I only met Murray Shaw for the first time a few months back as we sat on a panel at the Football Writer’s Festival in Jamberoo.
As the kick-off for the 2014 FIFA World Cup gets closer and closer, it’s time to take a look at the Socceroos’ final squad and evaluate their chances.
There’s a lot of doom and gloom around the team. Fans, former players and pundits have been critical of their play leading into the competition.
Ange Postecoglou is expected to change all that, but the World Cup may come too soon. Injuries have also taken their toll, with Tom Rogic, Josh Kennedy, Curtis Good and Rhys Williams just some of the casualties.
Regardless, the Socceroos don’t have a bad team. And suggestions that they will find themselves embarrassed by their opposition in Group B are slightly unfounded.
They face a tough set of fixtures, no doubt. But there’s still hope. There are numerous reasons why this squad should be written off. On paper and past form they look out of their depth against Chile, Spain and the Netherlands, and they are the worst-ranked side in Brazil.
But that doesn’t mean embarrassment has to, or will, happen. Under Postecoglou, there is a chance the Socceroos can be a competitive team and sneak a spot in the Round of 16. It looks unlikely, and will take a huge effort from the boys, but it’s still plausible.
The front third is certainly where the Socceroos have depth and talent. The team boasts a solid base in midfield that should be able to compete physically with their opponents, if not their technical skill sets.
Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano’s experience combined with the youthful exuberance of Mathew Leckie and Ben Halloran is an exciting prospect.
The Socceroos are extremely suspect in defence, mostly due to the fact that previous manager Holger Osieck refused to dump an ageing and decaying backline. It’s the side’s main concern and has already been weakened further by injuries. If the new-look back four don’t gel quickly, Australia will be heading home early.
Mat Ryan, Mitchell Langerak, Eugene Galekovic
Australia are pretty safe in this department. Mat Ryan has suitors from around Europe and is the Belgian Pro League’s player of the year, vindicating his early move away from the A-League. Eugene Galekovic, who would have a truckload more caps if it wasn’t for Mark Schwarzer, will likely take a spot on the bench with Mitchell Langerak recovering from a knee complaint.
Ivan Franjić, Jason Davidson, Matthew Spiranovic, Bailey Wright, Alex Wilkinson, Ryan McGowan.
The back four will most likely consist of Ryan McGowan and Matthew Špiranović in the centre of defence, with Ivan Franjić and Jason Davidson on the flanks. The pairing of McGowan and Špiranović is fledgling at best, and their ability to click with limited exposure is paramount to the Socceroos’ chances. Franjić is probably the backline’s best player. His forays forward will be vital.
Mile Jedinak, Mark Milligan, Mark Bresciano, Massimo Luongo, James Holland, Oliver Bozanic, Matt McKay
The Socceroos have plenty of grit and determination in midfield, but they lack depth in the creative stakes. The players are solid, but most of the experienced ones are of similar ilk.
Mile Jedinak is superb at what he does, though he is a limited player going forward. He excels at breaking up play and screening the defence, but most of his passes are either sideways or backwards. It’s not his job to play a killer pass, but Jedinak’s likely partner in midfield, Mark Milligan, holds similar attributes.
That’s where Bresciano’s fitness is key. Despite not playing a lot of club football for the past six months, Postecoglou had to take him to Brazil. He’s our one true creative player in the midfield, capable of turning a game on its head.
If he’s not fit, Oliver Bozanic could be a worthy risk as a replacement.
Tim Cahill, Dario Vidosic, Tommy Oar, James Troisi, Ben Halloran, Adam Taggart, Mathew Leckie
The Socceroos are actually quite exciting in the final third. While they’re missing their best talent, Robbie Kruse, the team is still brimming with quality. Tim Cahill is tried and tested at this level, and while not a conventional No. 9, will most likely start there.
Mathew Leckie and Ben Halloran should start alongside Cahill in a front three, their form in Germany deserves it.
The Socceroos have been dealt a cruel blow with the omissions of Josh Kennedy and Tom Rogic through injury. Neither were likely to start, but Kennedy would have provided an alternative outlet up front, while Rogic, when on form, makes the team a classier side. Adam Taggart is the winner however, and his inclusion represents a meteoric rise for the 21-year-old.
Road to the World Cup
It was scrappy to say the least, but ultimately successful. Two draws to Oman and a loss to Jordan had fans nervous, but Josh Kennedy’s goal in the dying minutes of the final match against Iraq sealed second spot behind Japan in Group B.
Mark Bresciano. He’s the one player in the squad who has experience and tactical nous in abundance. While we have other players who have technical and physical attributes, none of them are as crucial as Bresciano’s skill set. He could be the key to getting goals if he’s fit enough.
Players to Watch
Ben Halloran. The 21-year-old has had a huge year for 2. Bundesliga club Fortuna Düsseldorf. Despite only making his debut against South Africa, he deserves a spot in the starting 11. A sharp-minded winger with an eye for goal.
Bailey Wright. He’s unproven at this level and was largely unknown before his call-up, but Wright has made more than 100 appearances for Preston North End in England’s third tier at 21. Could be this World Cup’s Luke Wilkshere.
Franjić, Špiranović, McGowan, Davidson
Halloran, Cahill, Leckie
Last World Cup
Despite an extremely poor and disappointing showing against Germany, the Socceroos performed admirably. They finished on four points, the same amount as in 2006, but were ultimately eliminated at the hands of Ghana.
The collapse against Germany will unfairly remain the lasting image of this campaign.
The Socceroos are in for a tough ride. Spain, Chile and the Netherlands are about as bad as we could have imagined.
We must be realistic – progression is unlikely. But the same could have been said for 2006. We’ve been here before. With our attack, the goals are there. It’s the defence that has to step up, and with a bit of luck the back four can find some cohesion.
Going home with zero points is a possible scenario, but three points can be done and four points is not out of the question. We progressed with just as many in 2006 and were eliminated with the same amount in 2010. So, similar to many teams in this World Cup, it’s always going to be a lottery.
With the old guard largely gone from the squad, Cahill and Bresciano’s experience will guide this young group. There’s enough talent there for a few upsets and the main aim is giving these players the game time so we can continue our resurgence under Postecoglou.
A group exit. But the Socceroos will not return home pointless and certainly not goalless. A high-scoring draw against Chile is possible, followed by a close match against the Netherlands that could swing either way. The boys could still have a chance going into the final match against Spain, but la Roja will be too strong. Chile will progress with the Spaniards.