Russia’s Cellar Dwellers: #4-Australia

Perhaps the most forgettable team of the entire tournament, Australia came and left their fourth straight World Cup without a bang or a whimper. After a chaotic build-up to the tournament, many would have expected a more eye-grabbing campaign from the Socceroos, but perhaps it was the chaos that preceded it which triggered the boring, yawn-inducing campaign.

After suffering poor performances right after the 2014 World Cup, Australia fell to their lowest ranking ever: 102 on FIFA World Rankings. The year after, though, they won their first ever trophy since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006: the Asian Games. As a result, Australia went on to qualify for their first ever Confederations Cup, and soon, they qualified for the World Cup. However, after his team defeated Honduras in the Intercontinental Playoffs to reach the World Cup, Ange Postecoglou stepped down from his head coach position. Bert Van Marwijk, who coached Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup Final, replaced him, but only as a lame duck–Van Marwijk would step down after the World Cup, and Graham Arnold, who had previously managed the Socceroos, would replace the Dutchman after the World Cup was over.

Australia started off well, with a typical Van Marwijk seminar in defensive stability against France. The Socceroos fought hard, and only lost out on all three points due to a contentious penalty. They would follow up an impressive loss with a draw against Denmmark, in which, just like in the France game, Van Marwijk did not put Tim Cahill on. Cahill, at 38, was attempting to score in his fourth straight World Cup, but with only a brief cameo against Peru, he failed to make his mark. In addition to not playing the Aussie legend more, Van Marwijk failed to take the daring risk of starting Daniel Arzani, the youngest player at the World Cup.

Given that all of Australia’s attacking options, bar Matthew Leckie, failed to perform to an adequate standard, Van Marwijk’s lack of tactical flexibility and new ideas (he made just ONE line-up change throughout the entire tournament–putting on Tomi Juric for Andrew Nabbout in the final match against Peru) comes with much frustration. It’s almost as if he was sending a message to players that he’s the boss, a “my way or the highway” type ethos, when he himself wasn’t even going to stay past this summer.

It’s telling that perhaps the only memorable thing from Australia’s World Cup campaign is the “Floptus” controversy. While Australian public broadcasting network SBS had previously only broadcasted Australian matches, as well as other teams in Group C, Optus had exclusive rights to all other matches, charging $15 a month for their streaming services. Optus viewers complained about connectivity issues and streaming problems. Eventually, SBS stepped in, and reached an agreement to broadcast the rest of the World Cup games free of charge.

The only noteworthy performances came from Matthew Leckie, who contributed on both flanks and did just about everything for the Socceroos besides put it in the back of the net, and captain Trent Sainsbury. Still, it felt all a bit, well, not momentous enough. The Tim Cahill era, which coincided with the greatest epoch in Australian soccer history, comes to an end. New ideas and new changes are needed now more than ever.

By: Zach Lowy

Photo: AFP