Monday, 26 November 2007

Aussies world cup downer

To everything there is a season, so the good book says. Well, reflecting on the sixteen months since Australian football was basking in the glorious German sun in 2006, you'd say that that particular season has turned distinctly and definitively. If the disaster of the Asian Cup finals was our autumn, then all of the portents for the upcoming qualifying season for South Africa in 2010 point to a rather more bleak mid-winter.

And in the last two weeks, Australian football has been hit with a triple onset of gloomy weather. First was the desultory spurning of the national team coaching position by the experienced Dutch manager Dick Advocaat. With many Aussies hoping that with Dick at least matching Guus Hiddink's nationality, that might put him at least part way to matching Hiddink's magic. But we weren't given the chance to find out, as Dick cocked his leg at the FFA and merely used the offer to extract some more roubles out of Zenit St Petersberg.

And in the last week, we have learned that several of the Asian qualifying ties don't fall on FIFA sanctioned international dates, meaning we will likely be denied the services of the bulk of our Europe based stars.

Finally, in last night's World Cup draw from Durban, Australia learned it had earned a spot in the Asian "Group of Death", alongside China, Qatar and its Asian cup nemesis Iraq.

Frank Lowy, godfather of Australian football, had nicked some pretty impressive chinks in the armour of the political juggernaut that is FIFA. Yet the happenings of the past two weeks just serve again to remind Australia how much progress it hasn't made in world football terms.

Not only can't we hold an experienced manager at his word, it is now any one's guess who we can recruit to steer the Socceroo ship through the qualifying campaign. Next, from the crazy match dates, Australia suffers the most of any of the Asian countries, with so many of its players in Europe. Don't expect any favours from Tim Cahill's gaffer at Everton, the anti-international terrorist David Moyes. And to cap it all off, Australia (and China) become the victim of the weird notion not to seed current Asian champions Iraq.

Australia found it tough enough to come to grips with the Asian challenge at this year's tournament in Malaysia and Thailand. The next lesson in its Asian football education looks like it just got a whole heap harder.

Australia made giant, joyous strides in its football journey heading to WC'06. It now faces a perilous path and will be desperate to avoid a slippery slide back down the hill.

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