Why we must raise our gaze to future World Cups

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Before we enter the football maelstrom, gorging ourselves on the beautiful game for 32 days, we can step back momentarily to look at history, context and the cycle that most countries in the world are stuck in.

As you research the World Cup matches, it will quickly occur to you that many fine football countries, which produce many top-level players, get very few cracks at the FIFA World Cup.

Start with our group. This being the 21st FIFA World Cup edition, the Danes, ranked 12th in the world and well known for their famous 1992 Euro title with an amazing team, have only appeared five times including this week. Same as us. Peru, ranked 11th, the same, with 36 years between drinks since 1982.

Portugal, reigning European champions with unbelievable generations, have only appeared six times. Russia being their seventh.

You know, of course, this is our fifth time at the World Cup and fourth consecutive. Puts our appearance into perspective, no?

More. This is the Poles’ eighth, Senegal’s second only, though most of us recall their heroics in 2002 and the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s sixth.

In contrast, those countries which can count on regular appearances are the super nations, World Cup winners like Spain and France competing in their 15th, Uruguay and Argentina 17th, Germany 19th and of course Brazil, the only nation to appear at every Coppa in their 21st.

Why is this so? Because of global seeding through Confederations which means that many strong nations struggle to qualify through stronger areas of the world in Europe (Italy and Netherlands) and South America (Chile), while Australia benefits from the allocation of four and a half places for Asia (the half being a playoff through which we progressed this time).

So, what does this mean?

Simply that Australia has a very rare luxury for the foreseeable future of being overwhelmingly likely to qualify for World Cups, something more than 200 other nations would kill for.

The question becomes, then, how do we use this tremendous advantage, this Continental system which favors strong nations in some areas of the world?

By escaping the boom and bust cycle is how.

Most of the world are, essentially, in the cycle we were in between 74 and 06, praying, struggling, working, failing. Qualifying, then failing again.

We are, for all intents, more like one of the top nations in that we have the ability to plan, to learn, to prepare over multiple cycles and to be calmer and more analytical. To assess what is required, where we are strong and weak, what is needed to progress and to work towards it with a long term view.

The key is understanding the context and the cycle most nations are, understandably stuck in. It is near impossible to escape as an entire country naturally becomes fixated on joining the planet’s party. The emotion is intense, short termism prevails, coaches come and go, as does planning and underlying approaches.

This World Cup then, in my view, as many recognise that Australian fans are becoming used to having the Socceroos involved, is about changing our approach to the tournament, using that familiarity in our favour and looking at how we can plan to one day win.

It is possible. First comes progressing deep into the Cup.

And for those who believe Australia cannot, Costa Rica made the quarter finals in 2014, in just their fourth Cup and topped a group that included Italy, Uruguay and England. There would be great pessimism if our group in Russia included these teams, but we know we have the measure of Los Ticos.

South Korea made the semis at home in 02. The semis!  But they are a great example of boom and bust because, like with us, Hiddink created something momentary which we spend years chasing to achieve again. Likewise Japan, who had a lengthy plan, seen as their cultural strength, but are now something of a mess having chopped and changed.

They simply got caught in the boom and bust cycle.

Other teams to reach the semis and then struggle for consistency are numerous. Turkey in 02, Sweden and Bulgaria in 94 and Poland 74 and 82.

So irrespective of performance in Russia, we can take the chance to discuss identity, about how we approach games and whether we are capable of creating a consistent approach and way of playing that might give us the edge over the numerous other mid-tier nations praying to make the knockout stages. And to remember that Brazil, despite a population in excess of 200 million and unbelievable football passion and skill, have failed 15 times. 

We can, in fact, recognise that losing games at a World Cup is a certainty. The real question is how we lose them. Whether we approach them with a long view, assess, learn adapt and improve. For us, every single loss can have immense value as we are aiming to learn and progress more quickly given the geographical advantage that we have over many other nations.

In essence, we need to raise our gaze. From merely qualifying, moving on emotionally from the terror of the 32 years, putting it behind us and looking further ahead now to how we can do something no nation with a population less than 40 million (since 1950 and excluding the magnificent football nation Uruguay) has achieved, winning the holy grail of Australian sport.

It is not going to happen unless we escape the cycle. And raise our gaze to future Coppas rather than just the immediate one.