Can Australia Buck the World Cup Trend?

Since its formation in 1930, the most prestigious competition in world football has only ever had eight different winning nations. Admittedly, it does only run every four years – for the mental mathematicians out there, that’s still 20 separate World Cup tournaments.
Within these 20 tournaments, the triumphs have been shared between Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, England, Spain, and France, all of which are among the elite of footballing nations.
There is yet to be a real shock in World Cup football; the closest arguably came back in 1950 when Uruguay defeated Brazil 2-1 in the Maracana in front of a rumoured 300,000 fans. Brazil were overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy, despite the Uruguay team containing players such as Schiaffino and Ghigga, so much so that a number of newspapers had already printed referencing Brazil’s World Cup win.

Credit: The Maracana via Facebook

Jump forward to more recent memory, and the World Cup knockout stages have been dominated by mainly European teams, with the obvious exception of Brazil and Argentina. So what about the Oceanian nations? So far, only Australia and New Zealand have managed to qualify for the group stages and the furthest either of these teams have got in 2006 when Australia reached the last 16, a feat they look unlikely to achieve again next year if you believe the bookies, with the latest football odds putting them at group outsiders at 3/1 to qualify, behind World Cup newcomers Peru.

In a country dominated by both rugby and cricket, it comes as no surprise that the national team is suffering slightly, although if they can emulate their success on these fronts anytime soon, the Socceroos could certainly dominate for years to come. There are signs of improvement within the national team set-up with ‘soccer’ gaining popularity across Australia as a whole host of stars are now plying their trade across the top leagues in Europe: most notably Aaron Mooy at Huddersfield, Matthew Ryan at Brighton and Matthew Leckie at Hertha Berlin.

Despite history being against them, World Cup glory isn’t too farfetched for the Socceroos, they will be relatively happy with the draw that they have been given, particularly the order in which their games come. Australia theoretically play best to worst, France, Denmark and then Peru. Provided that Australia have left themselves within touching distance of qualifying, the Peru match could prove to be an enthralling fixture.
As if things weren’t tough enough, the shock departure of hugely popular first-team coach Ange Postecoglou has added to Australian woes. Postecoglou seemed to have become disillusioned with the FFA short-sightedness and failure to show ambition. Whoever is chosen to succeed Postecoglou will inherit a well-drilled team in an excellent position with apparently little to no World Cup expectations from the FFA – or basically a win-win job!

Credit: Ange Postecoglou via Facebook

If the Socceroos harbour any ambition, they might want to take inspiration from FIFA’s sister tournament, the UEFA European Championships. The Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece and recently Portugal have all won against the odds, albeit not quite as drastically.
There is a lot to be said for attractive attacking football; however, it’s a solid defence where games, and tournaments, are won. ‘Lesser’ teams know they will have to outwit the footballing elite tactically if they wish to progress. In 2016, Portugal only progressed to the knockout rounds via goal difference having drawn all of their three group matches; in fact, they only won one match within 90 minutes en-route to lifting the trophy, which came in a 2-0 win against equally overachieving Wales.
If Australia have any hopes of creating the biggest upset in world football they will not only have to play well, but they will have to play smart.