The World Cup draw has played right into Ange Postecoglou’s hands. Not that I like it. I don’t. But the silver lining to the black cloud which rained on the Socceroos parade in Costa do Sauipe is that the chances of winning the 2015 Asian Cup have improved immeasurably as a result. And that’s got to be the end game for this difficult period of transition after all.
The Australian reaction to a draw which has given us the two finalists from the last World Cup and one of South America’s toughest teams has been very PC. Players have talked about their excitement about being tested against the best. Postecoglou has talked about ‘embracing the challenge’. All true, to a point.
But let’s not ignore the blindingly obvious. We won’t get through. Am I the only person in Australia who was hoping for a team like Switzerland, or Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Greece, or Algeria, or even Ecuador to give us a fighting chance of reaching the knockout stage? I’ve always been a glass half-full kind of guy when it comes to the Socceroos, but even I cannot allow myself one percent of hope that we will get out of this group. The international reaction to our ‘Group of Death’ draw takes all the emotion out of the discussion. No one gives us a snowflake’s chance in hell of progressing. To be frank, I can’t even see us getting a point.
Do I find that disappointing? Well, yes, I do. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been to the last six World Cups, and it’s the fairytales I tend to remember. Much as I have enormous faith in Postecoglou’s coaching – and I’m sure the players will be primed to rise to the occasion – there won’t be any fairytales in Cuiaba, Porto Alegre or Coritiba. That’s not pessimistic. It’s realistic. C’mon, admit it, it would have been nice to dare to dream.
So what do we do instead? We use the World Cup to prepare for the Asian Cup, that’s what we do. And in that sense the draw is a godsend. There’s now no pressure on the Socceroos to get results in Brazil. Absolutely none. Postecoglou has a completely free hand to select his squad with the Asian Cup in mind. Bad news for a few veterans who have probably already played their last game. But good news for the emerging talent which, until now, has been held back in deference to the so-called ‘Golden Generation’.
Even better, these players, the coaching staff, and the team as a collective, will be given the best-possible tune-up free of charge. What would it cost to arrange friendlies against Spain, Chile and The Netherlands? Let’s just say there wouldn’t be much change from the $8.8million the FFA is reportedly getting for participating in the World Cup. This way Postecoglou gets to learn more about his players, and perhaps himself, than he could have hoped for under any other circumstances. And that, to me, is the real excitement from the draw.
Unlike Germany, unlike South Africa, the environment in and around the team in Brazil will be cool, calm, and collected. That’s a rare privilege, and means Postecoglou has the luxury of working without distraction, without interference, and, yes, without pressure.
Each game can be planned in splendid isolation. How the team, and how individuals, contend with the varied tactical and technical challenges presented by Spain, The Netherlands and Chile, will tell Postecoglou everything he needs to know.
The World Cup has, to me, become Mission Impossible. Winning the Asian Cup, by contrast, remains a realistic target. Ideally, things would have turned out differently. But that’s the luck of the draw, after all.