Monday, November 26, 2007


The Draw - update

Well, we can't really complain. Our qualifying group for the Asian Cup was very straightforward, and even our group at the tournament itself was not quite the horror pairing it was dubbed in retrospect.

Our initial qualifying group for the World Cup, however, is a banana skin.

The Iraqis, fresh from their Asian Cup triumph, will surely feel that World Cup qualification is not by any means beyond them. A little confidence is a dangerous thing...especially considering they defeated Australia so comprehensively in Thailand.

It should be noted, though, that Iraq will be playing its "home" games away from the country, for obvious reasons. A small plus for their opponents, Australia included.

Qatar is not to be underestimated either. They had their moments at the Asian Cup, most of them provided by their powerful striker, the naturalised Uruguayan Sebastian Quintana, who caused the Japanese plenty of problems.

I tend to think, however, that China will be the main danger in the group, for a couple of reasons. First, they will be eager to succeed after the vast disappointment of the 2006 qualifying campaign, when they were knocked out so early. With another failure at the 2007 Asian Cup, they will have plenty of motivation to succeed...and their side is not without talent, by any means.

Secondly, the game in China will be perhaps the only away game for which our choice of personnel will probably be circumscribed by the distance from Europe. In some ways, it would have been in our favour to have three West Asian teams in the group.

Thank heavens the top two, not just the group winner, will qualify for the next stage.

After yesterday's dreary Sydney v. Queensland game, I had the pleasure of chatting with an experienced, knowledgeable Japanese football journalist, in town for the AFC Awards ceremony on Wednesday. Inevitably, we got talking about the World Cup qualifiers, and he smiled knowingly when I mentioned that Australia might find the novelty of a far-flung qualifying campaign difficult to negotiate.

"In Asia," he said, "the football is the least important thing. What matters is just surviving the travelling."

He was only half joking, I suspect.

Well, that could have worked out better.

This group is arguably the toughest on paper, but one saving grace is that it appears none of our away matches will be in the tropics, remote regions such as Central Asia, or the more (shall we say) politically fanatic nations.

South Korea's group looks like a logistical nightmare, while Iran's group looks similarly difficult to ours in quality, so I certainly won't be crying about our bad luck.

All the groups look tough enough, so I don't really subscribe to the Group Of Death references that are so prevalent today. It would also help if some of our self-proclaimed superstars see this draw as a wakeup call that the A-League players can't do this on their own. It's good to see David Carney wanting to play in all of these matches.

But isn't it great having a proper World Cup path for the first time?
Well all of them except the Saudi's group...
I'm concerned about the two matches played in the middle-east. The first is against Iraq (probably in Qatar) on June 14th. The second will be against Qatar, also in Qatar, on September 6th. It will be insufferably hot at that time of the year. The daytime temperature will be about 40 degree, but with fairly high humidity.

We've all seen how our European players performed in the Asian Cup in slightly cooler, but more humid conditions. If the Socceroos don't have long training camps in those conditions, they will really struggle again. This is just what I predicted in the Asian Cup. Unfortunately I was right. The Euro season breaks in mid June, but the guys will need to train for the match against Iraq in extreme heat. The September Qatar fixture may be difficult to get players released for an adequate period of time.
I think the safest thing to do is to revert back to the Pre-16/11/05 mindset of "we are getting our hearts broken again" and then be pleasantly surprised when we sneak through to the 2010 event.
Will be interesting to see the Chinese u/23s next year and see how many of the players play in both the Olympics and WC quals...

If they ever got their act together, the prospect is scary (but great for Asian football).
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