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Can the Socceroos find their bounce for Russia 2018?

by isport

Not many nations who qualify for a World Cup will see their coach resign just a week after the qualification is achieved but this was the case for Australia. Just one week after the Socceroos beat Honduras to secure their place in Russia 2018, their coach of the last four years, Ange Postecoglou, left his post citing the pressures of international management as a huge contributing factor.

He cut an emotional figure during his press conference and had clearly put a lot of thought into the decision but ultimately the role had taken its toll on the coach “both personally and professionally”. The Greek-Australian had been in charge of the Socceroos since October 2013 after the sacking of previous manager Holger Osiek following successive 6-0 defeats to both Brazil and France.

Postecoglou, by leaving, has passed up the opportunity to become the first Australian coach to take a team to two World Cups having been in charge at Brazil 2014. The Socceroos have now qualified for four consecutive World Cups but they have not got the quality to call upon in Russia that previous sides have had. In fact, there will be only six teams in Russia that are ranked lower than Australia which highlights the challenge that awaits the new head coach.

There should be plenty of interest in the role; after all, it is not often that the opportunity arises to coach a side that have already got a World Cup place guaranteed but it will be a tough gig nonetheless.

In Australia’s group in Russia will be France, Denmark and Peru. Although it is not an impossible task to get out of the group, it will be a massive achievement for the Socceroos should they manage it. There is no “group of death” but several are pretty difficult, with a number of teams that are hard to separate in terms of quality. As for Australia’s group, the French will be the clear favourites and the way the Danes destroyed the Republic of Ireland in the play-off shows what they are capable of, especially with an in-form Christian Erikson in the team. He is the kind of stand-out star that the Socceroos lack and if the Aussies are to get through the group you feel that they will have to battle out a victory against either Peru or Denmark.

As for the South Americans, they qualified in a very tough section having to face the likes of Argentina, Columbia, Uruguay and of course Brazil. They finished fifth in the group ahead of traditional rivals Chile and had to beat New Zealand in the intercontinental play-off. After a 0-0 draw in Wellington, they returned home to Lima, thanks to goals from Christian Ramos and Jefferson Farfan, qualified with a 2-0 win.

They will be a tough opponent for Australia and one that you feel the Socceroos will have to beat if they are to qualify from the group. Even facing this challenge the idea of leading a National side into the World Cup in Russia should see a lot of interest in the head coaching role. Although the Football Federation Australia have said they will not rush the decision and are determined to make the correct choice.

The Socceroos don’t have another match until March so there is plenty of time for a thorough selection process but some names are already circulating as potential candidates for the role. Amongst the favourites is the current Sydney head coach Graham Arnold who was assistant to Guus Hiddink during the 2006 World Cup where Australia made it to the second round. It is not this stint aiding the Dutchman that has made him a favourite to take over, though.

He has had a glowing career as a coach and when he took over at Gosford based Central Coast Mariners in 2010, no one was expecting him be as successful as he ultimately was. Under his tenure in charge, the Mariners won two Premierships and one Championship. Considering that the Central Coast Mariners were such a new team it was an amazing achievement and flew in the face of the fan expectations.

Arnold has a very good understanding of the issues that face the National team going forward and will, in many commentators’ eyes, be the ideal man to face those challenges head-on. Another name that has been circulating is that of Guus Hiddink. The Dutchman is remembered fondly for the way he led the team in 2006 and not many fans would say no to giving him a second spell in charge. He already has a good grasp of what the expectations will be and is a talented, experienced coach. The only question would be whether he would want to take over a team that does not have the quality it did when he was last in charge. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, he got the Socceroos out of an extremely tough group that included Brazil, Croatia and Japan. Winning 3-1 against the Japanese in the opening match got his side off to the perfect start and then a well-earned 2-2 draw with Croatia was enough to see the Aussies finish in second place behind Brazil.

They were unable to progress past the second round where they lost 1-0 to eventual winners Italy, which was by no means an embarrassment. He had at his disposal the likes of Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, a young Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano, amongst others. This group have been coined the “golden generation” by Australian media and fans with good reason but it does not appear that the Socceroos will be able to call upon such talent again anytime soon.

The current squad is lacking that kind of star talent that was available to Hiddink before so it may be unlikely that he will come back for a second stint. One other name that is worth a mention is that of Gianni De Biasi who received an Honour of National Order from the Albanian president for reaching the 2016 UEFA European Championships with the Albanian National side. It was the first time that they had qualified and De Biasi used defensive tactics to make sure they got results against some tough opposition which could be a style that might work well with the current Australian side.

Despite the side not being as good as in 2006 it still boasts some impressive talent for the new coach to work with. One such talent is Aaron Mooy, the current star midfielder for English Premier League outfit Huddersfield Town. He was a summer signing from Chelsea and joined after a successful spell on loan. Huddersfield had to pay £10m for the midfielder whose equivalent Bitcoin value is about 761, a currency accepted by a number of online bookmakers such as Sportsbet should anyone want to put some money on the Socceroos in Russia. If the Aussies are to do well then they are going to need Mooy and other key players to perform.

Players like Bournemouth left-back Brad Smith and Celtic midfielder Tom Rogic will need to be at their best and are two of the brighter young talents coming through for the Socceroos. The real problem for the Australians is their over-reliance on their ageing players. Tim Cahill was their top scorer in qualifying and is now 38 years old and it was Mile Jedinak’s hat-trick that got them past Honduras to secure their place in Russia and he is 33.

The A-League, Australia’s top domestic league, has a dearth of up and coming Australian talent and in truth is full of ageing stars from abroad such as Brisbane Roars Massimo Maccarone or Diego Castro of Perth Glory. But getting young talent through in a crowded and often hostile market is a massive challenge for the FFA. Football or Soccer is not the main sport in a country dominated by Cricket, Rugby and Aussie Rules Football. Players like Lachlan Jackson and Bruce Kamau of Newcastle Jets and Melbourne City have shown promise but they are not going to be able to propel the National side to its previous heights and A-League sides are going to have to work hard on developing talent through their academies if they are going to start producing young players that could help a future Socceroo side hit the heights of the Hiddink era.

The new TV deal worth $346 million will help and hopefully the money will be invested wisely by the 10 clubs that make up the A-League but for now, the hopes of the nation will rest on those players that helped Australia qualify for their fourth World Cup in the country’s history.

Their first game will be against France in Kazan on June 16, which could be a blessing in disguise. Getting the hardest opponent out the way first could help the Aussies bed into the competition and if they manage to get a positive result then it will give them a boost going into the match against Denmark a week later in Samara. Whatever happens, one thing is certain, the Socceroo fans are going to enjoy every minute.