Australia has, in an unexpected turn of events, made it to the World Cup for the fifth consecutive time. They also have a bit of a home-court advantage this time around, as COVID restrictions last year meant that all Australian home games to qualify for the World Cup had to be held in Qatar. But before that, actually making it to the biggest football stage of the world came down to the wire for the Outback crew – the Intercontinental Cup playoffs (also held in Qatar). The Aussies managed to overcome Peru in a decisive penalty shootout, securing their spot at this year’s FIFA World Cup.
How do they play?
At three of Australia’s last four outings to the World Cup, there’s always been a dutchman at the helm. But this time the recipe for success calls for local expertise. Enter Graham Arnold – the man who guided the team to the World Cup in the first place. Arnold liked to utilize the 4-man defensive system and initiate the offense with a short pass 9 times out of 10 at the World Cup Qualifiers. Very rarely was the team captain Mat Ryan forced to play a long ball from the goal. Australia prefers to play possession-style football, but as they will need to go up against France and Denmark in the opening rounds, it’s imperative they have a plan B. The perfect opportunities for this will be standard situations and aerial duels. More than a third of Australia’s goals in the Qualifiers were headers and a staggering 9 of them were born out of standard situations. The Aussies do not shy away from taking a shot on the goal from afar if needed either.
Why they can win?
One of Australia’s biggest strengths is that nobody expects anything from them. They were the second to last squad to make the cut and considering their group it would be a miracle to see them advance. Then again, Australia beating Peru and even making it to the World Cup wasn’t on anyone’s bingo card either. So Australia has definitely shown that when push comes to shove, they can keep calm and rise to the challenge. As the match with Peru went into a penalty shootout, Arnold sent in the back-up goalie Andrew Redmayne and a new Australian hero was born. It’s tactical moves like this that can lead Australia to achieve great things at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Why they can lose?
Subtle tactical wizardry may not be enough when Australia faces off against Denmark or France in the group stage. Taking a look at this year’s roster, only one Australian player is employed at any of the big European leagues – the 27-year-old Cadiz forward Awer Mabil. Australia has always had a few Premier League players to help them out at recent World Cups, but this year the herd is quite thin in comparison.
The leading stars
There are no big stars in Australia’s current lineup, but that doesn’t necessarily mean getting results is hopeless. On the contrary – weaker squads typically rely on their goalkeeper and that’s exactly where Mathew Ryan comes into the picture. He has a lot of experience to draw from. After all, he was protecting the net for Arsenal until recently, has a long history playing in the Premier League, and just this autumn was blocking the shot attempts of the big names in Manchester City, Dortmund Borussia, and Sevilla in the Champions League.
The fresh faces
Keep your eyes peeled when the 18-year-old Garang Kuoli takes to the field. The young striker who moved from Egypt to Australia when he was young is currently playing as a forward in the Gold Coast Mariners. However, he’s already signed a pre-contract to don the colours of Newcastle United. The transfer will become official at the start of next year.