Captain: Mile Jedinak
Manager: Bert van Marwijk
FIFA rank: 40
How they qualified: Third in Asian Group B (round three) behind Japan and Saudi Arabia, then play-off wins against Syria and Honduras
Preferred system: 3-4-1-2 (may change under new manager)
Star player: Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield Town)
One to watch: Mathew Leckie (Hertha Berlin)
The 31st team to qualify worked harder than anyone else, with around 250,000km travelled and trips to far-flung destinations such as Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Iran, Japan, Malaysia and Honduras. The Socceroos’ place in Russia is secure but the identity of the manager who will lead them there remains a mystery after Ange Postecoglou quit following the play-off win over Honduras in November. As such, Australia present something of a challenge for opponents scouting them, and uncertainty hangs over whether Postecoglou’s preferred and controversial 3-2-4-1 will be retained, as well as over the names that will fill those starting slots. There is still an over-reliance on Tim Cahill who is now 38 for goals but with Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic and Massimo Luongo, there is talent elsewhere; how to get the best out of them and their teammates will depend on how they connect is such a short period of time under new management.
The Socceroos qualified the hard way after finishing third behind Japan and Saudi Arabia in Group B of Asia’s third qualification round. Two-legged playoffs against Syria and Honduras followed, and success in these crunch games secured Australia a berth in a fourth consecutive World Cup. Immediately after booking their place, though, coach Ange Postecoglou announced his resignation.
Attacking at all costs saw the Socceroos enjoy unprecedented success under the guidance of Postecoglou, and that attitude is almost certain to prevail for the foreseeable future, including when the team takes to the pitch in Russia. That will be mildly tempered by short-term boss Bert van Marwijk, who will insist his midfield and defence clamp down on the opposition.
So, all going to plan for the Socceroos, the balance of the side should be its greatest strength. This strategy also plays to the strengths of the personnel at Van Marwijk disposal, with key midfielders Aaron Mooy, Massimo Luongo and Tom Rogic all capable of becoming the fulcrum of the team at any moment.
Losing an influential coach is always difficult, but when a side is only months out from the biggest competition of all, that loss is felt even deeper. The Socceroos players will not come out publicly to acknowledge the hole that is Postecoglou’s absence, but they will know he should be there with them. That sense of something missing will likely linger in the dressing room, particularly at the start of the tournament. That said, a strong early showing against France in their opener in Kazan could erase many of those feelings, giving the players greater faith in Van Marwijk despite his confirmed short tenure.
Aaron Mooy has all the skills needed to make a big name for himself at the World Cup. Already performing solidly in the Premier League for Huddersfield Town, Mooy is strong in the tackle and capable of playing a killer ball in an instant. Indeed, his ability to turn defence into attack swiftly could hold the key to Australia surprising their more fancied Group C opponents. He will need to be at his absolute best to give the Socceroos a fighting chance of sneaking into the round of 16 and, if he is, it would not surprise to see the 27-year-old land a transfer to a bigger club next season.
Expectations are relatively low given the managerial change and tricky group opponents in France, Denmark and Peru. In fact, very few people will give Australia a chance of progressing beyond the group stage. However, with more familiarity of Van Marwijk’s game plan in upcoming friendlies, this team will certainly fight until the bitter end. If they can become difficult enough to break down in defence, they may just eke out one or two positive results. There is no doubt that it’ll be difficult for Australia to finish in the top two of Group C, but in one of the most evenly balanced World Cup draws in recent memory, it’s not entirely implausible. Never count out an Aussie.