The Road to the 2018 FIFA World Cup
The Socceroos faced a particularly arduous route to the 2018 World Cup. In the Asian qualifiers they finished third in their group behind Japan and Saudi Arabia, meaning they had to negotiate two more rounds to reach Russia. In the continental play-off Ange Postecoglou’s men had to battle hard to beat Syria, which they did in extra-time in the second leg thanks to veteran Tim Cahill’s match-winning goal. In the intercontinental play-off against the CONCACAF representatives they beat Honduras 3-1 at home after a 0-0 draw away, and qualified for the World Cup for the fifth time.
Midfielder Mile Jedinak scored a match-winning hat-trick in the second leg against the Hondurans. When the need arose, the Australian captain proved an effective front man, although two of his strikes came from the penalty spot. The experienced 33-year-old has been playing in England for several years and is currently helping Aston Villa with their push to return to the Premier League.
Jedinak is a relative youngster compared to veteran Tim Cahill. The evergreen forward, who started out as a full-back, played for Everton for eight years and is still fondly remembered on Merseyside. The 38-year-old recently moved from Australia’s Melbourne City to former club Millwall in England’s Championship. He is Australia’s all-time top scorer with 50 goals, and has made more than 100 appearances for the Socceroos. He showed his worth to the national team with a double in the crucial return match against Syria. If selected, Russia 2018 will be Cahill’s fourth World Cup – and last time out he scored a stunning goal at Brazil 2014 against the Netherlands.
The Australian team boasts other names well known across Europe, especially in England. Goalkeeper Mathew Ryan is at Brighton, while 27-year-old Aaron Mooy plays his club football for Huddersfield Town. Massimo Luongo plays for Championship club Queens Park Rangers, after failing to impress in Tottenham and is trying to return to Premier League.
Winger Mathew Leckie, 27, has played club football in Germany for several years, and in the summer of 2017 moved to Hertha BSC.
Australia appointed Dutchman Bert van Marwijk as their new head coach in January. Van Marwijk, 65, steps into the role vacated by Ange Postecoglou, who stepped down after guiding the team to World Cup qualification. Postecoglou was appointed Australia manager back in 2013, and also led the Socceroos to the 2014 World Cup. The team failed to impress at the tournament, but the next year won the Asian Cup. On successfully leading Australia to Russia 2018, Postecoglou took the decision to hand over to someone else to lead the team, citing the toll the qualifying campaign had taken on him.
The World Cup in Russia will be Australia’s fifth, with the first coming back in 1974. At that time, all the members of the squad were based in Australia, and the team didn’t hold out realistic expectations of making it to the knockout stage. So it proved, with the Aussies losing to East Germany 2-0, West Germany 3-0, and drawing with Chile 0-0.
The Socceroos’ next World Cup appearance was at Germany in 2006, and by that time Dutch head coach Guus Hiddink had built a solid team. In the group stage, Australia beat Japan 3-1, drew with Croatia and lost to Brazil. Four points proved enough to advance to the next stage. In the round of 16, Hiddink’s team competed well against future winners Italy and only lost to a controversial penalty that Francesco Totti converted in the 95th minute.
Australia traveled to the World Cup again in 2010 and 2014, after they had moved to the Asian qualification zone, but failed to advance beyond the group stage. In South Africa, the Socceroos finished level on points with Ghana, but were behind the African team on goal difference. In Brazil, Australia lost all three games.