The 2015 Asian Cup isn’t as glamorous a prize as Cathy Freeman’s Olympic gold, an Ashes whitewash or Lleyton Hewitt winning Wimbledon.
But if Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos were to lift the trophy at ANZ Stadium on January 31 it would be up there with our nation’s most incredible sporting achievements.
We waited too long to blood the next generation
The timing of generational change is difficult to master but, in hindsight, Football Federation Australia and former national coaches got it all wrong.
We can blame this for the present Socceroos malaise.
The ‘Golden Generation’ and other ageing players hung around, meaning the current crop of Socceroos are under experienced.
For example, Nathan Burns, Tommy Oar, Matthew Spiranovic and Robbie Kruse were all on the bench at the 2011 Asian Cup, but giving them more responsibility then would have made them better now.
Some may say that those frozen out were too young or too inexperienced to jump right into the team but they would have repaid the faith shown in them.
Factor in the way the delayed inaugural 2005 A-League season stunted the growth of our current 26-30 year olds by depriving them of a year of national competition and it becomes clear why we are in a hole.
New game plan: we will one day master it … but when?
Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck had little faith in the technical and attacking ability of Australian footballers.
They opted for teams that defended deep, weren’t pro-active in games and relied on older players.
Postecoglou has operated with the opposite emphasis, which was a welcome change in Brazil. But because of Osieck and Verbeek’s approaches he has had to go back to the drawing board.
Since the World Cup the team has battled to get results – or even score – while Postecoglou tinkers the game plan and teaches his squad their updated mode of play.
This is another reason the Socceroos are not yet primed for Asian Cup success; there has not really been enough time for the squad to fully adjust.
Of course, Postecoglou and the players won’t admit this, but if you go by results and performances in the four games since Brazil it’s clear the team isn’t functioning at its optimum level.
There is also the lack of a pre-tournament friendly, with our last game being a 1-0 loss to Qatar in mid-October. This decision is baffling.
Home crowds are great, but they can’t play for you
The mind drifts to Brazil failing last year at their home World Cup, Germany similarly in 2006 and Bayern Munich choking in the 2012 Champions League final in Munich.
A host country has not won the Asian Cup since Japan in 1992.
Even if your home crowd is raucous and intimidating in its support, you will only win the Asian Cup by being the best team.
Brazil’s 7-1 semi-final capitulation in 2014 to Germany, or Germany’s loss to Italy in the corresponding clash of the 2006 World Cup at the Westfalenstadion prove this.
Both of those stadiums were absolute fortresses for the home sides before those failures.
The level of quality in this tournament is high
There are no easy-beats in this tournament and the Socceroos cannot afford to pencil in any result.
As well as the three clear favourites (Japan, Korean Republic and Iran), there are a host of mid-level sides that could quite easily go far in the tournament (Uzbekistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, China).
As in 2011 and 2007, we’re not a class above most of the sides in this tournament.
If anything, we sit below the top three with the rest right on our heels.
In the Asian Cup and qualifying rounds we have drawn with Oman and lost to Iraq and Kuwait, while in recent friendlies we went down to Qatar and drew with the UAE.
Japan, in particular, are miles ahead, with players like Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Yuto Nagamoto while South Korea boast Ki Sung Yeung and Son Heung-min.
Iran don’t have the big names but they do have a star coach in Carlos Queiroz, underrated players like Javad Nekounam and Karim Ansarifard and are coming off a superb 2014 World Cup where they pushed Argentina more than any other team in the group.
There simply isn’t that kind of quality or depth at Postecoglou’s disposal.
However … we CAN still win!
Football’s a funny old game.
Despite the aforementioned, it is still possible to see Postecoglou and Mile Jedinak holding the Asian Cup trophy aloft.
Every Australian supporter should expect the Socceroos to challenge good sides and we will certainly have our moments in the next month. And there is Tim Cahill, and that head.
But all indicators are that we will have neither the class, the system nor the experience to go all the way.
And if we do, it must go down as one of Australia’s finest sporting achievements.