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Opinion

No one wants to say it, but what happens if the Socceroos miss the World Cup?

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Expert
5th June, 2022
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It’s not like the Socceroos haven’t faced sudden-death encounters before, but what happens next if the unthinkable occurs and Graham Arnold’s men lose on Wednesday morning?

If you ignore the fact Awer Mabil’s winner technically came from a second ball, it took until almost two minutes from time for the Socceroos to fashion a genuine shot on goal from open play in the 2-1 friendly win over Jordan.

Ever since Ajdin Hrustic smashed home a free-kick in the 2-1 defeat to Japan at Saitama Stadium last October, the Socceroos have only ever looked like scoring from set pieces.

So it was no surprise to see Bailey Wright crash home a header to equalise from Craig Goodwin’s pinpoint free-kick on Thursday, just like it was no surprise to see the same two players combine in the build-up to Mabil’s eventual winner.

If the Socceroos qualify for a fifth consecutive World Cup through a series of set-piece goals, so be it.

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What was more surprising was to see the likes of Kye Rowles, Jason Davidson, Kenny Dougall and Nick D’Agostino all feature in an unfamiliar starting 11 less than a week out from Australia’s do-or-die playoff with the United Arab Emirates at the futuristic Al Rayyan Stadium in Doha.

But then Arnie has been full of surprises throughout the campaign.

Graham Arnold head coach of Australia looks on

(Francois Nel/Getty Images)

His decision to overlook both Jake Brimmer and Jason Cummings for the squad to face the UAE surprised many, with the Edinburgh-born Cummings viewed by many in the media as somewhat of an X-factor given his propensity to run at defenders and shoot on sight for the Central Coast Mariners.

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Stranger still was playmaker Tom Rogic’s decision to withdraw from the squad for “personal reasons”. Exactly what those personal reasons are remains a mystery, although Rogic is currently without a club after deciding to move on from Scottish champions Celtic.

The loss of Rogic and the fact Aaron Mooy is distinctly underdone means the Socceroos have increasingly relied upon Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Hrustic in recent months.

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Is he the man to help steers the Socceroos past an Emirati side that finished a distant third behind Iran and South Korea in Group A of the third round of Asian qualifying?

Whoever Arnie turns to – and in the likes of Hrustic, Martin Boyle, Mabil and even the deceptively effective Goodwin, it’s not as through the Socceroos are totally bereft of attacking talent – you’d have to think Football Australia has planned, at least in some way, for the worst-case scenario of missing the World Cup.

Because if the Socceroos overcome the UAE on Wednesday morning, they’ll then face Peru in another sudden-death showdown on Monday, June 13.

Australia's players pose for a group picture prior to the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Australia and Oman

(Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)

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And based on what we’ve seen over the past year, the Socceroos will go into that game as clear outsiders.

When Ange Postecoglou stepped down as manager after a similarly rocky campaign in guiding Australia to the 2018 World Cup, Arnold was the obvious choice – following interim coach Bert van Marwijk’s brief stint – to replace him.

And while it’s too early to eulogise a coach who realistically is still only two games away from World Cup qualification, it’s fair to say Arnie hasn’t exactly won over too many new supporters this time around.

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The move to the Asian Football Confederation was supposed to provide more meaningful matches en route to the World Cup finals. But while much of Asia has been steadily investing in their football, the Socceroos have been caught standing still.

Missing a World Cup finals for the first time since 2002 would no doubt put a dent in Football Australia’s budget, particularly as they no longer have the A-Leagues to fall back on.

Yet it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

We all want the Socceroos to defeat the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday morning.

But after one of the most difficult campaigns in recent memory, you couldn’t blame Socceroos fans for going into the match with thoughts of 2026 already in the backs of their minds.

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