Our World Cup campaign isn’t over
Forget the doom and gloom. When the going gets tough, the tough get going06 September 2017 | Bonita Mersiades
The results of the two crucial Group B games overnight might spell doom and gloom for most, but there may be one man privately dancing around his kitchen this morning as he bites into his poached eggs with smashed avocado: Chief Financial Officer, David Cohen.
Many see us missing out on direct qualification as also potentially missing out on the World Cup participation grant. Last World Cup it was $12 million; depending on how FIFA finances stack-up, it is likely to be more for 2018. While that is no doubt handy, the participation grant isn't really a stocking-filler for FFA. It pays for being part of the greatest show on earth.
The bills stack-up easy enough. There are the players and non-playing staff and bonuses to be paid. Last World Cup, 75+ management and administrative staff went to Brazil. Then there were approximately 120 others comprised of FFA's members (ie. the state federations and A-League clubs), sponsors, broadcasters and other VIP guests. FFA invites and pays for many of the costs of this group to attend also. By the time all those individual airfares, accommodation and hospitality costs are totalled, there's not really much left out of the FIFA grant.
Instead, what probably has David Cohen dancing is that FFA now has the opportunity to hold at least one, and we hope two, World Cup qualifying matches at home. Both should attract capacity crowds at our biggest venues. No doubt Cohen and FFA would prefer direct qualification but, on the upside, one match at a big stadium with a capacity crowd should net between $4 and $5 million.
But there's more. We didn't aspire to get into Asia to have a sudden-death qualification after a series of easy games.
Perhaps we've been spoiled. We achieved direct qualification the first time in the much-criticised 2010 campaign when Pim Verbeek was in charge. Remember that? We qualified with ease, with two games to spare - and people were unhappy with Pim's pragmatic "We'll do whatever it takes to make it" attitude.
For 2014, we qualified 12 months ahead of the tournament - only to see Holger Osieck hounded-out of the job four months later and replaced by Ange Postecoglou. Despite the popular view that this was a campaign led by a faction of FOX Sports broadcasters, it had more to do with Franz Beckenbauer's and Frank Lowy's deteriorated relationship.
Ange was a breath of fresh air heading into the 2014 tournament. 'In Ange We Trust' became the mantra of Socceroos fans. We won the Asian Cup on home soil.
But then Ange decided to break the template approach of most national team coaches and not simply focus on results, but how he wanted Australia to play and how he believed Australia needed to be if we made it to the World Cup. The trouble is, with last night's results, that particularly fairytale didn't quite work out and some people are baying for a proverbial head to roll.
Seriously? Let's look at the combined table of the top three teams from Groups A and B (in italics).
No doubt there are some games Australia could have/should have won. On another day, they could have/should have scored more goals last night. Likewise, Saudi Arabia - on paper - could have/should have won against the UAE last week also.
However, what this shows is that if the two groups were combined to get the top four from Asia, Australia would have qualified. Further, Australia didn't finish a languishing third in Group B but equal second - only knocked out because of Saudi Arabia's superior goal difference. They scored 17 goals in the current qualifying round with a goal difference of seven. Our goal difference was six from 16 goals scored. Saudi Arabia's number 10, Mohammad Al-Sahlawi, is the leading goalscorer of the entire World Cup qualifying campaign with 16 goals scored, equal with Ahmed Khalil of the UAE.
By comparison - and putting aside the emotion of Syria's wonderful achievement to get to this point - we face an opponent in the matches next month who have scored just nine goals in ten matches. That is not to say the two games will be easy, as John Duerden points out here, but did we enter Asia to have easy games?
We entered Asia to be tested, earn our right, and prove our place in world football's elite competition every four years. If taking part in a play-off in Asia and against CONCACAF's fourth-placed team is where being in Asia has got us to at this point in the qualification process for 2018, so be it.
We had it easy in 2010; it was less smooth in 2014 but we made it; for 2018, it's different - but to put it simply, our World Cup qualifying campaign isn't over.
Forget the doom and gloom and calling for yet another coach's head to roll. We've been here before. Get in there, and get the job done.
As they say in the classics, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And maybe they even have a little dance around the kitchen with David Cohen.
socceroos, world cup qualifier, afc