Australian football holding its breath again

The Socceroos have the seventh-youngest squad at Brazil 2014 and Australian fans are not hopeful of of a great show.

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    Coach Postecoglou will need to guide his team through the group of death [AP]
    Coach Postecoglou will need to guide his team through the group of death [AP]

    Australian football is accustomed to holding its breath.

    There have countless occasions it has needed to do so. The longest gap between inhale and exhale spanned 32 years, from the Socceroos' maiden World Cup appearance in 1974 in West Germany to their reappearance in the same part of the world in 2006.

    As it was in 31 countries around the world, the game in Australia held its breath again in December, when the draw for the 2014 World Cup group stage took place. That time, the exhale was a pained one - as well as joining 2010 finalists Spain and the Netherlands in Group B, the Socceroos also drew highly rated Chile.

    The coach that led them to Brazil 2014, Holger Osieck, will not be there, having been sacked in October after consecutive friendly thumpings at the hands of Brazil and France. But with Ange Postecoglou in charge, Socceroos are not the only side to be without the man that got them to Brazil. Croatia and South Korea also making changes at the top between qualification and tournament but Australia's prospects at the World Cup do, however, seem the most remote of the three.

    Australia's group fixtures

    June 13 v Chile

    June 18 v Netherlands

    June 23 v Spain

    Need for change

    Gone are a host of 'Golden Generation' members, many of which contributed to the Socceroos' round-of-16-appearance in 2006. In their places is a bunch that is long on enthusiasm but short on experience. It means Australia, who had the third-oldest squad of any at the 2010 World Cup, have the seventh-youngest in Brazil. At 392 caps, the Socceroos have the second-least experienced team in Brazil. Group B opponents and reigning champions Spain, meanwhile, have 1,375.

    If fearlessness summed up Australia's 2006 campaign, fear itself is being trumpeted by many a pessimist this time around. Even the most optimistic of fans would hold some trepidation. That familiar feeling is back: Once again, Australian football is holding its breath.

    "It's a tough group,” former Socceroo Alan Davidson told Al Jazeera. “They call it the group of death and I understand why. I don't know how much impact we're going to have in the games, as I don't think we'll have too much of the ball. It'll be very tactical.

    "I guess the most important thing is that they've got to defend well. They've got a very young defence, so, you know, it's a bit of a catch-22 situation."

    New coach

    Davidson, 54, took part in three failed World Cup qualification campaigns, but can at least count on a Davidson being involved in 2014: his 22-year-old son, Jason, is Australia's first-choice left-back at the tournament.

    Davidson Sr freely admits he "might be a bit biased" when it comes to his thoughts on the Socceroos' youth-led revolution. His son, likely to move clubs from Dutch team Heracles after the World Cup, is one of several to have benefited from the appointment of 48-year-old Postecoglou, whose tactical approach with Australian clubs Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory made him a popular figure.

    We had a golden generation and they did a fantastic job. But when your time is up, you retire or you get the boot

    Alan Davidson, Former Australia international

    Among the victims of change are former captain Lucas Neill and fellow experienced defender Luke Wilkshire. Others, like Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell, Brett Emerton and Brett Holman have all retired from national duty. Cultured midfielder Mark Bresciano and irrepressible frontman Tim Cahill, both 34, remain.

    "I think the general consensus is that we needed to make a change," Davidson added. "We had a golden generation and they did a fantastic job. But when your time is up, you retire or you get the boot. And they look for new blood and they rebuild again. It's part of the cycle, and no one is immune to being cut when you hit your 30s or mid-30s and they start bringing in the youngsters.

    Youth is the future

    Davidson, however, believes the decision to favour youth over experience is the right one.

    "I dare say that if we had the experienced players or the young players, it was still going to be a tough group anyway," he said. "Hopefully they can swim, (but) maybe a few of them will sink. Only time will tell … I think it's a positive move. Ange is going to be under a lot of scrutiny and criticism or he's going to be under a lot of praise. It's a double-edged sword being the coach of a national team."

    Alan Davidson's final words are about his son. But, with the Australian football's new dawn set to break over Brazil, they could just as easily be about the Socceroos: "There is a long road to go, but hopefully it'll be a good road."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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