Australia

Population: 20,100,000
Area: 7,686,850 km²
Capital: Canberra
Language: English

 
THE ROAD TO GERMANY
Having strolled through the Oceania matches, Australia beat Uruguay on penalties in the intercontinental play-off and qualified for Germany.
Click here for details

 
MATCHES IN 2006
Feb 22 Bahrain v Australia 1-3
May 25 Australia v Greece 1-0
Jun 04 Netherlands v Australia 1-1
Jun 07 Liechtenstein v Australia 1-3

 
WORLD CUP HISTORY
Participations: (1) 1974
Best placing: First round 1974
Topscorer: None

 
FIRST ROUND MATCHES
Jun 12 - AUS v JPN  in Kaiserslautern
Jun 18 - AUS v BRA  in Munich
Jun 22 - AUS v CRO  in Stuttgart

 
PWC STAFF VERDICT
- Australia in Group F -
Jan Alsos: 4th place
Pierre Boisrond: 3rd place
Ruud Doevendans: 2nd place
Mike Gibbons: 3rd place
Peter Goldstein: 2nd place
Paul Marcuccitti: 2nd place
Felipe Santos: 4th place
PREDICTION: First round exit



AUSSIES READY TO SHOW THAT THEY BELONG


by Paul Marcuccitti


    Australia enters its first World Cup finals for 32 years believing that it can compete with the world’s best football nations. But it isn’t easy to rate the chances of the team that emerged from the Oceania Confederation’s qualifiers.

    We know a bit about the African teams, the Asian teams and the teams from CONCACAF. We’ve seen how they’ve fared at previous tournaments. However this is different – there are few real clues about the Socceroos’ strength.

    All we really have to go on are Australia’s playoff against Uruguay and, as Australia has recently joined the Asian Football Confederation, a recent Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain.

    The Socceroos eliminated Uruguay on penalties after two matches produced an aggregate score of 1-1. In February, a weakened Australian side won 3-1 in Bahrain. As the match against Bahrain was not played on a FIFA International Date, most of Australia’s best players were unavailable.

    Does the Uruguay result make Australia as good as the fifth best team in South America? Are the Socceroos at least the fifth best team in Asia? There are still more questions than answers.

    Nevertheless, the 23 players in Australia’s squad are all likely to be European-based professionals. In fact, 13 of the 15 Aussies that took the field against Uruguay are on the books of a top division club in either England, Netherlands, Italy or Spain. One of the two exceptions is Scott Chipperfield – arguably Australia’s man of the match in the Montevideo leg of the playoff against Uruguay – who is with FC Basel and played in the Swiss club’s fine Champions League run in 2002-3. The other is Tony Popovic who is at promotion-chasing Crystal Palace in the English Championship.

    Those 15 players – plus Newcastle defender Craig Moore, who was injured when the Socceroos qualified for Germany 2006 – are essential to Australia’s success.

    Also essential to the Socceroos’ success is their coach, Guus Hiddink. The Dutch master is already idolised in Australia for helping the national team end its legendary run of World Cup qualification failure. Hiddink took Netherlands to the World Cup semi-finals in 1998 and did the same with South Korea four years ago. Few would expect Australia to reach the last four in Germany but the Aussies’ want to show the world that they belong at the World Cup finals and having Guus Hiddink at the helm maximises their chances.

    Hiddink – who combines his role with the Socceroos with his full-time job as manager of PSV Eindhoven – was quick to bring tactical flexibility to Australia’s national team. He immediately introduced 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 formations to a team used to a standard 4-4-2.

    The Dutch coach has also given the players more self-belief. It was evident against Uruguay and it will be needed against Australia’s Group F opponents: Japan, Brazil and Croatia.

    Australia has a knack of producing fine goalkeepers and in recent years there has been great competition for the number one jersey. Middlesbrough ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer seems secure after his heroics against Uruguay. The imposing Zeljko Kalac – currently with AC Milan in Italy – is not completely out of the picture and he will, at worst, be Australia’s second choice.

    Australia has fewer options in the centre of its defence. Craig Moore (Newcastle United) has been an automatic inclusion in the heart of the Socceroos’ defence and his injury forced Guus Hiddink to use regular fullbacks Lucas Neill (Blackburn Rovers) and Tony Vidmar (NAC Breda) more centrally. Tony Popovic will also push for a place in the middle of Australia’s back three (or four). But expect that Moore will be a certain starter if his recovery continues to be successful.

    The Socceroos are blessed with choices in the wide defensive – or wing back – positions. Scott Chipperfield and Stan Lazaridis (Birmingham City) play on the left while Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers) is a likely starter on the right. Hiddink could also use Neill on the right (if he’s not used as a stopper) and push Emerton further forward. The two-sided Tony Vidmar is an option in every defensive position. Chipperfield’s performances against Uruguay were outstanding and he will almost certainly be preferred to the injury-plagued Lazaridis.

    There is plenty of quality in the Australian midfield. The Socceroos can rely on Vince Grella (Parma) in the holding role in front of the defence. His Parma team mate, Marco Bresciano, is a goal-scoring midfielder with that valuable ability to consistently hit the target from long-range. Bresciano will be lining up for plenty of free kicks as well.

    The rapidly improving Jason Culina is another player likely to figure in the middle of the park, and he has benefited from Guus Hiddink’s polish at club level with PSV Eindhoven.

    The midfield is bolstered by the Merseyside connection. The supremely gifted Harry Kewell (Liverpool) is Australia’s ace and he will probably operate on or near the attacking left. The indefatigable Tim Cahill (Everton) slots neatly into the hole behind the strikers and provides another source of goals – especially with his salmon leaps in the penalty area.

    Josip Skoko (Wigan Athletic, on loan to Stoke City) is also in the mix. He captained a weakened Australian side in its Asian Cup qualifier against Bahrain. Ahmad Elrich (Fulham, on loan to Lyn in Norway) might also be an option from the bench if Hiddink is looking for some extra pace out wide.

    Mark Viduka (Middlesbrough) has led Australia’s attack for many years and, in the absence of Craig Moore, Guus Hiddink made Viduka the Socceroos’ captain. It was a move that surprised many observers as Viduka has received a lot of criticism for his performances with the national team. Nevertheless, the imposing striker responded brilliantly and played a crucial role in Australia’s qualification.

    While Viduka was still regaining fitness at last year’s Confederations Cup (after recovering from a hamstring injury), John Aloisi (CD Alaves) showed his ability to score for his country with four tournament goals. Aloisi became an instant national hero by scoring the penalty that sent Australia to Germany in the shootout against Uruguay. But he’s unlikely to win a starting place unless Hiddink decides to play with two genuine strikers. Aloisi might continue to be used off the bench whenever extra firepower is needed up front.

    Archie Thompson – also with Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven – is another forward option and the last place(s) in the squad (for strikers) are likely to be between Joel Griffiths (Leeds United), Brett Holman (Excelsior Rotterdam) and Mile Sterjovski who is at FC Basel with compatriot Scott Chipperfield.

    The team in green and gold showed that it had the belief and ability to qualify for Germany 2006. Reaching the last 16 will be the next challenge for the World Cup’s mystery team. It will be difficult in a group that includes the World Champions, the Asian Champions and the consistent Croatians; the betting markets suggest that most pundits expect the Aussies to be on the first plane home.

    But this Australian team won’t want the extraordinary celebration that World Cup qualification produced to be followed by a disappointing performance at the finals. The Socceroos also have a coach who has shown that he can work wonders with lowly-rated teams. Can he do it again?


 

 

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