It’s been four-and-a-half years since the Socceroos’ last World Cup campaign ended, and a sense of optimism is lingering around the team this time around.
Australia last won a match at the World Cup in 2010, with a horrendous 2014 followed up in 2018 by a narrow loss to France, a draw to Germany and a limp showing to finish against Peru.
Like in 2018, the campaign begins with a match against France – and although Blues are now the defending champions, a string of injuries and other off-field issues have plenty of Australians feeling cautiously optimistic.
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Socceroos legend John Aloisi said he sees good times ahead for the new generation.
“Every game is going to have its difficulties and every game is going to have its opportunities as well,” he told Wide World of Sports.
“I see the French game as a massive opportunity – they start their tournaments slow, especially under Didier Deschamps.
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“They’re a pretty pragmatic team – when you look on paper, we shouldn’t have a chance. But when you look at the way that they play their football, if we can frustrate them and make it hard for them to get into a rhythm, you can actually cause them a lot of issues and problems.”
Aloisi noted France’s struggles in 2002, after they were backing up from their 1998 success.
Since then, both Spain (2014 after winning in 2010) and Germany (2018 after winning in 2014) have bombed out in the groups during their title defences.
“Not many nations go back-to-back, I think the last time was Brazil back in 1958 and ’62. So why don’t we look at that as a positive for us, and look at it as an opportunity for us to really cause an upset and get something out of that French game?”
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After that will come a clash with African qualifiers Tunisia – and both nations will likely be looking at that game as their best chance for three points.
“Everyone will look at the Tunisia game and go ‘that’s a must-win’, and I think it is a must-win, but it’s also going to be a very hard game because they’re a good side,” Aloisi said.
“Qualifying through Africa is never easy, they’ve been to six World Cups like us, they’ve got that experience, they’ve got quality players – that will be like a final for both teams, I think, because both teams will look at that game and go ‘we have to win if we have any chance of getting through’, so it will be an amazing game to watch.”
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Plenty has changed on the field for Australia since 2018, but one of the biggest differences will be a tweak in the rule book.
This is the first World Cup where teams can use five substitutes rather than three – which Aloisi thinks will favor a physical, grafting nation such as Australia.
“It definitely helps us, subs make a big difference,” he said.
“A lot of the teams now at the highest level, their wingers are just so good – and then when they take off the winger they bring on another one that’s just as good.
“So if you’re tired your decision making isn’t as good, so don’t be surprised – and back in the day nobody really made substitutions and took off a fullback – now that can happen pretty much because of that reason.
“You’re virtually changing half your team, and so that’s a big plus for a team that runs and fights and works hard so you can keep your intensity at that level for 90 minutes.”
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The Western United boss was front and center for the chaos of Croatia in 2006, and believes Australia could face a repeat scenario in their final game against Denmark.
“I think we can get the win against Tunisia, and I think it will go down to that last game against Denmark,” he said.
“That would be very similar to 2006, that last game against Croatia when we needed a point.
“Hopefully it’s the same case, and how good would that be if we’re fighting until that last game to get something out of the tournament?”
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