Socceroos lowest-ranked team at World Cup
13 June ~ A strong streak of blind, unreasonable optimism has always been required of those who hitch their hopes to the future of football in Australia. Never more so at this World Cup, where any realistic chances of making progress were thunderously quashed by a draw pitting the Socceroos against Spain and Holland – both finalists in South Africa in 2010 – as well as a Chile team with higher expectations than any since 1962. Let's look at a few numbers (fingers over eyes from an Australian point of view).
Australia are the lowest-ranked team in the tournament at 62, against the Chileans' 14th. William Hill make the Socceroos 7/1 to win the game and 4/1 favourites to be the lowest-scoring team in the tournament. That may be because since securing an unconvincing qualification with a 1-0 win against Iraq last June, the only teams Australia have beaten are Canada and Costa Rica. That run included 6-0 defeats against both France and Brazil and, more relevantly, a 1-1 draw with a modest South Africa team in Sydney last month.
Australia are right at the bottom of a long transitional curve, with only three survivors in their squad from the 2006 World Cup (Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and Mark Milligan). Goalkeeper Mat Ryan and his four likely defenders in the starting line-up against Chile will have barely 40 caps between them – only Matthew Spiranovic has more than ten. That's a mildly terrifying prospect against a team with Chile's high-tempo attacking pedigree and phalanx of European-based stars, even if the injured Arturo Vidal fails to make it.
Nor is history much of a comfort for the Socceroos, who have played Chile three times since they first met at the 1974 World Cup (in 1996, 1998 and 2000) and are yet to improve on that 0-0 draw in a Berlin downpour – a game played in the shadow of the Pinochet coup the previous year. They have not helped their cause by having a player sent off in each of those four games. Indeed, betting on a red card in this game may offer more attraction than predicting the result – seven players have been dismissed in Australia's ten World Cup finals matches to date.
So, about that optimism. If Chile have an obvious potential weakness it's in defence, where the full-backs are required to push on and the central defenders may lack height. Two qualities Australia can boast are quick wide men in Tommy Oar and Mathew Leckie (or Ben Halloran), and a world-class header of the ball in Cahill.
Under previous coaches that might have led to the conclusion that the Socceroos should pump it into the box at every opportunity, but hopeful crossing from deep is not the way of the new boss, Ange Postecoglou. He will want Oar and Leckie to get into higher positions with quick ball movement before pulling it back. How often they can do that depends, of course, on whether Australia are good enough to keep possession against Chile's relentless pressing.
The odds are solidly against anything but defeat, but Australia go into the game with little to lose, barring a humiliating hiding. Their fans will be satisfied if they can see attacking courage and a sense of purpose from their youthful set-up, under a so far hugely popular coach. Mike Ticher