In three years of time, there’s a lot you can’t do and undo.
Despite attention from all the world being focused on the opponents disrespecting the minute of silence to remember the victims of London attacks, Australia must ask themselves some questions. The 3-2 home win in Adelaide against Saudi Arabia – an unconvincing victory – leaves some incertitude, which though doesn’t seem immediately resolvable.
When Ange Postecoglou was appointed by Australia in October 2013, three goals were clear for him: building a new generation of players, trying to make a good impression at 2014 FIFA World Cup (without any hope of going further, since opponents in Group B were Spain, Netherlands and Chile) and most of all getting ready for 2015 AFC Asian Cup, which Australia were going to host in six months from the World Cup.
In his own way, Postecoglou has lived up to his targets: the average-age went down, with new characters; although closing with three losses, Australia did a fair job in Brazil (especially against Netherlands) and mostly Aussies won the AFC Asian Cup for their first time, defeating South Korea in a insanely-packed Stadium Australia (76,385 people watched the game).
Two and a half years later, though, some doubts still remain: for example, about the current generation of players. The previous one – the Golden Generation of Australian football – reached Round of 16 at 2006 FIFA World Cup with Guus Hiddink as head coach. That team featured some super-stars like Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka; they were helped by solid and reliable players (like Mark Schwarzer, Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill and Mark Bresciano).
As for today, everything changed: the average level actually grew, but a real star – to be recognized even in Europe – doesn’t exist.
Actually, there’s one, but Tim Cahill is 37 years-old and already in 2006 he was an important piece of the puzzle for Australia.
Today Australia feature some good players – like Mathew Ryan, Aaron Mooy and Mathew Leckie –, but there’s no star.
And with Asian football raising its level, this is a problem. Furthermore, there’s uncertainty over future and competitiveness of A-League. Let’s face it: this league was born in 2004 and has grown of attractiveness, level of play and innovations (A-League was the first league to try VAR). Average crowds and clubs’ subscribers went up even in 2016-17 season, but it’s a slow and gradual process, less fast than what Australian football probably needs (the movement even put aside, at least for now, A-League expansion).
This actually influences continental performances by Australian clubs. In the dawn of Postecoglou era, Western Sydney Wanderers won 2014 AFC Champions League, knocking out Guangzhou Evergrande in a tough two-legged tie and defeating Al-Hilal in the final. In 2017 edition, A-League clubs’ performances were disappointing: Brisbane Roar, Adelaide United and Western Syndey Wanderers were all knocked out in the group stage (4 wins out of 18 games).
You don’t have to forget another matter: how football is perceived in Australia and especially the national team.
When 2018 World Cup’s presence was at stake in the match against Saudi Arabia (a lost would have been almost fatal), only 30k people showed up in Adelaide for a crucial game, despite Adelaide Oval can actually host almost the double. All of this happened while 95,000 in Melbourne watched the friendly match between Brazil and Argentina; some even question if there are any remedies for this situation.
The latest results almost end up in the background, but they certainly are the most immediate concern.
No one could put Aussies among the sure participants at 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Australia are ready to face Confederations Cup – they’re in a group with Germany, Chile and Cameroon – 12 years after the last time, when Australia were still in the OFC and Golden Generation was in its prime. And when, maybe, everything was simpler.