Aloisi’s first KEEPUP column: How Australia can make a global statement

We must never forget how difficult it used to be qualifying for FIFA Men’s World Cups. That’s why we have every right to be excited to have qualified for a fifth straight tournament.

But we can’t be happy merely qualifying, the Socceroos must seize the moment as they have a chance to make a statement to the world.

Beyond our borders, no-one is expecting Australia to make an impact, but we arrive in Qatar with a capable squad and some unpredictability, armed with some exciting young players who are emerging.

It’s a tough group with France, Denmark and Tunisia, and few will predict us to advance. The Aussies don’t mind being underdogs. Our understanding of Qatar, knowing the environment, the hotels, the conditions, the stadiums all play into our hands.

Not only have we played many matches there, our decisive qualifying wins over UAE and Peru were played there, and the unique conditions give us a kind of home ground edge, as our three opponents aren’t used to it and have a limited acclimatisation period.

THE SQUAD

This World Cup is unique, different to any other being mid-season and such a short lead in of six or so days then straight into the three games.

Usually the World Cup preparation is closer to three weeks, incorporating the pre-camp and lead in and would include at least two friendlies. Teams that go deep are there for 40-50 days (even longer for finalists), and even those bundled out in the group phase have at least 30 days together.

Coaches always weigh up various factors when picking squads, and team harmony would usually be one of them for a longer tournament.

I don’t think coach Graham Arnold would have placed as much emphasis on harmony in picking his Qatar squad. The exception is perhaps the goalkeeping position. 

Players won’t always get on with everyone, and most tension can arise between players battling for a particular position. Little cliques can form, complaints can get louder. It can be disruptive because you’re together 24/7 for this period – training, living, eating and virtually sleeping together.

I saw the effect of the tension between goalkeepers Mark Schwarzer and Zeljko Kalac in 2006. I’m not saying they didn’t like each other, there was just an intense rivalry and both players thought they were worthy of starting. Guus Hiddink didn’t really have a number one at that stage. It can have an effect on their performance and I thought it affected both of them in the end, with Kalac playing once against Croatia and Schwarzer starting the rest.

Perhaps this was factored into the decision to omit Mitch Langerak, who’s been in unbelievable form in the J-League for the last few years and had another great season.

Socceroos keeper coach John Crawley had a big say in the call, and he has worked with all three goalkeepers picked – Mat Ryan, Andrew Redmayne and Danny Vukovic. Team harmony is the only reason I can think of for the omission, as there clearly would’ve been debate around the no.1 shirt with Ryan not playing regularly for Danish club FC Copenhagen.

Captain Mat Ryan training in Doha at the Socceroos’ Aspire Academy base.

But Ryan has been the Socceroos’ no.1 since 2014, he wears the captain’s armband and he is said to have really taken seriously to his leadership responsibilities.

WORLD CUP EXPERIENCE

The 26 players who’ll wear the Socceroos shirt in Qatar are in the midst of an unforgettable experience.

When I reflect on my World Cup experience in 2006, the memories remain so vivid.

My Mexican club coach at Osasuna, Javier Aguirre, had played and coached at World Cups for his country, said it was the best experience you can possibly have as a footballer. I thought, how different can it be, playing in La Liga against Real Madrid and Barcelona?

We’d never experienced that as a national team having not qualified since 1974. 

Most of us weren’t born or had no recollection.

Once I experienced Germany 2006 I knew exactly what Aguirre meant.

We had 10,000 fans attending some training sessions, hundreds of cameras at press conferences, fans luring around the buses and hotels. 

Socceroos fans flocked to training sessions at Germany 2006.

Socceroos jerseys were everywhere, we were outnumbering the Japanese and Italians, we were 50-50 with the Brazilians in Munich, and against Croatia the atmosphere was one of the best I’ve experienced.

Then we saw footage from back home, Federation Square and other public places packed, people watching it in bars, restaurants. 

These experiences all give the players a lift, it gave me energy. We felt it during that World Cup that we could beat anyone. I reckon these players will get a huge lift when they see and hear the Aussie supporters.

The eyes of the world are on all World Cup games. In 2006, our late come-from-behind win over Japan really put us on the map.

That match showed how fine a line World Cup matches can be. We were still 1-0 down in the 75th minute when I came on for Luke Wilkshire and I honestly can’t remember what Guus Hiddink said to me.

I just recall needing to give the team energy, and getting a yellow card within a minute of coming on and moments later taking a free-kick.

When Timmy Cahill equalised, I asked Guus if he wants me to drop back – myself, Josh Kennedy, Dukes (Mark Viduka), Timmy and Harry Kewell were all on the pitch. He said ‘no, we’re going for it’. 

I thought great, he clearly wouldn’t settle for a draw and the energy from Guus with the momentum going our way meant we were very clear about our roles on the pitch.

The Socceroos celebrate John Aloisi’s goal at the Fritz Walter Stadium, which secured a 3-1 win.

Scoring the third goal, after Timmy’s second was a great feeling and 3-1 just made us comfortable and was the cherry on top.

I felt every emotion at the final whistle, including relief and joy. That was our World Cup final. We wanted to show the world what we were capable of doing as nation and we did, creating history with our first World Cup win.

The Socceroos can make almighty statement against France in their opening match and put themselves and their country on the map.

Anything is possible in Qatar.