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Let’s be honest, we’ll never win the FIFA World Cup with the way sport is in Australia at the moment.
With a relatively small population of 25 million to start with, then four major football codes dividing up the best of our male footballers, we just can’t compete with the football superpowers who have bigger populations and where football is the number one sport.
So it’s time for radical action. We need to unite, put aside the tribal divisions. We need the best footballers of all codes to come together for a four-year period of intense training, with an eye to winning the 2022 World Cup.
Just imagine the best of Australia’s footballers of all codes coming together for the Socceroos?
To that end I’ve selected a squad of current NRL, AFL and Wallaby players to train intensely and take on the current Socceroos squad, with the best players then being selected for the World Cup. With this talent in mind there’s every chance of World Cup glory.
Goalkeeper – Billy Slater, Melbourne Storm, NRL
As a fullback in the NRL, Billy is used to reading the play from behind, telling defenders where to go and making sure that holes are plugged. He’s also very agile and athletic, safe under a high ball or grubber kick and able to occasionally come forward to join an attack with potency.
To top it off, he’s also been known for the occasional sliding tackle and saves with the legs over the years – all types of goal-saving would come naturally. Billy is getting older, yes, but goalkeepers can play until their 40s, so at only 39 in 2022 he would be in his prime.
In the current Australian fashion we’re going with a back four.
Central Defender – Alex Rance, Richmond Tigers, AFL
One of the best intercept marks in the game who reads the play superbly, Alex knows when to stay on his man and when to fill a hole elsewhere. He’s good in the air for spoils, and that aerial talent would also be lethal on attacking set plays.
Given his recent experiences with winning free kicks under questionable circumstances, he’d also be a natural fit for winning the odd penalty as he goes down in the box under pressure, subject of course to the vagaries of the VAR system.
Central Defender – Tariq Sims, St George-Illawarra Dragons, NRL
There’s always a need for a central defender that intimidates the opposition, one that no forward wants to go to close to. That’s Tariq Sims, a hard hitter who is also mobile, having started his NRL days as a winger in the Under 20s.
His combination of rippling muscles, tattoos and love of the physical contact would be a scary prospect for any opponent.
Fullback – Nat Fyfe, Fremantle Dockers, AFL
This is a position for a player who can defend well but also go forward and be creative, someone who can run all day like a machine and yet have bursts of creativity.
That’s a perfect description of the modern AFL player in a lot of positions, but especially true of Nat Fyfe. I know defence is not the first thing you think of with him, but given his aerobic capacity, his skill with the ball and toughness, he’d be a natural.
Fullback – Michael Hooper, Wallabies
The current Wallabies captain is a running machine who would cover the flank all day.
This is the man who’s sometimes likened to an ‘Eveready battery’ experiment, a perpetual motion type footballer who is tough enough to tackle and win the hard ball but also a great runner and link player. Perfect for an overlapping type fullback.
Kalyn Ponga – Newcastle Knights, NRL
Here is the best young talent in the NRL, who showed in his Origin debut that he could play just about any position.
He adapted well to being in the middle in an Origin game, so would be perfect in this role having shown in his short career that he can score tries as well as set them up with passing and kicking.
Reputed to be a gun at any sport he was interested in, Kalyn would be a dynamo.
Dustin Martin – Richmond Tigers, AFL
What needs to be said about this guy’s ability? He can do it all, and has the added bonus of an intimidation factor that would deter opponents from going in too hard, or even be reluctant to risk the wrath of Dusty should they try any simulation tactics.
Nathan Cleary – Penrith Panthers, NRL
Every midfield needs an ice cool playmaker, a distributor who never seems to get ruffled, one who can read the game five plays ahead.
I’m seeing Nathan in this role; still only young but with a cool head on his shoulders, he shapes as someone to buiuld a team around.
Joel Selwood – Geelong Cats, AFL
This last spot was a tough call (Marcus Bontompelli strikes me as a handy Tom Rogic type), but the team needs a screening midfielder who can play tough defence and link with others.
Here’s Joel in that Mile Jedinak type role. An added bonus is his ability to draw free kicks whenever it’s a 50-50 call, certainly an important asset in a tight World Cup contest.
We know that Australia’s big problem has been scoring goals, so a three-man forward line dripping with talent is a must. There are lots of contenders, but I’m going with these three for their mix of skills.
Lance Franklin – Sydney Swans, AFL
We’ve seen him streaming down the left wing scoring amazing goals; we’ve also seen him cutting in from the right to open up the goals, like Lionel Messi.
With his vertical leap only required to head the ball and not mark it, he’d be unstoppable in the penalty box too. As far as age goes, if the Swans believe he’ll still be worth it in four years time, so would the Socceroos.
Patrick Dangerfield – Geelong Cats, AFL
A central striker role is for a player who can run all day, harass the opposition, set up others, be competitive in the air, has an eye for a goal and isn’t fazed by being in the limelight. Danger ticks all the boxes.
Israel Folau – Wallabies
He’s played every other football code in the country, so why not this one as well? Who’s to say he wouldn’t be a star here too?
At this World Cup, the set pieces have been more important than ever, and nobody’s better in the air than Izzy, which might compensate for the so-so foot skills seen in his three codes so far.
So, there it is, a team bristling with talent to take on the Socceroos and the world’s best in Qatar. With special apologies to Cyril Rioli, who’d be first picked if he hadn’t just retired!