Anxiety. Hope. Bravado. Belief. Frustration. Fear. Joy. And finally, relief. The Socceroos stretched out the tension as long as they could at Stadium Australia. Now we can celebrate and begin to consider the task ahead.
The Socceroos love the drama, don’t they? It’s only in hindsight that we can see how the smooth ride to the 2010 World Cup was an anomaly. This time, they stuck to the script like an episode ofGame of Thrones.
For 80 long minutes they toiled, searching for that opening, pushing to create that one moment that would break the stubborn Iraqi defence and pushing the fans’ nerves to the edge.
Thank God for Mark Bresciano’s cultured right boot and Josh Kennedy’s head. The two body parts that saved Australian football.
On one hand, it was a good performance. Many have questioned of Holger Osieck’s Socceroos were capable of taking it to teams when they needed a result – and they did that against Iraq.
Australia were positive and attacking. Everyone was involved in moving the ball forward and searching for space; there was pace on the wings and desire through the middle of the park. For 15-20 minutes of each half, the Socceroos dominated their opposition.
As such, it was, on the other hand, a frustrating performance. This was Iraq, not Brazil. The visitors were resolute and energetic, a team containing four teenagers, already out of qualifying, who continually pressed and denied the Socceroos.
Australia weren’t granted any of the space they enjoyed against Jordan, every inch was a battle. And how many clear-cut chances did they create?
Questions remain in key areas too, such as the viability of the central defensive pairing of Neill and Ognenovski, who certainly would have struggled against more experienced attackers. Matt McKay is a fine midfielder but not such a fine left back. For all his qualities, Tim Cahill continues to struggle in the lone striker role and Osieck’s preferred formation through qualifying has often left the team toothless.
The question now is how much can the team develop in the year until they board a plane to Brazil? After committing the foundations of his squad to the veterans, Osieck has shown the door is open to those young players who can take the next step.
We got a glimpse of that against Iraq, with Robbie Kruse, Tom Rogic and Tommy Oar creating an exciting and vibrant attacking midfield trio with plenty of potential and skill. Ivan Franjic’s inclusion in the squad also shows the door isn’t closed on A-League players either.
Australian footballers are on notice. Much of the Socceroos squad appears to be locked in but there are opportunities for bolters in those positions of doubt. The World Cup is the pinnacle, the dream of all players – and that target should inspire every single Australian over the next year.
Next month Australia will take part in the East Asian Cup, competing against the biggest football nations in Asia. After that, there will be five or six international friendlies throughout the year, with one (as yet unconfirmed) against Brazil.
Who from last night’s squad won’t make it? Is Ognenovski’s place in doubt, after being recalled for the last two games? Will Matt McKay’s struggles at left back mean a chance for Michael Zullo or Shane Lowry?
Will Osieck use his upcoming games to experiment just a little with formation and selection?
And finally – and most importantly – how much is a plane ticket to Brazil? And how do I convince my wife that this trip is purely for work? Any suggestions welcomed…