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Opinion

The Socceroos blueprint: A few key takeaways from the 2022 World Cup

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20th December, 2022
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The Socceroos have made all Australians believe again.

They not only proved to be a Socceroos outfit that set new records, but they inspired a whole nation and are role models for the next generation of footballers who one day aspire to fill their shoes.

They had been written off before a ball was kicked in Qatar. To then qualify for the knockout stage for the first time since 2006 proved that the Socceroos belong alongside the world’s best.

Their performances in the biggest international sporting tournament restored pride to fans and some much-needed faith in the future of Australian football.

Mathew Leckie of Australia celebrates after scoring

(Photo by Shaun Botterill – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Now onto my takeaways from the tournament.

Firstly, the squad and players deserve more respect. The mountain was always going to be steep to climb when they were drawn against two top-ten nations in France and Denmark in Group D. They were dubbed by many as the worst Socceroos squad to compete at the World Cup; their critics were quickly silenced after the side’s opening loss to France.

To come back and defeat both Tunisia and Denmark – claiming first-ever back-to-back clean sheets and group stage victories in the process – showed the team’s undeniable resilience and fighting spirit when not many believed.

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Despite the loss to eventual champions Argentina in the Round of 16, the team played their hearts out in a performance that made every Aussie proud, and it nearly saw them force the match into extra time. They also managed to score in every match they played in Qatar, another historic milestone achieved.

At the forefront of Australia’s youth in their World Cup squad was 18-year-old Garang Kuol. He is a prime example of a fantastic young talent brought up in the country’s youth system, and his move to Premier League side Newcastle United only elevates that potential. Despite only coming off the bench against France and Argentina, Kuol showed how good a career he can go on to have.

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

The defensive partnership of Harry Souttar and Kye Rowles can lead the Socceroos for the next five years without question following their outstanding performances in Qatar. Fullbacks Aziz Behich and Milos Degenek were also very good in making up the rest of the defence. Goalkeeper and captain Mathew Ryan will still be kicking himself over his costly error against Argentina, but the 30-year-old was solid throughout the competition.

Riley McGree, Aaron Mooy and Jackson Irvine worked their absolute socks off in the middle of the park all tournament, while Keanu Baccus showed glimpses of his class in midfield to give the Socceroos some depth.

Craig Goodwin had a part to play in three of the Socceroos’ four goals on the left wing. Striker Mitchell Duke led the line as best he could and had his efforts rewarded with his excellent headed goal against Tunisia, and Socceroos veteran Mathew Leckie was fantastic down the right flank.

Secondly, this World Cup experience will prove crucial for the country’s footballing future.

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Socceroos coach Graham Arnold emphasised the importance of the government putting more money into development pathways for young players and better utilising the fact that football is the highest participation sport in Australia – both are alarmingly true.

The formulation of a football base similar to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) that Arnold mentioned is one road to work towards, but there needs to be more emphasis placed on grassroots, state national leagues and the A-League in order to identify and develop talent across the country.

Giving players clearer pathways to progress through local competitions to eventually reach the A-League and/or take opportunities to play overseas are key aspects to improve going forward.

To address these areas, Football Australia (FA) has to improve their development structures and the Australian government has to look at its allocation of funding when it comes to football.

Though this is easier said than done, actions will need to be set in motion as Arnold’s men eventually build towards qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

I speak on behalf of all Aussies when saying we hope the 2022 World Cup will be used as a platform to raise expectations for football in Australia and future tournaments.

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