In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Salvador, the beach side city on Brazil’s north-east coast, played host to the FIFA World Cup draw for next year’s tournament.
With Australia the lowest ranked side heading into the World Cup, at 59th, the expectations have somewhat been reduced especially with a new generation of Socceroos being blooded under new manager Ange Postecoglou.
Yet, what unfolded before our very eyes as football fans right across the country as we remained fixated to their television screens was something we couldn’t have imagined.
Many would have been mortified as Australia drew the reigning world champions, Spain, the other finalist from 2010, Holland, and the 15th ranked Chile.
The few that I sat with couldn’t believe our luck.
Yet I was sitting their cheering with the draw that we managed to extract from the proceedings.
Now many of you would be scratching your heads thinking, “What is this clown dribbling on about?”
“Is he really actually publishing this?”
Well I am and I’m not backing down from such comments.
This is a great draw for the Socceroos on so many levels, both on the pitch for the players but off it too, for you the spectator.
Let’s start with the current world champions in Spain.
They go to Brazil on a mission. A mission to become the first side in the history of football to claim four consecutive major tournaments, having won the last World Cup and won the last two European Championships.
It is a task that Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque and his men will thrive upon completing. They are quality outfit having been at the top of the summit for the last six years and many teams have rarely challenged their “tika-taka” mantra.
With quite a large portion having come through the Barcelona school of football, such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Carlos Puyol, you can understand why they have been so good for so long. To add to that lethal concoction of players with the likes of Sergio Ramos and Jordi Alba in defence, Iker Casillas in between the posts and Juan Mata, Fernando Torres and Fernando Llorente in attack and this side is capable of destroying any team when they want.
Yet, this is a team that is aging and Brazil exposed their weakness as well as a diminishing in the speed of their game in the final of the last Confederations Cup, so there is some frailty to their set up for the Socceroos to tap into.
Then there is the Dutch. The Netherlands will provide as much of a test as the Spanish will, having been the runner up at the last World Cup in South Africa.
They pretty much walked their way through qualification on their way to another World Cup appearance. Their squad has players playing at the top leagues right across Europe and plying their trade at the best teams in the world which means that Australia will be meeting the best of the best.
Robin van Persie scores for fun at Manchester United when he is fit. Arjen Robben follows suit at Bayern Munich. Then there is the dynamic vision of Wesley Sneijder and the impeccable Rafael Van Der Vaart who continue to produce elite football for Galatasaray and Hamburg SV respectively.
There is a huge number who continue to ply their trade in the illustrious Bundesliga in Germany and a younger brigade who are on home soil in the Eredivisie. These players are still continuing to develop under the Dutch philosophy of attacking and complete football. They have a new crop coming through as well as the infused blend of experience from previous campaigns that makes them a real threat for the title.
Their weakness is still their defence which has been made the victim at the expense of their blistering attack. The Dutch haven’t beaten the Socceroos which is some food for thought and a sign that we could once again prove to be a banana skin for a nation who surprisingly have not won the World Cup before.
The last of our opponents is the South American giant in Chile.
Chile produced a scintillating World Cup Qualification campaign, where they were virtually unstoppable on home soil, but had an indifferent away record with a real mix bag of results. With part of their land at altitude, they have that to their advantage over the others in their group. They are going to be used to the hot, humid and at time suffocating conditions of the altitude. The others, including the Socceroos, will have to acclimatise.
They have real attacking threats such as Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal, and they produced their qualities for everybody to see against the likes of the English in the last international period. They have a very young and energetic team, with some developing their football at home in Chile still, or in the likes of the La Liga in Spain.
They have the potential to surprise the likes of Spain and the Netherlands in their group, however their lack of big match experience could be the difference between advancing from the group and not.
As for their record against the Socceroos, it makes for good reading for them with Chile have two wins and a draw to their name.
The Socceroos certainly have an uphill battle with the group they have drawn for next year’s instalment in June.
Postecoglou realises the “challenge” that lies ahead for his side. However, this challenge is something that the likes of Postecoglou will thrive on.
He will realise that we are the underdog and will be happy with the tag. It takes an enormous amount of pressure off the Socceroos to perform unlike the last campaign where we were expected to at least advance from the group stage after the success of 2006.
There is a glaring similarity to 2006 with the current campaign. We are not expected to advance, but merely asked to put up a brave fight and compete with what we are up against.
That is what Australians love to have on their side. The underdog tag, nothing is different this time round.
Postecoglou is likely to pick a relatively young and inexperienced side, with a pinch of the old guard from the last two campaigns.
A group like this provides a learning curve for our next generation of players and is exactly what the doctor ordered under a new leadership in Postecoglou, as we look to develop for future World Cup and continental campaigns.
No one expects success and many expect us to be wiped away by these European and South American powerhouse.
And you know what? That is a great thing because that is when Australia is at its best.
This group can be frightening at first sight.
Let’s embrace the quality on offer and consider it a blessing in disguise.