Relax, fans, I’ve got this covered. Let’s get one thing out of the way right from the start: FIFA don’t like countries questioning their integrity.
Cast your mind back to the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts.
Russia and Qatar’s gain was most certainly England, Australia and USA’s pain, and didn’t we all let FIFA know about our displeasure with the “brown paper bag” nature of those decisions?
(Well, actually, the USA didn’t say much, but England and Australia were vocal in their disgust).
Now, let’s fast-forward to last night’s draw and look at the groups Australia, England, and the USA drew.
The Socceroos have Spain, Netherlands and Chile. England copped Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. The USA are grouped with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. It doesn’t pay to criticise FIFA.
(What’s that? Oliver Stone’s on the phone?)
But this is the optimist’s guide and I’m here to tell Socceroos fans that it’s not as bad as it seems.
So how can drawing the current champions, the last runners-up and a highly ranked South American side playing on their home continent be a good thing, you ask? Well, let’s look at history.
Spain: current World and European champions
The nation everyone wants to play like but no-one really wants to play.
Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Villa, the names roll off the tongue like exotic recipes.
But the recent history of the World Cup holder’s next tournament isn’t so tip-top.
Italy, 2006 champions, didn’t make it out of their group in 2010, and that was a group that included New Zealand.
1998 champions France didn’t score a goal in their 2002 group and were sensationally beaten by Senegal in their opening game.
Brazil were holders going into the 2006 tournament and were knocked out in the quarter finals, which is akin to failure for the Samba boys.
Therefore, drawing the reigning champions is a good thing.
Besides, Socceroos’ coach Ange Postecoglou had the Brisbane Roar playing like Spain and Barcelona over two seasons and he did that with a salary cap.
There were unconfirmed whispers around the Nou Camp that the Catalan giants were being referred to as Barcaroar once they saw the Ange revolution taking place in Brisbane.
Nothing to fear here, the Socceroos and Spain have never played each other at senior level. The Spanish are running scared.
The Netherlands: Runners-up in the last World Cup
The Dutch are a powerhouse of European football despite their small population.
In Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie they have two of the most lethal attacking weapons in world football not called Neymar or Suarez.
But hang on a second. The Australian national coaching curriculum is almost a carbon copy of the Dutch system.
Han Berger, Australia’s Technical Coaching director, is Dutch.
Two of our last four Socceroos coaches were Dutch.
If any nation knows how to beat the Dutch at their own game, it has to be Australia.
Many past and current Socceroos have plied their trade in the Dutch Erividise. Tommy Oar and Jason Davidson currently call the league home, and that’s most of the Socceroos left side!
Besides, the Dutch hate each other. Come on, it’s true, they manage to implode at every second World Cup.
Who could forget all the controversy over the non-selection of Ruud Van Nistelrooy for the 2006 round of 16 match against Portugal?
Even when they went 1-0 down, the Dutch didn’t send Van Nistelrooy on and he was caught smiling at his side’s demise at full-time.
Australia can bank on the Dutch eight-year cycle of in-fighting and use it to their advantage, perhaps with some sledging tips from the Australian cricket team.
The Netherlands have never beaten Australia at senior level in three previous matches. We’ve got the wood on them.
Really, the danger team in the group are Chile.
The Chileans are ranked 15th in the world, are playing on their home continent and with players like Arturo Vidal, David Pizzaro and Mauricio Isla to call on, have the skill and tenacity to do some damage.
They are also able to resort to shenanigans, if a bizarre incident in 1989 is a guide.
Back then, Chile were playing a qualifying game against Brazil.
Down 1-0 with 20 minutes to go, and with defeat in the game meaning elimination from the qualifiers, Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas, who was playing an absolute blinder on the day, went down clutching his head, having been struck by a firework or flare thrown by the crowd.
Rojas was carried off, blood streaming down his face.
The Chilean players refused to continue and the game was unfinished.
A later investigation revealed that the flare had gone nowhere near Rojas, and that he had cut himself open with a razor blade hidden in his glove.
Chile were banned from the next World Cup and Rojas was banned for life. Memo to Mitch Langerak, Mat Ryan and co; don’t forget the razor blades!
The Socceroos have never beaten Chile at senior level, a 0-0 draw in the group stage of the 1974 World Cup is as close as we’ve come. Given they provide the opposition in the opening group game for Australia, it’s time to re-dress that record.
Obviously then, it looks like Australia and Chile will progress to the knockout rounds and Spain and The Netherlands can hit the Rio beaches once the group stages are over. You heard it here first.
(There is no truth to the rumour that the author is being treated for an overdose of Prozac)