The Aussies will be playing in their third straight World Cup, but the personnel has changed considerably.
Only Tim Cahill is expected to make the trip from the country’s “Golden Age” era. He is Australia’s leading scorer in international football and, at 34, will be the senior player in an inexperienced squad which is being groomed for greater things in 2018.
“It’s part of the Australian sports culture, we want our teams to be attacking teams,” Australia coach Ange Postecoglou said, “and our players like to play that way.”
Cahill was part of the 2006 World Cup squad that reached the knockout round but lost to eventual champion Italy on a late penalty. A similar group of players, though four years older, were knocked out in the group stage four years ago in South Africa.
The disappointing showing in South Africa was followed by back-to-back 6-0 routs by Brazil and France in late 2013, causing coach Holger Oseick to lose his job. Postecoglou, the first homegrown coach in almost a decade, took over and has broadened the search for new talent to face Spain, the Netherlands and Chile in Group B in Brazil.
“If there is an opportunity there for us to create some headlines and shock the world, we’ll take it,” Postecoglou said. “I’m trying to put myself in the other coaches’ shoes and they would be saying, ‘When we play Australia we have to win.’ The other three countries expect to get through, and for that to happen they have to beat us. So there is enormous pressure on them.”
Postecoglou made those comments in early March after he selected a new-look squad for a friendly against Ecuador in London – a match the Australians lost 4-3 despite leading 3-0 at halftime.
That squad was missing a host of veterans, including former captain Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano and Josh Kennedy – all well into their 30s – and Brett Holman, who will turn 30 before the World Cup starts.
Still, Postecoglou said he was encouraged by the first half of the match, and is hoping a positive attitude can translate into success in Brazil.