If the theme for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil was ‘fearless’, then ‘apprehensive’ might be an apt description for the Socceroos in the Asian Cup on home soil.
Indeed, the tournament that kicks-off tonight is an entirely different ball-game to the one which took place just six months ago.
Back then – pitted in the so-called Group of Death with Netherlands, Spain and a resurgent Chile – expectations of bagging one point, let alone a win against football’s powerhouses, were low.
Following on from back-to-back 6-0 routs at the hands of Brazil and France, a subsequent managerial sacking, appointment of a new boss and squad overhaul, doing the nation proud was virtually the only objective.
Bar the nervous wreck that the Socceroos were in the opening exchanges against Chile, it could be argued that Ange Postecoglou’s troops exceeded expectation.
The lack of public expectation allowed the Aussies to play free-flowing football, offering a glimpse of the supposed bright future which lay ahead.
They were out to prove others wrong, to come home with their heads held high. The Socceroos did just that and their bravery drew plaudits from media across the globe.
The Asian Cup is a different beast, however, and a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the entire campaign.
Expectations are higher. It’s often quoted that results, not performance, matter in big tournaments. Many expect the hosts to deliver both.
The Socceroos, of course, must do well. However, with their world ranking plummeting to 100, and with only one win in 11 matches, there are doubts about their potential.
The Green and Gold outfit, of late, have been criticised for their one-sided nature in attack and their timidity in defence.
Their disposition to throw aerial crosses into the box as a pathway towards goal is predictable. The defence still seems prone to leaking unnecessary goals. And, as highlighted in their most recent outing against Japan, their inability to sustain pressure over long-periods is worrying.
Stories of Australian sporting triumphs have diminished in recent years. The Asian Cup on home soil, though, is a platform for greatness. Success on this stage would go down in national folklore.
The Western Sydney Wanderers’ fairy tale Asian Champions League triumph, and the rapidly growing A-League competition – which year by year attracts greater domestic and international attention – has set the foundations for football to become the nation’s most popular sport.
Indeed, football will continue to grow domestically without a feel-good Socceroos run. Success in the Asian Cup, however, might just prove to be the coming-of-age tournament the national team needs.
It would provide the reassurance that Australia is on the right path to matching it with the best on the international scene.
Nothing great is ever achieved with ease – and the Socceroos’ success is far from a certainty – but one thing is certain, the Asian Cup will be one hell of a ride.comments