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Opinion

World Cup qualification is great, but what Australia does next is more important

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Roar Rookie
15th June, 2022
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The Socceroos have qualified for a fifth straight World Cup. It’s a sentence that 20 years ago would’ve seemed too good to be true. Even two months ago it seemed inconceivable after we were crushed by Japan at Homebush.

But by the skin of their teeth and thanks to some penalty shootout brilliance that has seen Andrew Redmayne draw comparisons to Tim Krul, Australia have overcome Peru – the 42nd-ranked team in the world and a side that massively outperformed heavyweights Colombia in South American qualification – 5-4 on penalties to book a ticket to the World Cup at the end of the year.

It’s a group stage draw that’s eerily similar to 2018, which saw the Socceroos pitted against eventual champions France, Denmark and, ironically, Peru. Australian now play the same two European outfits, both arguably improved on four years ago, and Tunisia. It’s fair to say a borderline miracle will be needed to secure progression through to the next round.

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And when we reflect on the campaign that was, it’s easy to see why it took until the final kick for the door to Qatar to open itself firmly enough for us to squeeze in.

“Over 1008 days, 20 matches (only four at home), 11 different opponents, 15 different venues, and [we] were represented by 48 players, including 17 debutants,” FA CEO James Johnson said on Linkedin. It has been one of the more gruelling campaigns faced by the Socceroos, especially considering the backdrop of the professional game in the country that they have had to operate against.

The domestic game is considered by many to be on a heavy decline in terms of quality, particularly after being one of the most adversely affected by two years of pandemic. It’s undoubtedly been falling behind the rest of the nation’s sporting leagues in recent years.

Yet against the adversity that Australian football has faced in the last two years, the Socceroos have qualified for another World Cup.

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But it’s not the qualification that matters – yes, it is important for the growth of the game domestically, and yes, it will inspire countless young players to watch and participate in the game at any level – so much as how the momentum of qualification is capitalised on.

(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The administration and all other parties involved in Australian football must not squander the financial gains of qualification, which is a minimum of $12 million. Investing this into the proper aspects of our game – into the marketing for the game’s growth in the Australian social fabric, into the youth infrastructure in the country at a national and a club level and, perhaps most importantly, into the establishment of a professional footballing pyramid.

And while proper and worthwhile investment of the financial accruements of qualification is absolutely crucial in improving the infrastructure in and around the game here, arguably the most important aspect of qualification is the capitalisation on the social credit a World Cup brings to football in Australia.

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Very rarely does any global sporting event gain as much attention on these shores as a World Cup. The 2018 edition of the tournament gathered millions of viewers on SBS, with Australia’s 2-1 defeat to France in the group stage reaching a peak audience of 3.4 million viewers.

It will be up to the game’s top stakeholders, James Johnson, Danny Townsend, and all those involved at both the FA and the A-Leagues, to capitalise on a very clear thirst for the world game in this country. Using the foundations laid by the Socceroos in Qatar to springboard the game out of the slump it has been in for the past few years and on to the path of advancement, where viewers are engaged, crowds come back with active support and the quality of the product on the pitch returns to its peak.

The onus will undoubtedly be on Graham Arnold and his men to put in a strong performance in the group and look like qualifying for the next rounds come November, something they failed to do four years ago.

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It is a tough group, and many Australians understand that. France are the reigning world champions with myriad stars among the European elite. Denmark is a promising squad, a side pitted as dark horses for last year’s Euros before tragedy struck Christian Eriksen. And Tunisia presents a wildcard option – not many in world football would have in-depth knowledge about them, but qualifying out of Africa isn’t easy.

Nevertheless, the Australian public yearns for a World Cup run akin to 2006, but in the absence of progression, competitiveness – like when the Ange Postecoglou-led Socceroos challenged the Netherlands in 2014 – is what Australia’s football fans desire.

It is pivotal that, with the start of the World Cup and the start of the 2022-23 A-League happening simultaneously, those running the game use the momentum brought by the World Cup to transfer interest from the world game to the domestic one.

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This summer has the potential to become a sliding doors moment for football in the country. World Cup qualification is no joke and not something that should be taken for granted but rather something that should be used to establish a base to build all facets of the game off of heading forward.

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