New-look Aussies hoping for a miracle
WHEN asked what he thought about his team being drawn with Australia, the Netherlands and Chile at the World Cup, Spain's coach Vicente del Bosque said he didn't believe it should be called the Group of Death.
"We have to define it as complicated, but I don't believe this is the Group of Death," he said.
"There are others very hard. We are going to have to be prepared from the first day. The Netherlands are going to be demanding. Australia is an unknown team, but not less tough."
To illustrate the difference between the teams, the Socceroos, the lowest-ranked side in the tournament at No. 62, are worth a little more than $60 million, while Spain's Andre Iniesta alone is worth $74 million.
Del Bosque, who led Spain to victory in the final against the Netherlands in South Africa in 2010, may think the draw is "complicated", but Australian fans would almost unanimously agree the Socceroos could not have drawn a harder group.
Betting agencies agree, with $7 on offer for Ange Postecoglou's men to beat Chile in game one, $9 to beat the Netherlands in game two, and $13 to knock off titleholder Spain in the final group match.
Not only are we long odds to win any of our three matches, the favourite in the betting for most goals for the Socceroos is "no goals" at $3.75, just ahead of star striker Tim Cahill at $4.
Therein lies Australia's biggest problem.
Creating quality scoring opportunities will be a monumental task for the Socceroos who go into the tournament with a new-look side under Postecoglou.
Previous coach Holger Osieck was reluctant to make changes to our aging squad, and paid the price following embarrassing 6-0 losses to Brazil and France in friendlies last year. The new manager had no such issues.
First to be told their time was up were captain Lucas Neill and experienced midfielder Brett Holman.
Postecoglou then showed he was already thinking about next year's Asian Cup by leaving out Josh Kennedy, the man who secured our place in Brazil with a goal in the final qualifier against Iraq, and veteran defender Luke Wilkshire.
The new-look line-up showed it had the makings of a competitive team with a 1-0 loss to world No.18 Croatia in its final warm-up match in Brazil last weekend.
The defence, anchored by the new combination of Alex Wilkinson and Matthew Spiranovic, was solid, but the midfield struggled to set up scoring chances, although the experienced Mark Bresciano showed his class when he came off the bench and will surely start the opening match against Chile.
So, while the odds are stacked against the Socceroos even managing a draw in its three group games, stranger things have happened in World Cups.
The most recent example came in South Africa in 2010 when New Zealand drew 1-1 with Italy.
Aussie fans will be hoping for a similar miracle, something akin to the win on penalties against Uruguay that qualified the team for the 2006 World Cup.
That was also regarded as an impossible dream.