Sunday, March 29, 2009


The Appropriate Path

Thanks to last night's results in Tashkent and Tehran, Australia could be through to the World Cup in just a few days. A win over Uzbekistan on Wednesday, and a draw in Manama later the same night, would render the remaining Socceroo matches academic.

With that in mind, it was perhaps not surprising that Mike Cockerill was moved to write this piece, which expressed a slightly tongue-in-cheek nostalgia for the agonizing tension of previous Socceroo campaigns. A few of the fans may be missing the Russian roulette aspect of earlier World Cup playoffs, but the FFA would surely be grinning from ear to ear, given the extra lead-in time (sponsors, here we come), and the gate receipts from the several "serious" matches already contested.

And if things don't go our way on Wednesday? Cockerill:

No worries. They'll still have three more chances. That's what moving to Asia has done. Widened the margin for error. It's not easier, as some suggested when the move became official three years ago. But fairer? Definitely.

To my mind, words like "easy" or "fair" miss the point of Australia's move to Asia. There were some who curiously described Australia's path as "too hard" through Oceania, given that we went straight from playing opposition of no consequence to facing a hardened South American (or, in 1997, Asian) outfit. There were others who described it, rather more logically, as too easy, given the weakness of the opposition we faced before the final playoff (as I never tire of pointing out, Australia had to play only four games to qualify for Germany, given that the prior Oceania games were actually Oceania Nations Cup fixtures).

But our current path through Asia is not really "harder" or "easier" than the playoff route. It is simply appropriate.

It was just madness that a country of our relative strength should have had to play a series of gimme games against Pacific cannon fodder, plus New Zealand, before a one-off tie against a serious rival. Qualifying for a World Cup simply shouldn't work like that.

What we have now is a logistically awkward and physically challenging pathway, which has been made to appear easier than it really is by fortuitous results in Kunming, Brisbane, Tashkent, Manama and Yokohama.

Incidentally, the fact that there have been so many strokes of luck along the way makes Craig Foster's questioning of Pim Verbeek's suitability to lead Australia at the tournament itself quite legitimate. And he touches on the key issue towards the end of his article:

The issue is whether these questions will be asked, by whom, and whether Han Berger, the new technical director, is able to ask them of Verbeek, his countryman?

A member of the "Dutch mafia" prepared to grill one of their own? I wouldn't count on it.

"A member of the "Dutch mafia" prepared to grill one of their own? I wouldn't count on it."

Just because their dutch doesn't mean they think alike or support each other. We don't know what's the internal workings of FFA but to say that Han Berger is dutch and Pim Verbeek is dutch then they must be friendly with each other and support each other is a bit much. It's almost accusing Han of being unprofessional and letting nationalistic bias affect his judgment.
Regardless of how Cockerill phrases it, do we want those sorts of qualification adrenalin rushes again ? I, for one, do not. I'd rather we get them at the World Cup proper and I'd rather we qualified well in advance without the desire to induce a heart attack. Qualifying in 2005 was fun in a scary way, but winning at Kaiserslautern was soooooo much more fun (as was the equaliser in Munich - and if we want disappointing adrenalin rushes, the way our campaign ended should have been sufficient). If the last 10 minutes of that game didn't give you any sort of rush, you aren't human.

Let's get there first. You can't go to the party if you don't get an invite.
The missing piece will be the number of kids watching the game - a fraction of the number that saw John Aloisi put us through last time.

FFA will be feeling the pain that this is not free-to-air. Will the A-League get the kick-along, it needs, like it did in 2005?
would addressing Pim reqire dutch courage?
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