The recent retirement of two key international players for Australia, along with the inconsistent form and injury problems of their captain, have Socceroos fans concerned about their team’s chances in Brazil. This has alarmed the wider soccer community, who had already written off Australia for the World Cup after they were drawn into a really tough group with Spain, Netherlands, and Chile.
Just last month, Brett Holman decided to retire from international duties to concentrate on his young family and his club in the UAE. “It has been a great honor and privilege to play for Australia, and to represent one’s country is every footballer’s dream,” Holman said. Despite the player starring at the 2010 World Cup with two goals, this announcement has come as no surprise to many as he was not selected in the Socceroos squads for recent matches against Costa Rica and Ecuador.
It was only months earlier that legendary goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer decided to hang up his national team boots to concentrate on club duties at Chelsea FC. “I made a decision and I think I made the right decision at the right time” he said to AAP. This was a shock to some, but has paid off at club level as he has guided the team to two clean sheets within the last month: the UEFA Champions League semi-final and the Barclays Premier League grudge match against Liverpool.
To compound the loss of those two veteran players, captain Lucas Neill has struggled with inconsistent form since his move to the English championship at Watford, in which he only started one game. He has since struggled with niggling injuries following his subsequent loan move to Doncaster.
Australians were already given reason to be pessimistic after the draw determined that they would face World Cup champions Spain, runners up Netherlands, and South American speedsters Chile. Some question whether the Socceroos can even gain a single point in Brazil and are already declaring there is no hope for the team. And now it would seem the Socceroos have more problems to think about leading into the 2014 World Cup.
On a more positive note, there have been some quiet achievers in some of Europe’s biggest leagues. Goalkeeper Mat Ryan (22), who won the 2012-2013 Australian A-League Grand Final with Central Coast Mariners, has started all of Club Bruges’s games this season and helped lead the Belgian club to second position in the Jupiler League table with 13 clean sheets. Despite his tender age, he has been touted as Schwarzer’s ready-made replacement.
Tommy Oar (22) is another who will almost certainly be on the plane to Brazil thanks to his impressive performances at international level. He has also scored one goal and provided five assists in his left midfield role for FC Utrecht in the Dutch Eredivisie this season. A constant threat on the break with his pace, crossing ability and accurate shot on goal, he is sure to turn heads in the World Cup. Another Utrecht Aussie is Adam Sarota, who has been a regular for the Dutch side since his return from injury. He has a strong chance of partnering Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak in the Socceroos midfield when the World Cup rolls around.
Jedinak has starred in securing Palace’s Premier League stay for next season with his doggedness and physicality in a defensive midfield role this campaign, helping achieve clean sheets against teams such as Chelsea, West Ham and Aston Villa. He has also been a key contributor for his country, and has been mentioned as the most likely to receive the captaincy for Brazil 2014.
Matthew Leckie (23) of FSV Frankfurt is another certainty with nine goals in the Bundesliga 2 playing in a wide striking role. He has started in all of the Socceroos games since Ange Postecoglou was appointed to the role of Head Coach last year.
The revolution of young players replacing seasoned veterans has continued under Postecoglou with the inclusion of Newcastle United’s Curtis Good (21), who is currently on loan at Dundee United. He has been a key contributor to Dundee’s rise up the Scottish Premier League ladder, and prior to that led Bradford City to the League Cup final in England against Swansea City last year.
The Socceroos, under the management of Postecoglou, have introduced a much higher-tempo, more direct and attacking style of play with the key being a strong midfield with pacey wingers and an agile forward line. This was demonstrated in their 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica, and the exciting 4-3 loss to Ecuador.
At the very least, the Socceroos will be a formidable and difficult opponent who may be dangerously underestimated at the World Cup. Postecoglou has said that Australia will attack their opponents in every game and is confident they can make an impact in Brazil. They have nothing to lose and have already been written off (even though they have beaten the Netherlands before), which will motivate the team to succeed. There are also some potential exciting young players who will have the opportunity to showcase their skills to the world, and perhaps catch the attention of scouts from some of the biggest clubs on the planet.