt be uncovered at some point over the next year, especially if the FFA indulges in further irritating dallying on the issue. Remember those few weeks where Southern Sydney, Wollongong, Tasmania et al were all vying for a franchise license, battling with soundbites, puffing up their candidacies for a vacancy that seemed to be just around the corner? That’s all still there, simmering away in the background. 

    Right now, though, we’re flooded with two contrasting brands of anticipation. The A-League is less than two weeks away and the positivity surrounding it is reaching a new, audacious high. The Socceroos’ first decisive World Cup play-off is less than two weeks away, and the tension surrounding it is reaching a fresh, agitated high.

    Both these piping occasions will be torn open on 5 and 6 October, and the screams and squeals – both delight and, perhaps, anguish – are sure to accompany the outcomes.