Australia will win 4-0, 4-1, 3-1. Australia should win 14-0. These are just some of the punter predictions posted below the Socceroos Facebook post announcing the starting XI to play Uzbekistan in the Asian Cup Round of 16.
When we slogged out a 0-0 draw against a team barely hanging onto a spot in the top 100 of FIFA’s rankings, these ‘fans’ proceeded to lambast our national team. We’re boring, we’re impotent, Graham Arnold is useless and taking us backwards, and who is Robbie Kruse paying to stay in the side?
Here the true colours of these ‘fans’ are revealed.
If we were Germany or France or Brazil playing against Uzbekistan, expecting our team to put up a cricket score is not wholly unreasonable. But we are not Germany or France or Brazil. As football fans we need to accept that we are simply not that good.
The Socceroos are not a world-class team. And that’s okay.
I recently read Ange Postecoglou’s book, Changing the Game: Football in Australia Through My Eyes, in which he talks about his dream of Australia winning the World Cup, and I wondered whether Scotland, Morocco, Greece or Nigeria have the same ambitions. All of these are within five places in either direction of Australia in the rankings (as of January 2019), and consequently around our current quality.
I imagined Australia in a World Cup final, trying to stop Romelu Lukaku, Kylian Mbappe, Luka Modric, or Cristiano Ronaldo and I couldn’t help but laugh. We set these expectations that maybe soon we will be able to stop these world-class players, break down experienced defences, beat keepers who have played a million games in the world’s top leagues.
Meanwhile we have our players warming the benches at PSV, running around for English Championship teams and knocking in goals for middling Danish and German clubs. How many times have we seen quality A-League players leave on major transfer deals, play six games off the bench and get loaned to three lower-league affiliate clubs only to come home 18 months later on a free transfer?
We currently have two players in the English Premier League, widely regarded as the most competitive league in the world. Two. What other countries have two players? Jamaica, Algeria, Gabon and New Zealand, to name a few. Admittedly so too does Poland, Iceland, Croatia and Chile, but these countries are also strongly represented in Spain, France and Germany.
You can just about count the number of Australians in Europe’s top leagues outside the UK on one hand. In the so-called ‘golden generation’ there were seven players in the English Premier League plus three in Serie A and two playing for Basel in Switzerland. This generation nearly made it to the quarter-finals of a World Cup, yet we expect our current crop to do the same with a fraction of the experience playing at the highest levels.
The other aspect to consider is that football is still a small fish in a big pond in Australia. Cricket, rugby league, rugby union and Australia Rules football are all competing for athletes. Consider Cameroon or the Ivory Coast, both of which have experienced international football success and are have similar populations to Australia. At a demographic level the difference between us and them is that football is the number one sport in those countries. Football is everything.
Imagine if that was the case in Australia. Imagine having Steve Smith as a holding midfielder, Josh Addo-Carr a flying winger, Nat Fyfe a strong, intimidating centre back.
For these reasons we need to temper our expectations. I am not saying that we should be happy losing or that we should stop criticising poor performances. We are just one of a hundred of football’s plebeian mass, all of similar quality, scrapping for the threadbare international honours on offer. In 2009 we hit world No.14. Five years later we were at No.102. Such is the variability of countries outside the top ten or 15.
As fans of the Socceroos we need to celebrate each win and pick ourselves up after each loss. While perhaps not the greatest game the world has seen, our team got the job done against Uzbekistan to advance to the quarter-finals and keep our title defence dream alive.
The ups and downs of international football are inevitable, and as outsiders looking in, all we can do is stand and support our country, our players and our national team.