Image Source: Bein Sports
By David Bucio-Lueza
The 2014 Brazil FIFA World Cup saw the Socceroos drawn in to play against some of the highest-performing football teams.
Dubbed the “Group of Death”, Australia was set to go up against Chile, as well as the 2010 World Cup runner-up and winning teams, the Netherlands and Spain, respectively.
As expected, Australia lost all three matches, but the Socceroos never showed themselves as an easy opponent.
Their best performance was the second clash against the Netherlands, when Tim Cahill scored one of the best goals in the World Cup’s history.
Socceroos player Tim Cahill (Image Source: ABC)
The Socceroos were beating the odds as they led 2–1 against the European squad, but the Dutch pulled through to win the game 3–2.
For this year’s World Cup, the Socceroos are to kick off the first “Group C” match against once-world champions France tonight at 7:30pm at the Kazan Arena stadium in Kazan, Russia.
FIFA 2018 French team (Image Source: The Mirror)
Australia’s following matches will be against Denmark on 21 July at Cosmos Arena in Samara, Russia, at 9:30pm and Peru on 27 June at Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia, at 11:30pm.
Although Group C won’t be as difficult of a line-up for Australia to beat as 2014’s “Group of Death”, Australian fans have little expectations of the Socceroos’ performance in Russia due to the high quality playing of the contenders.
The French team superstars to watch out for include; Paul Pogba, of Manchester United, England; Kylian Mbappé of Paris Saint-Germain, France; Raphaël Varane of Real Madrid, Spain; Samuel Umtiti of Barcelona, Spain; and Antoine Griezmann of Atletico de Madrid, Spain.
Denmark is led by talented Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Christian Eriksen, who scored 11 goals in 12 games in the European qualifiers, including a hat-trick in the World Cup qualifier victory against Ireland.
Peru won its World Cup spot by winning its qualifier play-off against New Zealand and are now back at the pinnacle of football after 36 years.
Dieter Fabig is a radio presenter for the program Football Plus on 5EBI 103.1fm, and has little hope for Australia to succeed in all three games.
Mr Fabig believes France is too good for Australia and considers a draw against Denmark possible, but is still dubious that the Socceroos will overcome the group stage.
“It would be a tremendous surprise for me if they get into the second round. I don’t like to dream about it,” Mr Fabig said.
West Adelaide Soccer Club Men’s National Premier League South Australia midfielder Kosta Mantis said he would not be surprised if France beats the Socceroos “three- or four-nil”.
Mr Mantis said that, while Peru and Denmark will be tough squads, the main problem will be France in the first match.
“If you get a bad defeat, sometimes psychologically it might be hard for the next two games,” Mr Mantis said.
Socceroos fan Simon Whitelaw said the most difficult stage is to qualify for the World Cup and, once in the big tournament, anything is possible.
Australia struggled to qualify for Russia 2018, finishing third in its group after Japan and Saudi Arabia, and had to play extra matches against Syria and Honduras to make it.
“If Australia play their best [against France], they have a chance,” Mr Whitelaw said.
The football community’s hopes mainly lie in the experience of new Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk, who managed 2010 FIFA World Cup finalist the Netherlands and qualified Saudi Arabia for this year’s World Cup.
Under his command, the Socceroos have adopted a more pragmatic playing style and have won the recent friendlies against the Czech Republic (4–0) and Hungary (2–1).
Mr Mantis welcomed this new approach and said: “we don’t have the quality to play teams especially like France… and score goals and go through them.”
“You would expect France to have the ball for 80 per cent of the game. So, we have to keep it all compact, a bit disciplined, following instructions, and then hopefully, when we do get the ball, we’ve got a little bit of pace,” Mr Mantis said.
Mr Fabig said Australian players feel comfortable with van Marwijk’s playing style, as it is similar to the one most of them practice for their European clubs—namely Aaron Mooy of Huddlesfield Town, England; and Tom Rogic of Celtic, Scotland.
But the Australian team relies on more than the abilities of the coach, with possible success in Russia this year resting on the shoulders of the whole team.
Favourite players Tim Cahill and Daniel Arzani attract special attention.
38-year-old Tim Cahill is the all-time Socceroos best goal scorer (50), but has played little for the national team and his English club, Millwall, during the last months.
Mr Fabig believes Cahill’s skills can still help the Socceroos, despite the striker’s low form.
“He won’t be a 90-minute player… he’s always good for a header. His jumping abilities are absolutely fantastic,” Mr Fabig said.
19-year-old Daniel Arzani was named the A-League’s “Young Footballer of the Year” for his brilliant 2017–2018 season for Melbourne City, and is the youngest player in this year’s FIFA World Cup.
Melbourne City player Daniel Arzani (Image Source: Goal.com)
“Arzani is going to be another Harry Kewell,” Mr Fabig said.
“He keeps the ball, he takes on defenders, not just pushing the ball straight away.
“If he runs into the box anything can happen.”
This year marks the fifth participation of the Socceroos within the top football tournament, and Mr Mantis thinks there is no time like the present to show prowess against other teams.
“If they want to do something in the World Cup, this is the time,” Mr Mantis said.