When Mark Schwarzer saw Zeljko Kalac warming up with a few minutes to go in extra time in the 2005 World Cup play-off against Uruguay, he and the rest of Australia could not have thought Guus Hiddink’s idea to introduce an expert penalty saver just before the end of extra time, with the assistant coach, Graham Arnold, drinking it in, would ensure Australia reaches its fifth consecutive World Cup.
Spider didn’t get on. Brett Emerton got injured and there were no more subs spots left. And Schwarzer saved the day anyway. Thank you, Guus!
When Andrew Redmayne saved his one and only penalty, off we go to our fifth consecutive World Cup.
Imagine if we had gambled on that and planned accordingly.
Impossible. We couldn’t take the risk. Overcommitting, overspending could have killed the progress. We are progressing right.
But now things have changed.
With 8.33 Asian spots at the next World Cup, if ever it was time to gamble, it’s now.
Surely this group of players, which doesn’t include any of the 2006 players who in increasingly reducing numbers managed to get us to four World Cups, will improve before the next qualification rounds kick off.
Now we have no Tim Cahill. Few scorers but here we are. Sixteen games out of 20 away from home. They did it.
How much this group will have learned? Pressure. Knock-backs.
The greatest achievement by a soccer team, ever? I’m with Arnie on this.
This squad has achieved something few of us expected.
Only Ajdin Hrustic and Mat Ryan are playing at the highest level. In 2006, we had English Premier League players on the bench – Josip Skoko and Stan Lazaridis, to name a couple.
They will improve. Ryan, Hrustic, Kye Rowles, Awer Mabil, Harry Souttar will all have gained great experience. Others too.
Mat Leckie, Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic may not get to 2026.
The U23s are pushing on as well. Let’s hope a few more of them demand a place come November.
Maybe now is the time to gamble. Three World Cups from here should be possible.
If we budgeted for that, how would we improve the game, or do we just wait and see?
With 8.33 teams going through from Asia next time, Hiddink’s legacy may get us to seven, or even eight World Cups in a row.
What’s the one thing we should aim to improve if we were to plan this way?
If we are a betting nation, with this pathway and the Women’s World Cup coming next year, it’s time for football to take a bet.