Socceroos keeper Mat Ryan helped his Premier League club Brighton keep Newcastle United at bay, producing a brilliant save late in the game.
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The Socceroos’ back-to-back 6-0 losses to Brazil and France didn’t just mark the end of Holger Osieck’s reign in charge of Australia’s national football team.
Nor did it just show the gap between a team like Australia and the best in the world.
These two losses were a culmination of nearly seven years of poor player management, failure to turn over an ageing team, failure to move on from the “golden generation,” and a realisation that Australian football is still living in the glory of finishing runners-up in Group F at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.
Osieck was destined to be the first causality of Australia’s humiliation in Paris and in truth it’s not without merit.
Despite a strong 2011 Asian Cup campaign where he led the Socceroos to the final, Osieck’s time as manager was not always glamorous.
The Socceroos struggles to qualify for Brazil was always a major stain on his resume.
While the jubilation of Josh Kennedy’s 83rd minute winner against Iraq, which guaranteed the Socceroos a trip to Rio, was immense, the reality was the second-ranked team in Asia shouldn’t have struggled to qualify for a World Cup.
A gradual drop in performance throughout 2012 and 2013 clearly weakened Osieck’s position as manager, with the two recent blowouts being the straws which broke the camel’s back.
But this drop in form, which ultimately led to Osieck’s sacking, was caused by far deeper problems than the German manager.
To preface this, Australia will always suffer on the world stage, from being a country where soccer is not its major sport.
While this greatly affects the talent pool at Football Australia’s disposal, it also means soccer must generate as much publicity as possible; to grab whatever media attention remains after the AFL, NRL and rugby union get their dues.
While the A-League does its part, the Holy Grail for Football Australia and all fans of the code in this country, is the World Cup.
2006 demonstrated to the entire country that for a month or so every four years, soccer can dominate the headlines, even deep in the AFL and NRL’s home-and-away seasons.
The World Cup has become not only the major goal for Football Australia, but seemingly the only goal and therein lays the major problems facing the Socceroos, problems which are just now reaching a crescendo.
The Socceroos desperate need to qualify for the World Cup has surpassed any form of future planning, team management and youth development.
A situation that has left the Socceroos with a keeper in his 40s, a captain aged 35 who is barely playing any form of club soccer and a team who has seen so little turnover, that many of the members of the 2006 World Cup squad still remain.
The team who lost 6-0 to France just under a week ago, shared six players with the team who defeated Japan 3-1, in the opening game of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
That’s not including Mark Schwarzer, who although didn’t play against France, is still the team’s first choice keeper and has shown an irrational need to prevent any sort of development for his back-up keepers and line-up in every game he can, even meaningless friendlies.
Of the players still wearing the green and gold from the Japan game, Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill are both 33, Luke Wilkshire is 32, Josh Kennedy is 31 and as previously mentioned, the captain Lucas Neill is 35.
Throw in Archie Thompson and Brett Emerton, both 34, and who have played in the national team over the past 10 months and the core group of the current Socceroos is well over 30.
Going to other end of the age scale highlights the glaring lack of youth development by Football Australia.
This certainly hasn’t been helped by the failure of the young players who left the A-League around the time of its inception, looking for regularly first team action in Europe, only to return to the A-League within a year or two.
The likes of Bruce Djite, Nick Carle and Jade North highlight this lack of progression.
However, it also hasn’t been helped by the refusal to give the likes the of Tom Rogic, Tommy Oar and Mitchell Langerak regular, first-team spots for the Socceroos.
In fact not only have the Australian football hierarchy failed to nurture this young talent, they have often publicly criticised these players.
As demonstrated by Osieck after a lacklustre 2-2 draw against Oman in Sydney. Osieck’s blame was squarely aimed at the young players in the team.
“I must admit I had expected a lot more from some of the younger guys that I tried to promote and showed some good faith in…But, well, you can see. It’s different,” he said.
Lucas Neill followed the hammering from France with a similar public outburst. “My question to the younger guys who want to play for Australia, who dream of playing for Australia is: actually do you dream of playing for Australia?”
He asked this after again refusing to retire, even at the ripe old age of 35.
This public sentiment expressed by the former manager and captain is incredible and this feeling has left the Socceroos with a lack of developing talent, who aren’t ready to come in and replace the likes of Cahill and Bresciano.
Robbie Kruse, Tommy Oar and Tom Rogic have shown there is some hope, but glaring holes still exist throughout Australia’s squad.
Seven years of youth mismanagement and a refusal to move on from the players who ended Australia’s 32-year World Cup qualification drought has left the country as the laughing stock of world soccer, an old, out-of-their-depth squad who have no young players to transition in and replace them.
A change in managers won’t be enough to change this and with the World Cup just eight months away, the Socceroos are in real danger of being embarrassed in Brazil.
Football Australia must move on from the ‘Golden Generation’ and begin a new generation, one which can again lead Australia to World Cup success.