I can’t say that watching the World Cup from Australia has been a great experience so far. Ok, so some of that is due to the time difference… (I have just checked the fixtures and every match after the current round will kick off at 2.30am Perth time – not sociable viewing hours).
The fact that the Socceroos were pasted 4-0 by Germany in their first match obviously didn’t ignite World Cup fever down under either but I have seen the wrong shaped ball on the back of the newspaper too many times in the past couple of weeks.
I was living Down Under when the last World Cup kicked off and there was much more excitement in the media surrounding the Socceroos but maybe that was because Guus Hiddink was in charge – that man seems to create the feeling that anything is possible in football.
Still, commencing a World Cup by losing 4-0 to anyone and seeing your best player (harshly) sent off is always going to give you a mountain to climb. Coach, Pim Verbeek was roundly criticised for abandoning a familiar formation to play with two renowned midfielders up front in Tim Cahill and Richard Garcia. The Dutchman took his fair share of the responsibility but the damage had been done.
The Aussies always manage to show fighting spirit and a winning mentality but as they were looking to redeem themselves against Ghana the tell-tale signs were that Australia’s top footballers were past their peak. Harry Kewell missed out against Germany but all of Australia seemed to be pinning its hopes on the former Leeds United and Liverpool man. He had struggled for fitness going into the tournament but still looked very dangerous in the opening stages against the ‘Black Stars’ before disaster struck. Having gone 1-0 up Kewell’s dismissal in the first half was another bitter pill to swallow. The referee will say he was following the letter of the law but it the Sydneysider could hardly get out of the way as he stood on his goal line defending a corner.
So Kewell was out of the picture, Cahill was suspended and where was the spark going to come from? Marco Bresciano is a quality midfielder, who has played at the top level in Italy but, following a back operation in March, the 30-year-old didn’t appear to be fit enough to play full matches in South Africa. The remaining players performed admirably to beat Serbia but whether there is enough strength in depth for Australia is just one big question facing the country’s Football Federation.
Many of the established Socceroos are now approaching (or firmly ensconced) in the twilight years of their careers. Whether the next generation can step up to the exploits of a team that has performed impressively in their last two World Cups is yet to be seen but there is no substitute for experience, especially at this level.
Perhaps the biggest boots (or maybe gloves) to fill will be those of Mark Schwarzer, who is now 37. The other two keepers in the Socceroos’ World Cup squad, Adam Fedrici and Eugene Galekovic have just one cap between them. Fedirici was impressive in the English Championship for Reading last season but it would be good to see the shot stopper get some experience under his belt in one of the top European leagues.
So what does the future hold for the future of football in Australia?
Well, of immediate importance to Football Federation Australia, is their bid to host the world’s greatest sporting tournament in 2022. Having been in the frame for the 2018 competition alongside England and Russia, FFA Chairman Frank Lowy has been forced to concede that Australia’s best chance would be in 2022.
And what a venue Australia could be for the World Cup! After the security fears and stories surrounding South Africa, there is no doubt that Australia has outstanding credentials. A memorable millennium Olympics in Sydney and an excellent Rugby World Cup in 2003 are recent examples of what Australia can contribute in terms of world class events.
You could also guarantee the Aussie people would make the most of such an opportunity. Having been involved in Sheffield’s contribution to the England 2018 bid I know that community is a vital component of the FIFA bidding process. And I know that the Australian people would embrace the world cup in an impressive and unique way too.
Australia is a sports mad nation and never hesitates in getting behind its sporting heroes. Ok, so ‘soccer’ is still below the likes of AFL (Australian Rules Football), cricket and rugby in the Aussie psyche but I believe the World Cup would change that.
The national competition launched in 2005 – the A-League – has established firm foundations and technical developments need to follow. The World Cup can provide that spark. Football (soccer) is the biggest participant sport Down Under but many potential professionals are lured away by the likes of AFL in their late teens. Part of that is probably due to a lack of a clear pathway into professional soccer but it is a big job to overhaul coaching and technical development.
Winning the right to stage the World Cup would certainly make it easier to fund vital development programmes because the reward that is available in the long term is clear to see.
Aussie rules may be a good game to watch but it is not played anywhere else on earth and the AFL is trying desperately to expand it’s scope across international boundaries. Football, on the other hand, is a global game and Australia will not have a better chance to unlock their potential on the global stage than by hosting the World Cup.
USA are also bidders for 2022 but it would be good to see FIFA could choose a new location, having picked America as host nation in 1994. Another new location, and one pouring mega money into their bid for 2022, is Qatar but there are serious concerns over the heat with the need for pitches to be air-conditioned – outside! Holding the World Cup in the Middle East may have some plus points but Qatar is basically a hot, dry desert and all of the venues would be located in and around the capital city of Doha – not necessarily a great cultural variety for visiting fans.
Australia on the other hand has great potential in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane, and Adelaide. I genuinely think that awarding the World Cup to Australia in 2022 could have the biggest impact on any footballing nation but it would also prove a great destination for the rest of the world.
Oh, and England just has to be the right choice for 2018!