Normally when a FIFA World Cup squad is named, it brings tremendous excitement. But there was a sharp collective breath among football fans on Monday morning.
‘At least Daniel Arzani is in there’ seemed the common refrain. But I think we all know that if we’re relying on a 19-year old (with 24 A-League matches under his belt) to change our World Cup destiny, we should probably ask how it all came to this.
Arzani must absolutely be in the final squad, but that we are so collectively titillated by his selection is the canary in the coal mine. At his age and experience, he should be viewed as optional, not essential. Yet we find ourselves needing him like never before.
For the ranks of the Socceroos to be as thin as they are, with a World Cup just six weeks away, is quite alarming. And this was the 32-man squad – so it’s still to be trimmed by nine.
Indeed, where once there was an endless supply of hard luck stories, we now face the inverse problem. You only need a few glittering performances to be in contention.
I can’t recall a time when so much will be left to so few. You’d probably have to go back to the late 1980’s, but our lack of genuine depth or elite quality (or both) in many positions is frightening.
It is still possible that Australia will perform a sporting miracle and make the second round. Looking at this squad, every single 50-50 would have to fall our way – and a few 20-80’s, too.
An unbelievable amount of pressure will rest on Australia’s midfield. Our best player, Aaron Mooy, will have to play out of his skin in each game.
Fortunately, Tom Rogic appears to be hitting the kind of form at Celtic that we all dreamed he would, but he’ll be transitioning from Scotland’s most dominant club to a national team sitting behind the ball.
Mile Jedinak will need to turn back the clock, while Massimo Luongo, hopefully, will be healthy. We can’t afford any of them to be any less than 100 per cent fit. We’re already walking a tightrope just to be competitive.
Alas, we do not have the cutting edge in the front third, and boast only one genuinely elite defender (Trent Sainsbury). It is a hammer blow that Matthew Spiranovic has disappeared, which simply increases pressure on Maty Ryan, who already needs to bring his Premier League form direct to Russia.
Besides, Australia is not in a group of death. Were our 2006 team in this group, we’d be second favourites to progress. Even our 2010 team might have been nudging that status (pilloried though they were, they still won once and drew once). Right now, France and Denmark seem a long way ahead.
My early projections are that we may be the equivalent of Peru, whose squad doesn’t leap off the page. Yet they finished ahead of Chile, Paraguay and Ecuador in qualifying, which suggests they are a team far greater than the sum of their parts.
The Socceroos, too, will have to adopt the belief that individual talent runs secondary to collective endeavour.
Apologies for a non-football reference, but the 1989 Ashes team that went to England was memorably called the “the worst team ever to leave Australia” – and they won that series 4-0. There are sporting precedents; they just happen to be incredibly rare.
Unfortunately, because we have changed coaches so close to the event itself, the period needed to ingratiate ourselves in the Dutchman’s preferred style has shortened into a matter of months.
It will certainly make it all the more sweeter if the Socceroos can find a way to prove the doubters wrong and have several squad members announce themselves as serious, international calibre players on the biggest stage of all.
Alas, with things as they are, such a feat would probably be the minimum requirement.