Former Football Australia Head of National Performance and eight-time Socceroo Luke Casserly provides a special column to Kick360 ahead of Australia vs France.
After the first two games at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar we have seen our current AFC Asian Cup Champions and host nation Qatar go down 0-2 to Ecuador in a performance that did not show any of the energy, dynamic counter attacking, confidence and team spirit we saw in 2019 as they claimed the AFC Asian Cup in the UAE.
Iran, who have been a force for so long in Asian Football were humbled by England 6-2 where defending seemed to be an optional extra. Under the guide of Carlos Queiroz they had become a superbly well organised Iranian unit with a very good tactical understanding of the game and a steely grit that has made them one of the strongest nations on the continent yet where were these qualities in the opening games?
Do Asian nations who have strong domestic leagues, a very competitive Champions League, large supporter bases, intense media scrutiny on weekly performances go into matches on the world stage with an inferiority complex? Do Asian nations step on the field not believing we can match it with European and South American nations? The approach would suggest so but why?
I think we can all accept a defeat but it is the manner in which these defeats haven’t happened that concerns me. Look at the Socceroos performances in the last two World Cups, performances against Chile & Netherlands in 2014, France & Denmark in 2018.
The match vs Holland in 2014 is probably the best example where we played superb football and I’d say went above going toe to toe with the Netherlands we absolutely outplayed them in the first half and one can never tire of watching Tim Cahill’s outrageous volley that flew into the back of the net.
Yes, this was a loss but the performance had Aussie fans walking out of the stadium buzzing with how we played and how we took it to one of the favourites in the tournament. The second half against Denmark in Russia 2018 was one of the best performances from a Socceroos side in recent memory, a game we drew but deserved to win against a team that took tournament runner up Croatia to penalties in the knockout stages.
Again, it wasn’t a win but it was an Asian nation that did not sit there and feel we didn’t belong, we gave every bit as good as we got and I would much rather see teams that do everything they can to win than enter the game just trying to avoid a defeat or a heavy defeat, with this approach you give yourself no chance of winning and that is something I can never understand.
I have a couple of theories on this, one is foreign coaches. Naturally there is always expertise that we can import into our game but as Ange Postecoglou often refers to, the game in Asia and Australia is just not recognised or respected outside of the traditional nations so the approach from foreign coaches always seems to be pragmatic, never believing our players can dominate a game with the ball and be proactive in matches. We saw this with Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek to a degree whereas with a local coach like Ange, there is belief in our players, there is a belief that we can play a positive brand of football and take the game to other nations.
The second is the leagues our players are playing in, although I mentioned earlier how strong the level of some of our leagues are and Champions League is when players are playing week in week out in top leagues, the players adapt to that level and know they belong, which is what we saw with our team in Germany 2006, they had a good arrogance in their mindset and knew they belonged on that stage an no one could tell them otherwise.
So, what can we expect from the other AFC nations in this World Cup? With the number of Japanese players playing in top leagues in Europe will we see Japan go to the next level in this tournament? I sure hope so, with the right approach I think they can surprise people in Qatar. Will Australia have no fear vs France tomorrow morning and take it to the wire as we did in Russia? Will Saudi Arabia have a similar approach to Iran and Qatar Vs Argentina tonight? Will South Korea back themselves as they did in 2002 in their opener vs Uruguay?
No doubt the tournament will be discussed at length for months after it has concluded but I feel it is time for Asian nations to stand up, know that we belong on the world stage, know that we do develop fantastic players and approach games doing everything we can to win not doing everything we can not to lose. I believe there is a big difference in this mentality and is a step we need to take as a continent.
Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP