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The three keys to fixing the Socceroos

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Will new author
Roar Rookie
21st March, 2019
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It’s 2015 and I’m sitting on a lounge chair in the living room watching my nation’s team, the Socceroos, holding out to beat South Korea 2-1 to win the Asian Cup.

It was a thrilling match, and when Troisi scored the winning goal in the 105th minute, everyone used that celebration that you only use on very special occasions, whether it be bouncing on your seat, holding you hands to your mouth in pretend disbelief or – in my uncle’s case – sitting perfectly still but voicing a very dignified “F*** yeah!”

He was sitting next to me throughout the match, and when the players were celebrating, he took a moment to speak his opinion on the future for football in our nation.

He said: “It’s taken years for us to reach this point” and “It’s only going to get better from here”.

He got it partly right, we have come a long way, but any loyal supporter would know that that latter one has not become reality yet.

That’s not to say it won’t happen, but since Asian Cup glory, the team has failed to impress on numerous occasions.

Australia celebrate with the trophy after the 2015 Asian Cup final match against Korea Republic.

Australia haven’t fired since lifting the Asian Cup in 2015. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Youth development, football culture and the health of the A-League are changes we need to make to improve our odds of winning.

So, what happened after the Asian Cup?

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Well, to put it simply, a dodgy World Cup qualification campaign that we barely got through, a disappointment of a World Cup and failing to make it deep into the recent Asian Cup.

Let’s start with the World Cup qualifiers, shall we?

Do we even want to? It was 17 months of good signs, pain and embarrassment all at the same time.

Every article on the subject talks about how we were unlucky or deserved the win, but that can’t be right if we regularly under-performed, can it?

From the loss to Jordan 2-0 to the consecutive draws against Saudi Arabia, Japan, Thailand and Iraq, it was clear that it was going to get rough.

It gets better though, as seven months later we drew against Syria in the play-offs.

Oh but don’t worry, we beat them after extra time in the second match. That’s convincing enough by our standards right? No?

Only beating Syria 3-2 on aggregate is not good enough for Australia. We went on to qualify, but we had made the process way harder than it had to be.

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The World Cup performance was better, but it clearly showed that we couldn’t make possession count or finish our chances.

Now, some may say that we should have drawn against France, our first opponents. The stats show that the two sides almost had equal possession of the ball, however the Frenchmen were far more clinical.

France were able to punt 13 shots at Matty Ryan while we barely squeezed in four. Five of theirs were on target, but only one of ours was, and that was a penalty.

Sure, the second goal they scored was only in by the length of Benjamin Pavard’s mop, but they were bound to get ahead with all the chances they were creating.

The following 1-1 draw with Denmark was far better, and gave us hope of progressing to the knock-out rounds.

One thing that needs to be recognised, however, is that the only goals we had scored by this point had been from penalties and not open play.

Australia nil, Peru 2. Disappointing.

All the hype around progressing had rapidly built up to this point, and it fizzled out just as quick.

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Fifty-three per cent of possession, 14 shots at goal, and nothing to show for it. Once again, Australia controlled the game, but couldn’t produce a good result.

Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak react after the Scceroos' loss to France

Australia failed to progress to the knock-out stages of the World Cup. (SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The 2019 Asian Cup campaign was an uneventful one.

A 1-0 loss to Jordan in the opening round and defeat at the hands of UAE in the quarter-finals solidified that we wouldn’t progress any further.

“We would have liked to score, but on that pitch it’s very difficult to get in behind teams,” skipper Mark Milligan said after the penalty shoot-out defeat of Uzbekistan.

“We’re (going) back onto a grass pitch, not a concrete car park.”

Yeah, may as well blame the pitch I guess.

I mean, it can’t be your fault, can it?

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It was just an average Asian Cup performance overall. We beat lower-level sides but failed to impress when it really counted.

This is why all this nonsense is happening: the constant shuffling of managers.

It went from Ange Postecoglou to Bert van Marwijk then to Graham Arnold. It’s hard for a team to change playing styles in such a short period of time.

All possession and not enough goals.

This common trend in our performances in the past three campaigns demonstrates we lack a star forward who can capitalise on the amount of possession we achieve.

The centre forward position is regularly shifted among players but none have proven themselves reliable.

Not enough players playing high level football. Apart from Aaron Mooy, Matty Ryan, Robbie Kruse and Matt Leckie, none of our players are playing in the top flight of any of the five major European leagues.

Aaron Mooy

Aaron Mooy is one of the few Aussies playing in a top European league. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

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This lowers the quality of our game greatly, especially against world-class opponents.

Disinterest in football.

This is disconnected from the current squad, but poorer attendances at A-League games has been continuing for the past two years, with numbers falling.

This isn’t good for the state of our domestic league or the national squad, as they are built off of the public.

If kids aren’t interested in the Socceroos, then what hope have we got for the future?

Lack of football culture. Many kids in Australia are introduced to football through under-five kick-around sessions at their local park.

It’s seen as play and not taken very seriously until much later in the child’s life, that is, if that child does start taking it seriously. Many don’t.

In a country like Brazil, full of world-class players, kids start playing and taking football seriously from the day they learn to walk.

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Former pro player and grassroots coach Tom Byer said: “If you get them by a certain age, they develop. To bridge that gap is nearly impossible for other kids… when I read biographies from Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi, Suarez – all of them attribute their technical ability and early success not to any coach, but the father”.

This difference in culture greatly improves the child’s chances of becoming a world-class player.

We as a country have lacked – and still do lack – that quality, which can explain why our players’ touches aren’t as sharp as the players in top European national teams.

Overall, it is clear that we need to revitalise our nations interest in football, provide competitive environments for children from a much earlier age and develop a consistent, strategic game strategy for our national team.