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Australia: Part of the World Cup furniture

Brazil 2014 will be Socceroos third successive World Cup finals but it has been a topsy-turvy ride for the ageing squad.

Last Modified: 31 Jul 2013 12:11
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After 2014 World Cup, young talent will be needed to replace stalwarts Tim Cahill (R) and Brett Emerton [Reuters]

Australia had to wait 32 years after their first appearance at the World Cup to score a first goal but that 3-1 win over Japan in the opening game of the 2006 tournament was worth it.

This new generation of supporters has been spoiled since and Brazil 2014 will mark a third successive appearance on the global stage.

Australia are becoming World Cup regulars.

I think every national team goes through different periods over the years

Alex Broque, Australia footballer

For those in the Green and Gold, it is no longer just about getting there; it is also about how far the team goes.

In Germany seven summers ago, the team reached the second round only to lose to a last-minute penalty against eventual champions Italy. With Rio less than a year away, preparations have already started to ensure another appearance in the knockout stage.

There’s much to do. Australia’s qualification campaign was a Jekyll-and-Hyde affair. For much of the final round, this team, which had been respected and even feared in much of Asia after joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006, was a shadow of its former self.

The stars were still there, they just didn’t shine quite as brightly as before. Tim Cahill no longer terrorises English Premier League defences, Mark Bresciano plays in Qatar and not Italy, Mark Schwarzer is the wrong side of 40, Lucas Neill has drifted around the Middle East and is, at the time of writing, without a club, Harry Kewell is now back down under and Mark Viduka has long since retired.

Just six points from the first five games in the final round of qualification for 2014 had the knives out for German coach Holger Osieck. The former Urawa Reds boss was criticised for sticking with the old guard and not giving youth a chance.

At first, the worries were over what would happen post-Brazil 2014 when the veterans retired en masse after the World Cup.

As points became hard to come by, the realisation came that there would be no World Cup if matters did not improve.

Turnaround

Fortunately, they did. With three games to go, Australia needed points and faced a tough trip to Japan. In front of 63,000 fans in Saitama, Osieck relented a little and selected the relative youth of Tommy Oar and Robbie Kruse.

Oar scored and Kruse shone in a battling 1-1 draw. It set the scene for two wins at home against Jordan and Iraq. And it was job done – just.

“I think every national team goes through different periods over the years,” Socceroo star Alex Broque told Al Jazeera.com.

"There's no doubt that the team that went to the 2006 World Cup was definitely Australia's golden generation and there seems to be a bit of a gap now with only a couple players playing in the so-called big leagues but there's a lot of good young boys in the national team now who are starting to make good moves into bigger clubs so hopefully that continues as the national team will definitely benefit from that.”

 Ryan McGowan (L) has impressed for Soccerroos - a team he admits needs a bit of work [GALLO/GETTY]

Preparations have already started.

“Overall, we need to work on a little bit of everything,” Australia defender Ryan McGowan told Al Jazeera.

“We need to find our rhythm and to get a good starting eleven in place and get some confidence as we start to head into the tournament. We know that we have some hard work to do but we are ready for that and are excited about the coming months.

“A lot can happen between now and Brazil. Like the other players, I have to keep working hard for my club and when the chance to play for Australia does come, then I will do my best.”

McGowan was one of the few standout performers from the 2013 East Asian Cup in July.

Invited to participate in the four-team tournament for the first time, along with China, Japan and hosts South Korea, it was a perfect opportunity to look at some younger players for the three teams preparing for the 2014 World Cup. The European-based stars of Japan, Korea and Australia were busy with their clubs.

“It gives the boss the chance to look at fringe players and young players in the A-League and gives him a chance to see how they perform against good national teams,” said McGowan.

“For the young players it was good experience and a good opportunity.”

Australia finished bottom with just the one point. That came in a goalless draw against Korea in which the hosts completely dominated but were unable to find a way past the heroic Eugene Galekovic in goal. Then came a 3-2 loss to Japan and a 4-3 defeat at the hands of China.

Fortunately, it wasn’t really about the results. The performances were not great either but a few young players caught the eye such as Tomi Juric and Mitchell Duke. Their time will come, perhaps not next summer, but soon after.

In Brazil, the old stars will be given a final chance to shine.

John Duerden has lived in Asia for over a decade and writes about Asian football for a variety of international and local media including ESPN, Associated Press, The Guardian, 442, New York Times, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated & International Herald Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter @johnnyduerden

 

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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