Good Hard Look

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Australia peppered the Thai goal but lacked the seasoning to get the bland taste out of the mouth of many fans. Despite the Socceroos’ 2-1 victory at AAMI many were hoping for a big win over Thialand, a side that had only picked up 2 points – conceded 22 goals and with a minus 17 goal difference prior to this meeting. A healthy margin would’ve taken the pressure off Aussie fans, players and coaches who had to wait for the Saudi Arabia and Japan match later that night. A Saudi win would put them back into second on goal difference over the Socceroos so more goals for Australia would’ve come in handy. Unfortunately, Japan couldn’t do the business and Australia are forced into a playoff against surprise package, Syria.

Despite around 75% possession and 45 pings at the target we could only muster up two goals through Tomi Juric and Mathew Leckie. Conceding after Pokkhao Anan netted against the run of play in the 82nd minute also threw a spanner in the works. Australia’s effort was there but the execution was lacking while the Thai players put on a ‘Spartan’ like defensive performance despite having nothing to play for but pride. It was just one of those nights for Australian football not unlike the way the match went in Melbourne back in 1997, you know the one. Of course THAT match had a more definitive outcome than this game, with the worst case scenario now still meaning Australia’s World Cup hopes are alive.

This match aside, the overall campaign has been unsatisfactory for many. It seems odd considering in this phase of qualifying they’ve only lost one game (same as 2014 qualifiers), drawn four (same as 2014), and have a plus five goal difference (same as 2014). Australia guaranteed qualification in 2014 at home in the last round of qualifiers with a late Josh Kennedy goal against bottom-placed Iraq just as tonight a win was achieved at home by a margin of one goal against the bottom side in the group. The major difference is that this time automatic qualification is not in Australia’s hands, there was  a wait and see if Japan can do the country a favour and get a win or a draw against Saudi Arabia. This outcome obviously had a lot of people heading to bed nervy and frustrated, of course those who could sleep. It felt to many that a big win would’ve been the equivalent of direct qualification as it was unlikely that the Saudis would thrash Japan.

This was the closest Australia had come to contemplating a dreaded playoff since joining Asia which we had hoped would provide an easier path to the big dance. Suffering from playoff football heartbreak is no stranger to Australian fans, many of who, knew nothing else until that glorious night in November back in 2005 against the Uruguayans. Perhaps, some complaceny has slipped in under Ange from the public who had been so critical of his predecessors – rightly or wrongly.

In 2013, Australia were led by German coach, Holger Osieck, by the time that final game against Iraq had come around, people had their knives sharpened and Holger was on the cutting block. There was a dissatisfaction with his selection practices – much like now, people questioned his tactics – much like now and the performances and results of the side didn’t inspire any confidence – much like now. Holger and his charges did enough to get to Brazil but it wasn’t enough to salvage the relationship between the team and the public. The division between the national team and the fans had never been greater. Calls were coming thick and fast from all sectors for a change of playing and coaching personnel. Qualification wasn’t enough, scraping by wasn’t enough, the public and the media demanded more and it had been building.

A change eventually happened after a humiliating couple of losses to Brazil and France in friendlies. Who books matches against two of the best football teams in the world when confidence in the coach and team are at an all-time low? Anyway, Ange Postecoglou was appointed the new manager as many had hoped. It was a remarkable appointment for it instantly galvanised the public and the team once more. Ange was one of us and he had shown his worth with Brisbane Roar. There was a new sense of hope for the future, albeit many were waiting until after the World Cup because of the horror draw Australia received, pitting them against Chile, the Netherlands and Spain. The team surprised many with their overall performance in Brazil despite not yielding any points. The future looked bright and we had seen some of the fringe players given more responsibility and game time.

A home Asian Cup was coming up, expectations and confidence were high.

It was clear from the start, there wasn’t the skepticism involved as there was with Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck And the grey skies had cleared up. People were prepared to give Ange time; a disappointing result was met with “the players are still learning the system”, “Ange is blooding new players”, “it’s all about being ready for the Asian Cup”. Ange didn’t need to say anything because there were more than enough willing to offer the excuses to keep the good feelings going. Support for the national team is important especially game day and even under Holger and Pim this happened, it was in between games where the treatment was very different.

Ange had been in the media, coaching, and playing in Australia for decades – so it is no surprise having friends throughout Australian football that he would be afforded more leeway than managers who were previously unknown in Australia. Having said that, Frank Farina and Graham Arnold probably wouldn’t have minded the Ange treatment. For some reason, Ange seems to have an aura about him which largely kept honest assessments of him from penetrating, until recently. Every manager around the world has been criticised, questioned and even sacked at some stage, its par for the course and now Ange is experiencing what it is like leading a nation to a World Cup.

Is it possible that people have a personal agenda against Ange Postecoglou? Sure, in a small circle like Australian football there will always be people who don’t get along nor see eye to eye. It is more likely that most critics are concerned about the performances and some of the results. People claiming a personal agenda against Ange are doing so because it is an easy go to. It is normal when defending something or someone to create a victim mentality where that which you are defending is being unfairly targeted. Some people think last night is the reason others are reacting but again that is another way a side’s point gets diminished by making them look knee-jerky and irrational.

Australian football needs to drop this idolisation of certain figures in our game. No person is infallible whether it be Johnny Warren or David Gallop, Ange Postecoglou or Rale Rasic. it wasn’t that long ago that Frank Lowy was hailed as the savior of football in Australia and allowed to run the game like a personal fiefdom. The only way the game goes forward is with honest and sometimes harsh assessment. Pom poms are great between kick off and the final whistle but once that 90 minutes is up and until the next game we need to analyse, consider, question everything and every body involved. This isn’t hating, this isn’t being negative, it’s called doing your due diligence which is something that has been lacking in our game for too long.

Ange Postecoglou is the manager and he and the players should be given all the support they need against Syria and whoever the 4th placed CONCACAF opponent ends up being. This support needn’t be blind and absent of honest assessment. We need to have our eyes wide open so we can see where we are going.

Adam Howard

Adam is one of the founders of Football Central and the creator of OSAussies.com.  He has followed the career paths of Australian footballers playing in leagues all over the world.  Born in Adelaide and currently residing in Hiroshima, Adam brings a unique perspective to Australian football.  He is an ardent supporter of Australia's domestic competition and national team.

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