Saturday, July 4, 2009

Socceroos are sweet at sixteen

The Socceroos are ranked sixteenth in the world. It’s hard to believe they are sitting one place above football pretty boys, Portugal, a team who are struggling to make South Africa next year, even with the best player in the world in their side.

One week derided by its own media and betrayed by infighting, the next achieving it’s highest ever FIFA ranking. The Football gods curse one moment and bless the next.

The Socceroos you can almost say are sitting at the big kiddies table of world football.

If you look closely, nearby are the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Greece and USA; all teams the Socceroos should not fear. A bit further up the table, sit Croatia, Argentina and Netherlands teams the Socceroos have drawn, been competitive with or beaten.

A Football Odyssey 2010

It seems like this phrase “Next year will be Australian football biggest” has being said every year since 2005.

Obviously the two big dates are the World Cup in June and the decision by FIFA in December on who will host the World Cup in 2018/22.

It’s quite a difference to the phrase “This is Australian football’s last chance” which used to be said every four years before the Socceroos would play a one off home and away match to qualify for a world cup.

As an Australian football fan I have had nor the time or the inclination to follow the FIFA rankings.

Two reasons why:

The first that they don’t seem to be a true reflection of the ability of the team: like Eddie Vedder said at the MTV awards; how can you rate art?

The other reason is Australia never rated lower than 30 and usually hovered around the 50’s so if we were not number one who cares right?

Heavy Is the Crown

But now that the Socceroos are ranked 16th I’m starting to take notice. The good news for Australia if it can maintain that ranking through to the World Cup is that it will enjoy a high seeding, thus avoiding the likes of Brazil, Spain or Italy in its group.

This could prove to be a positioned chalice, a heavy crown, a cursed blessing whatever grand metaphor you can think of to describe the added pressure of having success.

It is an unexpected bonus for Pim Verbeek the Socceroos, players and staff for how well they have performed during this World Cup qualifying campaign.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing or pretty to watch, to use a Damian Lovelockism at times it was pure granite.

After all these years of being in the international football wilderness and only playing two real games every four years. The football fan that hitched a ride on the Socceroos bandwagon after the Uruguay game or joined during the World Cup will have realised like other football fans that sometimes international football or even football in general can be mostly granite.

But just to be at the World Cup is worth it.

Top 20 Was A Good Target

Speaking to a media scrum a couple of days before the Uzbekistan game on April the 1st.Lucas Neil said he wanted to break in the top 20 one day:

“Top 20 is a good target, let’s qualify for the world cup and who knows, we got to mix it with the last 16 at the last World Cup, and we will take anyone on any country” he said

“We have already proved that we can go to Holland and win in Holland, we gave Brazil a scare in the last World Cup. It’s not a fluke that every now and again we have beaten teams like France in the past, Argentina in the past, and because of our spirit and the way we have been brought up with football, we have always been the underdog.

“We have always been the team that is trying to achieve, we are going to get results, now it’s about consistency; we can take anyone on and be in the top twenty in the world.” He added.

Well Lucas three wins and a draw later the Socceroos qualified with two games to spare, beat Japan at home and are in the top 20. Now it seems Australia cannot be considered an underdog anymore. Not if you consider Australia’s FIFA rankings. It’s performance and results in qualifying for the World Cup in South Africa

A great achievement considering it’s the first time it has been done through Asia.

The ranking will also add to Australia’s growing reputation in world football and that should add value to the World Cup bid for 2018/22.

So when you consider the Socceroos results and performance at the World Cup in Germany, you can say with some confidence that Australia is a true football country.

Australia now has World Cup history and in Australia’s case they will be humming the words to the Split Endz song “history never repeats” hoping to progress to the quarter finals in South Africa next year, a goal that should not be out of the question.

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