Could the Socceroos’ next step be made in China?

Debbie Spillane Columnist

By Debbie Spillane, Debbie Spillane is a Roar Expert

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    Having finally come down from the high of being there when the Socceroos were crowned champions of Asia a couple of weeks ago I’m left with a warm afterglow and just three niggling questions.

    1. How’s Eddie McGuire going with the XTC challenge of ‘trying to taste the difference ‘tween a lemon and a lime’?

    2. Why on God’s earth was Tim Cahill speaking to John Laws anyway?

    3. How do the Socceroos capitalise on the success of the tournament and continue their march toward becoming Australia’s most recognisable national sporting team here and on the world stage?

    The first two questions I’ve filed in the ‘too hard basket’ for the moment – although anyone with suggested answers should feel free to submit them below.

    The third I find provides more useful food for thought.

    The crowds and atmosphere at games, the television ratings, and the support shown for teams other than Australia were all positives from the Asian Cup. The icing on the cake, of course, was the emergence of the new, positive, energetic, ‘Ange-ised’ Socceroos who were great to watch.

    It’s all created momentum worth building on but while it’s good to leave the fans wanting more, it’d be good to have something more to look forward to than World Cup qualifying (for a World Cup that’s more than three years away) and a bunch of friendlies.

    Yes, we’ve got the Matildas and their World Cup later this year and if they go deep into the tournament, as their ranking suggests they should, it will be another boon for football in this country and Australia’s standing on the world-game stage. But the Socceroos are now rivalling the Australian Cricket team and the Wallabies as Australia’s premier national sporting side so it’s important that we have a more immediate challenge for them to build towards and for the fans to look forward to.

    One thing that both the Australian cricket team and the Wallabies have that keeps the fires stoked is old enemies.

    In cricket, an Ashes series generates special passion and in rugby the Bledisloe Cup does similar. It’s partly the tradition and partly the ‘familiar opponents’ factor. We identify the opposition players we expect to worry us most, or the ones we especially look forward to inflicting defeat on. And there are even those in the opposition ranks that we hold a grudging admiration for. In the lead up to, or during, any series they are as familiar to us in face and name as if they were featured on “WANTED” posters all around the town square.

    This is the only element that was missing from the Asian Cup – at least for the non-specialist football fan. And, let’s face it, they’re the ones you need to win over to achieve critical mass.

    We weren’t really familiar with our opponents. We might’ve known Son Heung-min was South Korea’s danger man because he’s been influential playing in Germany for Bayer Leverkusen but he isn’t recognisable to us in appearance or style. We know nothing of his personality. He should’ve created the fear/loathing/excitement of a Kevin Pietersen or a Richie McCaw but most of us couldn’t have picked him out of a line-up of South Korean team members.

    Maybe we still couldn’t – and that’s despite the fact he was the guy whose goal dragged us into an agonising extra thirty minutes of play in the final when we’d been just seconds from taking the Cup in regulation time.

    But if we played against the same countries more often we’d get captivated more by the ‘who’s who’ of opposing teams. Ironically, the comparatively limited number of nations playing cricket and rugby works for those sports in building fan recognition of stars of other nations. Soccer’s multitude of options is, in that sense, a drawback.

    But wouldn’t it be great if we could try to schedule a regular series against one of our Asian neighbours and work towards a Bledisloe Cup or Ashes atmosphere? Our recent history against South Korea and Japan means there already is a solid foundation for an arch rivalry with both those nations, but I think the ideal candidate would be China.

    To an extent neither South Korea or Japan would stand to gain much from entering into a series arrangement with Australia. They’ve both got reasonable claims to be more established forces in international football than Australia, Japan having twice made the round of 16 at World Cups and South Korea having reached the semis in 2002. They could be excused for thinking they have no reason to help the Socceroos get more established by offering them regular top level competition.

    But China is a rising force with the impetus of big dollars and even bigger population behind it. Team Dragon have only once qualified for the World Cup so the case could be made that they would benefit from some regular hit outs against the Aussies and, unlike South Korea or Japan, they don’t seem to export as many of their individual stars to European leagues so we’d get a chance, as fans, to develop a relationship with them.

    It surely would benefit Australia to form an allegiance with Chinese football by becoming special rivals. The media, marketing, business, cultural and geo-political possibilities are limitless. If you’ve watched English Premier League clubs court China for the past several years, you’ll know how seriously China is regarded in world football. We’ve got the advantage of being physically closer and playing games in friendlier time zones.

    Imagine if between now and the next World Cup we could have a five match series, home and away, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney, Melbourne and (lord knows whether this would be politically possible but let’s throw it in there while we’re reaching for the stars…) Hong Kong. Fit the games in when there are FIFA sanctioned international breaks. Create a trophy to play for. I don’t know, say we call it ‘The Free Trade Cup’. If the games are spread over the next three years we’d still have room in the schedule to play other friendlies and World Cup qualifiers. By January 2018 we could have the series decided, clearing the decks for whatever World Cup qualifying and preparation needs to be done from there.

    Getting to know better the players from China could also have spill over benefits for the A-League (perhaps more Chinese interest from fans and players?) and the Asian Champions League clashes between Chinese and Australian clubs would be spiced up nicely.

    Look, I’m sure my fantasy series would generate enough FIFA and AFC red tape to wrap around the Great Wall twice and then tie a great big bow, but I’m just brainstorming in the ‘anything’s possible’ afterglow of the Asian Cup.

    And it is still easier than trying to figure out why Tim Cahill would do an interview with John Laws.

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    The Crowd Says (71)

    • February 13th 2015 @ 3:44am
      melbourneterrace said | February 13th 2015 @ 3:44am | ! Report

      The problem is no friendly against an Asian team is going to feel meaningful at all. I’d argue we already have rivalries in Asia like the ones with Japan or Iran but there needs to be something on the line for it to matter. Bar the old blokes who are still dirty with Japan over WW2, games against them or Iran would not mean anything if we hadn’t played them before in WCQ’s or the WC itself. No 5 game test series would replicate the emotions of those that were at the MCG in 97 or Kaiserslautern in 06.

      Outside of games between the Home Nations (and this has only really recently started again), the “test match” culture really fails to take off in Football. It’s the World Cup Qualifiers where our real rivalries in Asia will be forged. If the FFA brought out the likes of Ireland, Scotland or England (who would have a ton of supporters both fly over as well as already here), then I think it’d have a lot more to it than a friendly but that’s probably the only countries who could really do that.

      Also I’m sure the suggestion of playing a PRC game in Hong Kong (who have their own team) would go down wonderfully with the Locals given the current political climate!

      • February 13th 2015 @ 8:42am
        Barry said | February 13th 2015 @ 8:42am | ! Report

        Yes friendlies are the wrong term given really, in rugby union the friendlies are called tests which is much better, it already sounds more meaningfull because this is what a friendly is it is a test between two nations to see how good they are at that moment!!

        NZer

        • February 13th 2015 @ 8:55am
          newy said | February 13th 2015 @ 8:55am | ! Report

          i recon trial matches is correct term for friendlies ,what Debbie is suggesting is what you say a test match against china but would only need 2 games home and away series and maybe one day the same with the poms, both would generate tv dollars and make it viable and a cup of course lol been done before !! great to hear outside the usual views Debbie but australians havent yet got the concept how much we have have in common with china yet

        • February 13th 2015 @ 5:38pm
          melbourneterrace said | February 13th 2015 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

          Scotland name their friendlies as “international challenge matches” but unless they’re against England or Ireland the fans just don’t care.

    • February 13th 2015 @ 6:10am
      brian said | February 13th 2015 @ 6:10am | ! Report

      In a sense this already exists. it’s called the east asian cup and we played in the last one with japan, korea and China.

      problem is a friendly is a friendly so players in Europe or even HAL can’t be expected to leave teams mid season to focus on them and fair enough these clubs pay the bills.

      Still 5 games is a bit much but surely the FFA could organise one game every two years and a trophy with our mot logical rivals – China, Indonesia, new Zealand, england

    • February 13th 2015 @ 7:09am
      oly09 said | February 13th 2015 @ 7:09am | ! Report

      Between now and the World Cup in Russia, we’ll play 16 qualifiers and possibly 20 if we have to go through the playoffs. We’ll also play at least three games at the Confederations Cup as well as a stack of friendlies.

      I don’t see the point in playing regular games against the same country when they will just be friendlies. If China become an Asian powerhouse we’ll meet them a fair few times in qualifiers and the Asian Cup.

      In football we can play virtually any country in the world in a friendly, so why restrict ourselves to always playing one country each year? Unlike rugby or cricket where there’s only 10 or so decent countries playing where they have to keep playing each other.

      • February 13th 2015 @ 8:39am
        Stephen Martin said | February 13th 2015 @ 8:39am | ! Report

        That’s the difference, isn’t it. There are plenty of countries that play cricket and rugby (the ICC claims 106 members and “World Rugby” the old IRB, 101 full members and 18 affiliates), but very few at Australia’s “decent” level. There are over 100 who would fancy their chances of beating Australia at football.

        • February 13th 2015 @ 9:13am
          Uncle Junior said | February 13th 2015 @ 9:13am | ! Report

          Interesting that at World Cup 2014 whilst they were on their way to being crowned World Champions, the German national coach invited Australia to Germany for a friendly. `So, if the No1 Football nation in the world can invite the No100 football nation, why wouldn’t the No.5 Rugby nation (Australia) invite the No.100 nation (Monaco) to play a rugby friendly in Australia?

          • February 13th 2015 @ 9:28am
            punter said | February 13th 2015 @ 9:28am | ! Report

            As a matter of fact in the cycle between 2 World cups in a friendly match Australia did beat Germany 2-1 in 2011.
            Could Monaco come within 150 pts of Australia.

          • February 16th 2015 @ 3:54am
            Pat malone said | February 16th 2015 @ 3:54am | ! Report

            Why ask a question you know the answer to?

      • Columnist

        February 13th 2015 @ 1:02pm
        Debbie Spillane said | February 13th 2015 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

        oly09: You ask “why restrict ourselves to always playing one country each year?” … did you even read what I wrote?

        For a start I don’t think we should only play one country each year.

        And the whole point was I think we need to build some fan recognition of our opponents. We don’t see enough of the other teams to truly appreciate the personalities and skills of our opponents (which builds the excitement and rivalry) — as we do in sports where the range of options is far more limited

        • Roar Pro

          February 13th 2015 @ 6:51pm
          Rob Gremio said | February 13th 2015 @ 6:51pm | ! Report

          Debbie, your last little phrase about the “sports where the range of options is far more limited” is where the rub is.

          It is far easier to get recognition of the players and nations against whom we play cricket and rugby. First, we share the same colonial history and, broadly speaking, heritage as those nations (esp. rugby – Cricket is similar, but not the same cultural heritage when we consider the sub-continent).

          Second, we play them all the time. there is no one else to play against (well, Rugby can look at Argentina and France as offering stern challenges these days as well, but they are the exceptions that rather prove the rule)

          However, given Australia is a small fish in Football compared to being a big fish in Rugby and Cricket, you can’t expect to have us build that recognition of opposition players, especially given there are some 200 nations around that we could play against.

          I appreciate the sentiment, and the idea, but China 5 times a year? Maybe a home and away match, with aggregate goals for and against being the decider, but then again, we might get China in our World Cup Qualifying draw. And if China does continue their upward trajectory, there is every chance we will meet them in WC Qualifying. Do we really want to play against them outside this or the Asian Cup Cycle (again, we may meet them in qualifying for the tournament at some point), help them develop and become familiar with our players and playing style, and ultimately aid them in plotting our demise?

          I don’t think we do.

          We already have magnificent rivalries with Japan and South Korea. China may well become a great rival as well, but that will take time. We have played them in WC Qualifying already. We have played them in the Asian Cup and the East Asian Cup. When we start having ding-dong battles with them of a similar vein to the games between us and Korea/Japan, then we will become more familiar with their players and their personalities.

          Until then, I say we let the rivalry develop organically.

          • Columnist

            February 14th 2015 @ 11:49am
            Debbie Spillane said | February 14th 2015 @ 11:49am | ! Report

            Rob, I didn’t say five times a year, I said five times over the course of a few years — having the series done and dusted by January in the next World Cup year (2018) is what I actually wrote.

            And five was just a suggested number, not locked in as a required number of games. I’m just starting a conversation about ideas, not laying down a formula for what needs to happen.

            These matches 5 — or however many — would be interspersed between our other friendlies and qualifiers.

            • February 14th 2015 @ 12:07pm
              Uncle Junior said | February 14th 2015 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

              Debbie, whilst I understand your idea of wanting to build a rivalry, given Australia is part of Asia and will play 9 different Asian opponents over the next 3 years, don’t you think it’s more important for Australia to use friendly matches to benchmark our football style against nations from Africa, Europe and The Americas? After all, if we qualify for a World Cup one thing we know for sure – we will not be playing an Asian team in a Group match.

    • February 13th 2015 @ 7:13am
      TomCahill said | February 13th 2015 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      I like the idea of a longer form series, reminds me of Chess World Championship qualifying.

      However I think there are too many obstacles and friendly status just lacks the punch of a real tournament or qualifying for one. Also, trying to convince your best players they must come to play a quasi friendly series sounds a bit like limbo to me.

    • February 13th 2015 @ 7:13am
      Franko said | February 13th 2015 @ 7:13am | ! Report

      On a side note, wouldn’t mind a game with the Kiwis soon.
      They’re semi tricky and an old foe, be good for them also.

      • February 14th 2015 @ 9:49am
        bobbym said | February 14th 2015 @ 9:49am | ! Report

        a tri series with us NZ and Turkey in honour of 100 years since Gallipoli would have been good.

        • February 14th 2015 @ 2:59pm
          Professor Rosseforp said | February 14th 2015 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

          No Canadians, Scots, English, Irish, or Welsh allowed to take part?
          Could have been tricky, too, if anyone had suggested an Armenian team.

    • February 13th 2015 @ 7:55am
      j binnie said | February 13th 2015 @ 7:55am | ! Report

      While not dis-agreeing with what Debbie has in mind for the Socceroos and their “public exposure” there are some factors she seems to gloss over in her debate and of course they circulate around the World Cup.
      This competition is really the only “true” world competition with an ever growing number of countries wishing to participate, so much so that the qualification games are now starting to be played almost 3 years before the final proper.When one considers the playing participants are mostly contracted to, and playing with club sides all across the world, the fixture calendar is becoming more and more congested as local governing bodies are continually trying to upgrade their product in order to attract more of the bourgeonng amount of TV royalty money.
      This factor is already causing heated debate as FIFA,well aware of the problem,try to fit “international weekends” into an already congested calendar.Of coure this problem is exacerbated, none moreso than here in Australia where the majority of our international squads are contracted to clubs many thousands of kilometres from their “home base” and so,in this modern age of travel, are expected to meet the demands on their time of getting to and getting from games arranged,in some cases thousands of kilometres, from where they earn their living.It is becoming a “cat chasing it’s tail” situation for the “fathers” of the game.
      It is not a new problem. In our football,many years ago, Frank Arok,when appointed as Socceroo coach ,recognised the problem facing Australian football and elected to build his Socceroo teams using local players form the then NSL,but even he was flummoxed when the success his Socceroos had against touring International and club identities,foresaw an exodus of players from this country to more lucrative full time leagues overseas.
      The solution to allow Debbie’s ideas to formulate????? Not so easy unless Ange can reverse the trend of the last 30 years and “do an Arok” and pick only players based in this country.This would allow games against “local” Asian sides without the resultant strain on player time and health, it would also cut out the Socceroos having to play ‘trial” matches in London, Dubai or ‘woop woop” in order to get some sort of cohesion between players.
      Debbie,you have touched on a problem with much deeper ramifications than you have at first debated. Cheers jb.

      • February 13th 2015 @ 9:01am
        Franko said | February 13th 2015 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        JB, I remember the days of the local Socceroos and proper Socceroos sides, it was terrible. Remember Eddie Thompson basically introducing himself to the likes of Robbie Slater and Paul Okon before we took on NZ.

        To get more game time in the proper squad we had to play friendlies against AC Milan before we played Argentina in 93.

        No thanks!

        • February 13th 2015 @ 9:44am
          j binnie said | February 13th 2015 @ 9:44am | ! Report

          Franko – Try to stretch your imagination a bit further and remember Ange had 3 HAL players in his run on teams in the recent Asia Cup and no one is suggesting that a return to a home based squad could happen tomorrow but when one considers that Ryan, Franjic &,Sainsbury were all playing HAL up until recently is that “pipe dream” so far away.??????
          Now you use as an example Thompson introducing himself to Slater and Okon when in fact that is exactly what I am talking about.,players coming from the other end of the world to meet briefly before a game. That is not good.
          Your last statement beggars description,are we not about to play Germany in a “friendly” before moving on to World Cup qualifiers.???? What’s different from the case you cite other than Germany is a country and AC Milan were one of the premier club sides in the World in 1993.
          Also you may not have noticed but Arok stopped coaching the Socceroos 3 years before those games.To the best of my knowledge no “Arok team” ever played against AC Milan. Cheers jb

      • Roar Guru

        February 13th 2015 @ 11:29am
        Ben of Phnom Penh said | February 13th 2015 @ 11:29am | ! Report

        Not almost 3 years before the comp, jb, well over years before the comp. The first qualification games kick off for the AFC on March 12
        India v Nepal
        Yemen v Pakistan
        Timor-Leste v Mongolia
        Cambodia v Macau
        Chinese Taipei v Brunei
        Sri Lanka v Bhutan

        • February 13th 2015 @ 1:05pm
          j binnie said | February 13th 2015 @ 1:05pm | ! Report

          Ben – Point taken, but the differential between July 1914 to March 1915 is 8 months so it is marginally nearer 3 years than 4 years but your thoughts only add to what I was trying to get over, that the World Cup is an ever growing competition that is only going to get bigger. Thanks. jb

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