Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 20 May 2017
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 20 MAY 2017 25 SPORT CON STAMOCOSTAS The Socceroos kick off a festival of football with a crucial World Cup qualifier against Saudi Arabia followed by a mouth-watering friendly verses Brazil as well as three other high profile Confederations Cup fixtures. Normally playing Brazil in Melbourne in front of a soldout MCG and taking on World Champions Germany, South American kings Chile and African title holder Cameroon would be a veritable football feast. But before those juicy contests against some of world football's biggest names, the World Cup Qualifier on Thursday 8 June at Adelaide Oval looms as the fixture that is the most important of them all. Only three games remain against Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Thailand in Australia's quest to qualify for Russia 2018. Currently Japan and the Saudis lead the group with 16 points with Australia three points behind in third. With the top two teams from their group automatically qualifying for Russia 2018, a win against their Middle Eastern opponents will put Australia in second spot and in a strong position to qualify directly. Speaking exclusively to Neos Kosmos, Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou, is under no illusion which game is the most crucial fixture in the packed June schedule. "Obviously the first game is the most important one, the Saudi Arabia game and we are going to have a real special month if we play to our potential," Postecoglou says. Aside from the game against the Saudis, the Socceroos will go into the Brazil friendly and the Confederations Cup fixtures as underdogs, a tag that historically has seen Australia perform above expectations. And Postecoglou feels that with the pressure off the team by not having to play for World Cup qualifying points, the Aussies will be looking to entertain on the world stage. "It's exciting," he says. "The players are ready for that big stage and are looking forward to it and they will get an opportunity to play with a bit more freedom and a bit more adventure because of the situation we are in." "The players have had to do it pretty tough so far. They've had some pretty difficult away fixtures in some difficult places in some difficult circumstances. But all the games in June they are all going to be played in good stadiums on some good pitches in front of good crowds." Australia has found the going tough in the final phase of PHOTO: AAP VIA AP/RICK World Cup qualifying and at times looked anything but certain qualifiers for Russia 2018. After four successive draws against Saudi Arabia, Japan, Thailand, and Iraq, seeds of doubt about Postecoglou tactics and his players’ performances started to be planted in the minds of fans and media. The backlash is a different scenario to the positive reception Postecoglou received after he took control of the Socceroos just before the 2014 Brazil World Cup. Compared to his predecessors Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck, Postecoglou employed an aggressive, attacking, possession-based style of play in Brazil. After only a few months in charge the method worked with the Aussies taking it to both Chile and Holland in their opening group games. While the Socceroos didn't make it out of the group stage, Postecoglou's approach of blooding younger players into his system of attacking at all costs, soon helped Australia win the Asian Cup in 2015. And while the goodwill that Postecoglou received in his first three years in charge hasn't waned, many Australians that fell in love with their national team are starting to ask questions. But Postecoglou says he is sticking to his attacking formula all the way to the end no matter what and he believes it will provide success in Russia. "It's not just about qualifying, it's about qualifying playing a certain way and hopefully going to a World Cup and making an impact there," he says. "We qualified for the last World Cup and obviously, that wasn't good enough because we decided to change coach. I came in because I coach a certain way. I have a certain philosophy and for me it's about qualifying, playing a certain style of football, that's why I came to the job and that's what I'm going to see through." Not all the Socceroos recent ills can be aimed at Postecoglou. Several of the Australian Asian Cup winning squad have not progressed in their club careers and some have struggled to gain consistent game time with their overseas teams. At the same time, Generation Next have struggled to push their case for national team selection. All this has led to some poor performances by Australia and after three draws in a row in the previous qualifiers, Postecoglou rung the changes against Iraq by introducing a 3-4-3 formation. In difficult conditions the Socceroos held on to draw the away game 1-1 and then beat the UAE at home 2-0 to get Australia's World Cup hopes back on track. Many fans and observers questioned the new tactic and why it was used in the middle of a qualifying campaign, but Postecoglou says there was no time like the present. "That's the cycle we are in, there aren't many games that don't matter, they all matter," he says. "We had a plan at the start. Part of that plan was in this big year we were going to have in 2017, we knew that we were going to have five games as World Cup qualifiers. "We knew that we were going to play in a Confederations Cup and this is the year that we wanted to be a bit more bold in our approach and we were always going to introduce it in the first window and that's what we've done and we've stuck to that plan." This is Postecoglou's first attempt at managing the Senior National team through the rigours of a home and away World Cup qualifying campaign. But surprisingly the 51-yearold says he hasn't discovered anything new about the process and believes his experience of two decades coaching is all the knowledge he needs. "I haven't really learnt anything," he says. "We've stuck to a plan we've had right at the start and we'll see it through right to the end. I haven't learnt anything I didn't know. The most important thing is so far, we have stuck to the plan and we'll continue to do so. I've been coaching for 20 years and I've probably got more experience than most coaches going around. I've been to Club World Cups, I've been to Youth World Cups. I've gone to senior World Cups. I've done Asian Cups, I've done NSL and I've done A-League, I don't think there is too much I haven't experienced." Since the beginning of his coaching tenure Postecoglou has never shied away from his belief that the Socceroos can go on and win the World Cup. It's a challenge he says his charges have bought into and he believes there is no cap on what the Australian team can achieve. "It's an ever-evolving thing. I don't know what the potential is. I haven't put a ceiling on it," he says. "I always think we can be better than what we are and that's why we keep pushing the guys and challenging them and keep changing formation. Hopefully we can break through another ceiling that people may have thought we couldn't break through. "So, I don't know. That is not the question that I ever want to answer. I want to keep saying that we will always be better than what we have been."
13 May 2017
27 May 2017