Do the Socceroos Have a Chance of Leaving the Group Stage?



Image Credit: Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images Sport 

After months of waiting the Socceroos have a coach for the World Cup. Dutch maverick Bert van Marwijk will take the reigns for our upcoming World Cup campaign, after which a permanent Australian coach will be appointed.

We're no strangers to the Dutch connection. Van Marwijk is the third coach from the region to take charge of the Socceroos in 12 years. Guus Hiddink memorably led the Green and Gold to the second round of the 2006 World Cup, while Pim Verbeek was in charge in 2010.

Van Marwijk’s pedigree is decent. He managed the Netherlands from 2008 until mid 2012, guiding the Oranje to a 2010 finals berth only to lose 1-0 in extra time to Spain. At club level, he has a UEFA Cup with Feyenoord in 2002.

But can the Dutch coach bring a bit of magic to a Socceroos side who have become used to Ange Postecoglou's play style? Let's take a look at what lies ahead, with the help of a bit of analysis from previous campaigns.

Getting ahead of the group in 2018

Let’s talk about the big Les Bleus elephant in the room. France is almost a sure thing to get out of the group stage. They're the highest ranked team in our group, and serious contenders for the title. Barring a major capitulation, there’s one spot up for grabs, and three teams in the running.

Peru and Denmark are no slouches. They currently hold 12 and 11 respectively in the FIFA World Rankings (Australia is ranked 36) but FIFA's obscure rating system is not always the best predictor of future performance.

Case in point, let's travel all the way back to 2006, Australia's first World Cup Finals berth in 32 years.

tim cahill celebrates goal against japan 2006 world cup
Image Credit: Sandra Behne / Bongarts / Getty Images

2006: Dutch courage

Group F in the 2006 World Cup shares some similarities with the Socceroos 2018 pool.

  • Australia (Ranked 48th in 2005)
  • Brazil (Ranked 1st in 2005)
  • Croatia (Ranked 28th in 2005)
  • Japan (Ranked 15 in 2005)

Brazil was a sure thing to pass onto the next round, but who out of the other three could claim second spot? Based solely on FIFA rankings, the Aussies looked outsiders, not to mention it had been over 3 decades since Australia had qualified.

It’s these kind of situations where the Socceroos tend to thrive. Under Hiddink's leadership the Socceroos scored 5 goals spread across four players, including two for Cahill against Japan (neither of which were headers).

Group F 2006: Goals

A goal difference of 0 looks poor at first glance, but it’s 1 ahead of Croatia and a whopping five ahead of Japan.

Australia finished just 2 goals behind Brazil, managing almost 2 per game. The group winners boasted a goal difference +6, letting in a single goal and putting seven past their opposition.

Lessons learned in 2010

The 2010 FIA World Cup saw the Socceroos in another tough group, but one where we might have had similar chances to 2006. In 2010 Group D looked like this:

  • Germany (Ranked 6th in 2009)
  • Ghana (Ranked 34th in 2009)
  • Serbia (Ranked 19th in 2009)
  • Australia (Ranked 21st in 2009)

At a glance Germany looks to be the sure thing, with the other spot up for grabs.

Australia was enjoying one of it's best FIFA rankings and we managed to take 4 points just like 2006, but were unable to seal qualification, beaten to the post by an underrated Ghana.

Group D 2010: Goals

The table reinforces the importance of goals (and goal difference) in qualification. Ghana took second with a Goal Difference of 0, same as the Aussies in 2006.

2010 also hammered home the importance of managing risk and reward in the group stage. Germany walloped the Aussies 4-0, a score that was even more disastrous considering Serbia claimed 3 points over the Germans and the Aussies ultimately took 3 against Serbia.

It was a tumultuous group stage, with Socceroos ruing that opening round loss. If there’s a lesson here for the Aussies in 2018, it’s to minimise risk against France. A single point from Les Blues would be terrific, but even a small loss on goal difference isn’t too bad for business.

The 2010 World Cup was also the year newly appointed Socceroos coach van Marwijk took the Netherlands to the finals.

2014's Group B's battering

In the quest for World Cup glory the Socceroos have been through their fair share of bad luck. In 2014, the chips were definitely stacked against us.

Not only did the Socceroos draw the 2010 World Cup winners (Spain) and runners up (Netherlands), we also had to contend with a highly rated Chile. Here's the ratings:

  • Netherlands (Ranked 9th in 2013)
  • Spain (Ranked 1st in 2014)
  • Chile (Ranked 15th in 2013)
  • Australia (Ranked 58th in 2013)

Australia failed to secure a single point, conceding 9 and netting 3, of which 2 were against the Netherlands in a thrilling match where we led 2-1 shortly after half time.

But the biggest disappointment was reserved for the Spaniards. The former World Cup winners failed to get out of the group stage, losing to both Netherlands and Chile. If we're looking for positives going into 2018, it might be that even the mighty can fall.

Learning from the good (and the bad)

At this point, all the major pieces are in place. Van Marwijk has the opportunity to change up the squad, but it's unlikely we'll see wholesale shifts in the roster. Barring injury, most big name Aussies will make the trip to Russia.

What does that mean for the national team's chances?

In a recent interview, Captain Mile Jedinak told Mark Schwarzer his team would need to learn from both the good and the bad if they hoped to succeed.

Video courtesy Optus Sport

If we went strictly by FIFA ratings, Australia are rank outsiders, yet in the head to head matchups, we find some opportunity. Australia have only played Denmark 3 times over the last 10 years.

The Danes enjoy a 2-1 record over Australia, but that's still a 1 in 3 chance to take all points against Denmark based on previous matches.

Our record against France is equally competitive. Despite the gulf in ratings, the Socceroos have 1 victory, 1 draw and 2 losses against France since 1994. On paper at least, the Aussies have a 50% chance of taking one point or more against France.

Peru is the wild card. Australia have never faced the South American nation, but it could be a real opportunity. In the sudden death qualification against New Zealand they drew 0-0 away from home, a fixture that typically doesn’t trouble the Socceroos. The Peruvians were much more dominant in Lima, putting two goals past the All Whites.

But it's also Peru's first World Cup in 36 years, something that could be their undoing when the tournament kicks off in June.

With a mix of experience and youth plus a new coach with a proven record at World Cup level, the Socceroos must be feeling confident of making it out of the group stage in 2018.

If van Marwijk’s side do qualify, they’ll face one of teams from Group C.

A second-round qualification could mean a stomach churning game against Argentina, a grudge match against Croatia, or a tough head to head with Nigeria.

But surely the dream matchup would be against Iceland. The tiny Scandinavian nation has shown it fears no nation in their thrilling qualification matches. Equal in courage with the Socceroos, that could be a match for the ages, and put the winners on a path to greater World Cup glory.

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