World Cup future golden for Asian Cup champions Australia?
Asian Cup champions Australia can boast unprecedented success as both first-time winners and hosts of the competition, with football fever having officially swept the nation.
Critics and spectators worried that sport fans would fail to embrace the pan-Asian tournament, but the Socceroos’ swashbuckling performances soon put paid to any trepidation.
How far they have come since the Asian FA made the controversial decision to allow Australia to switch confederations back in 2005, with that paying dividends for both parties just 10 years later.
However, with the old guard and last remaining representatives of a so-called ‘golden generation’, such as Tim Cahill and Mark Bresciano entering the final phases of their careers, what next for the Socceroos?
Having swept past regional giants South Korea in the final to make strides in their bid for Asian football domination, surely all eyes will now turn to the World Cup.
National coach Ange Postecoglou has etched his, and the Socceroos’ stars, names into Aussie sporting history, but had to contend with many pundits questioning his methods in the build-up to the Asian Cup. Had the energetic James Troisi failed to find the target with his extra-time winner, the future could look very different indeed.
A policy of blooding new players has, however, been key to silverware success, and Postecoglou has his sights set on moulding a new wave of starlets to “break the South American and European monopoly on the World Cup”.
Speaking recently, Asian Cup winning coach Postecoglou said: “We should not rest on our laurels just because we have won this tournament here. This is not the end of the journey, in many respects for us it’s the beginning. I think we have given this game a kick along in this country.”
With Russia 2018 in mind, crafty Postecoglou will be aware that a tournament run which, although it did see the Socceroos cross swords with the Taegeuk Warriors twice, offered a fairly smooth passage to the final against opponents such as Oman, Kuwait and China, will not be enough to prepare for a World Cup.
A friendly clash with current world champions Germany should act as more of an acid test to measure the Socceroos’ true potential and will hopefully see the younger squad members, emboldened by Asian Cup medals, step up.
The likes of Cahill and Bresciano, who did shine in Brazil against the supposed superiority of Chile, Spain and the Netherlands, have had their shot at making an impression in the hunt for football’s biggest prize.
With four years further experience under their belts by the time Russia 2018 rolls around, Massimo Luongo, who was crowned Asian Cup 2015’s Best Player, and Mat Ryan, named best stopper, should be the new household names.
Luongo, currently plying his trade for Swindon Town in League One, excelled for his nation and, should he continue to develop at this rate, looks set to be the Socceroos’ driving force for years to come.
A dynamic box-to-box midfielder, unafraid to to tussle for the ball or take responsibility further forward, Luongo illustrated he has all the tools to develop into a top tier player.
Whilst Postecoglou’s speculation that the 22-year-old “might end up” at a club like Barcelona or Real Madrid seems outlandish at this stage, Luongo’s ceiling is certainly higher than England’s third tier.
Commanding keeper Ryan, meanwhile, has already been tipped to have tickled the fancy of European giants like Liverpool, so the Socceroos number one position should also be in safe hands for the foreseeable future. With a propensity for show-stopping saves, the flexible custodian’s future looks bright.
Added into this mix is a sturdy and assured Australian centre back pairing of Trent Sainsbury and Matt Spiranovic, future frontman in waiting Tomi Juric, and the as of yet untapped potential of Eredivisie star Tommy Oar, meaning the Socceroos should be primed to make a real impact in Russia.