Round of 16: 1 (2006)
Group Stage: 4 (1974, 2010, 2014, 2018)
Current FIFA Ranking: 38
Group D Schedule
Game 1 – Tuesday 22nd November 2022
22:00 Qatar Time/19:00 GMT
Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Game 2 – Saturday 26th November 2022
13:00 Qatar Time/10:00 GMT
Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Game 3 – Wednesday 30th November 2022
18:00 Qatar Time/13:00 GMT
Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
In addition to lifting the OFC Nations Cup on four occasions (1980, 1996, 2000, 2004), the Australians won their first Asian Cup in 2015. A runners-up spot in the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1997 was followed up four years later by a third place finish.
Though not as immediately recognisable or indeed as successful as the Australian rugby and cricket sides, Australia has a long history in football. Australia played their first match on 17 June 1922, a 3-1 defeat to New Zealand. Decades later, Australia hosted the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. However, it was a disappointing showing as they lost 4-2 to India from a 2-2 position.
The fact that Australia’s first World Cup appearance was in 1974 is of little surprise, given their history. Isolated geographically before the advent of cheap air travel, Australia’s exposure to international football was often limited to contests with South Africa and New Zealand, neither of whom could claim to be major footballing nations at the time. The disparity was so great that in 1951, a touring England side was able to register a 17-0 win. Improvement was gradual but significant, culminating in a 3-2 victory over South Korea in an invitational tournament. However, this achievement didn’t register domestically.
The Curse of the Inter-Confederation Play-Off
The inter-confederation play-off format for the World Cup proved to be Australia’s bane for 40 years. There were many examples of the Aussies coming close to qualification. For the 1966 World Cup, North Korea inflicted a 9-2 humiliation on Australia in the play-off. The North Koreans were a talented side and would make the quarter-finals at the tournament, which, in retrospect, softened the blow. For the 1970 edition, there was an aggregate 2-1 loss to Israel. For the 1986 edition, Scotland defeated Australia 2-0 in Glasgow, one of the goals being a free-kick. The second leg finished goalless, so Scotland advanced 2-0 on aggregate. For the 1994 tournament, Australia produced their most impressive performance yet, coming extremely close against ninth-ranked (in the world) Argentina, losing 2-1 on aggregate. Their performances were so impressive that the Argentine superstar Diego Maradona remarked, “Your tears of pain will one day be tears of joy” to Australia captain Paul Wade. High praise indeed, coming from a man now considered one of the greatest players of all time. 1998 was particularly painful. English coach Terry Venables had been appointed, and after a 0-0 draw in Iran, Australia led 2-0 in Melbourne. However, Iran fought back to score two goals and eliminate the Australians on the away goal rule. It was a devastating loss. In 2002, Uruguay proved too strong, overturning a 1-0 Australia win in Melbourne with a 3-0 victory in Montevideo.
It was clear that the play-off was a severe problem for Australia. It had been punctuated only by a goalless appearance in the 1974 World Cup, although they did manage a draw with Chile there and faced strong opponents in the form of West Germany and East Germany. During these decades, Australia had some household names at their disposal, including Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell, Tim Cahill, Mark Bosnich, Brett Emerton, Mark Schwarzer, Mark Bresciano, Lucas Neill, and John Aloisi. This improved talent pool had helped, but they still could not qualify. The game, however, steadily grew in stature, particularly amongst the European migrant communities.
Joining AFC and the 2006 World Cup
The main thing which changed for Australia was being admitted to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2006. Playing in the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) had long been an issue for Australia. First, there was the quality of OFC. The teams there are generally very weak, and Australia’s only modicum of competition was New Zealand. Second, OFC has yet to have a guaranteed place in the tournament (though this is set to change in 2026). Therefore, the confederation’s best team (Australia) always had to negotiate a play-off against a team from another continent. In joining AFC, Australia had the opportunity to improve through exposure to better teams and – just as importantly – the promise of automatic qualification without a play-off with teams from other confederations being necessary.
Australia did indeed improve. The 2006 World Cup can be considered an unqualified success. Firstly, they qualified after a vengeful play-off victory against Uruguay, winning 4-2 on penalties. In the tournament proper, Australia’s first World Cup goals were scored over a hectic eight minutes towards the end of a 3-1 victory over Japan. Following a 2-0 defeat to reigning champions Brazil, Australia managed a 2-2 draw with Croatia to progress beyond the group stage for the only time in their history. A highly creditable performance in a 1-0 defeat to eventual champions Italy followed in the round of 16, at the expense of a very controversial 93rd-minute Francesco Totti penalty. It seemed as though Australia had arrived on the world stage and were destined for better things.
Getting Accustomed to AFC: The 2010 and 2014 World Cups
Australia made it to the quarter-finals in their first Asian Cup in 2007. They were comfortable in their new surroundings. In qualification for the 2010 World Cup, Australia and Qatar qualified for the fourth round in a group also comprising Iraq and China. In the fourth round, Australia were brilliant, winning six and drawing two of their eight games. The highlight was a 2-1 victory at home to Japan, with that goal being the only one they conceded in the group. At the tournament, however, they started with a heavily criticised 4-0 defeat to a revitalised German side. Though they restored some pride with a 1-1 draw to Ghana and a 2-1 win over Serbia, they could not progress to the round of 16.
In 2014 qualifying, they made easy work of the first section, finishing seven points above Oman. The final phase proved more awkward than in 2010, with them finishing second to Japan. Still, they had qualified automatically and looked forward to their third successive World Cup. However, another failure to emerge from the group stage followed. In facing three strong opponents in Chile, Netherlands and Spain, Australia’s performances were commended despite suffering three defeats. There was a belief that a new Golden Generation was emerging.
Asian Cup Triumph and the Next Seven Years
Indeed, this belief proved somewhat true when Australia hosted and won their first Asian Cup the following year. After coming through the group stage in second place to South Korea, including a 4-1 victory over Kuwait and a 4-0 win over Oman, Australia then defeated China 2-0 in Brisbane with two Tim Cahill goals. A 2-0 victory over the United Arab Emirates ensued in the semi-final. In the final, Australia exacted revenge on South Korea for the group phase, winning 2-1 after extra time in Sydney with a tap-in from James Troisi. A late equaliser from Son Heung-min had sent the game to extra time. This triumph prompted jubilant scenes. The Australians had been vindicated in joining the Asian confederation and had proved to any doubters that they belonged to be there.
However, in 2018 World Cup qualification, things could have gone better. Drawn into a challenging final section, Australia finished third to Japan and Saudi Arabia. In the fourth round two-legged play-off to decide who would go to the inter-continental play-off, they just got past Syria, 3-2 on aggregate after extra time. This victory led Australia to a tie with CONCACAF nation Honduras. After a 0-0 draw in San Pedro Sula, a Mile Jedinak hat-trick in Sydney secured qualification. The tournament itself yielded another creditable effort, with a narrow 2-1 defeat to eventual champions France and an excellent performance in a 1-1 draw with Denmark. Sadly, Australia performed poorly in the final group game against an already-eliminated Peru and exited at the first hurdle for the third successive edition.
As defending champions in the 2019 Asian Cup, Australia exited at the quarter-final stage after a 1-0 defeat to the host country, the UAE. However, a 5-4 penalty shootout win over Peru following a 0-0 draw ensured Australia’s participation in a fifth consecutive World Cup tournament following another brutal qualification campaign. The switch to AFC has clearly paid dividends. Another formidable group awaits Australia in 2022. Indeed, they face off against reigning champions France and Euro 2020 semi-finalists Denmark again, with 3rd ranked African nation Tunisia in place of Peru. Can Australia go one better this time and emerge from the group stage?
Road to Qualification
AFC Group B: 3rd
Record: Played:10 W:4 D:3 L:3 F:15 A:9 GD:+6 Points:15
Australia made short work of the second round, winning all eight games with a goal difference of 26 in a section also containing Kuwait, Jordan, Nepal, and Chinese Taipei. Such is the nature of AFC qualifying, the top two teams in each of the final groups in the third round qualify for the tournament automatically, whereas the two third-place teams face off for the right to enter the final hurdle – the inter-confederation play-off. Australia started well in the third round, beating China, Vietnam and Oman. However, a defeat away to rivals Japan and draws to Saudi Arabia and China meant that Australia had 11 points from six games. In a fight for the top two places with both Japan and Saudi Arabia, and with Oman close behind, Australia only took four of the following nine points, culminating in a profoundly disappointing 2-0 loss at home to Japan. They entered the final game guaranteed third place. However, a 1-0 defeat in Saudi Arabia left them 8 points behind the Saudis and 7 points behind Japan, leading to concern over the AFC play-off against the United Arab Emirates.
In the single-leg play-off against the UAE in Qatar this summer, Australia scraped through with an 84th-minute Ajdin Hrustic winner. Six days later came the final game against Peru, where the Socceroos, as underdogs, won on sudden death on penalties after a goalless a low-quality 120 minutes. Australia had made it, but it had not been pretty. Their qualification campaign had been underwhelming and, at times, disappointing. Failure to beat Japan and Saudi Arabia over the course of four games represents a relatively poor return. None of which matters now, of course, but Australia will need to set higher standards to compete in a tough group.
Meet the Coach: Graham Arnold (age 59)
The former Australia international striker has had a long and distinguished management career in Australia’s premier competition, the A-League, winning two A-League Grand Finals. Arnold has previously been involved in the Australia setup as assistant, caretaker manager and Under 23 coach.
His job as head coach began disappointingly, with Australia being eliminated in the quarter-finals of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, and the team criticised for a poor performance. Interestingly, in the final qualifier against Peru, Arnold pulled the same trick Dutch coach Louis Van Gaal did with the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup. He replaced goalkeeper Mathew Ryan with Andrew Redmayne for the shootout, where Redmayne saved a decisive penalty. This event is evidence that Arnold is not afraid to try something drastic if he thinks it will result in a positive outcome.
Despite Australia’s patchy form during World Cup qualifying, Arnold was retained as coach in the name of stability- a decision that was arguably vindicated following qualification for Qatar. He will look to play controlled but pragmatic football in the desert nation.
Possible Starting XI and Style of Play
Australia are expected to adopt a generally cautious outlook owing to the strength of the opposition and tend to operate with a 4-3-3 with deeper midfielders in more arduous contests. Goalkeeper Matt Ryan is a mainstay in the team. Arnold will try to get a possession foothold whilst retaining a defensive framework, but this will not be easy against superior squads in the French and the Danes. The Tunisia match represents their best hope of putting points on the board. However, even there, the Tunisians are no pushovers. Against them, we may see more expansiveness and a return to the 4-1-4-1 formation used in the qualifying play-off games. Overall, the Australians’ best hope of qualification for the round of 16 is to grind out draws against the two European nations and beat the Africans in the middle game. Matt Ryan’s dependability in goal and Aaron Mooy’s calm head in midfield will be vital. In attack, Martin Boyle, Mathew Leckie, and Ajdin Hrustic are all creative passers and decent dribblers. They will look to supply striker Mitchell Duke.
Goalkeepers: Mat Ryan, Andrew Redmayne, Danny Vukovic
Defenders: Milos Degenek, Aziz Behich, Joel King, Nathaniel Atkinson, Fran Karacic, Harry Souttar, Kye Rowles, Bailey Wright, Thomas Deng
Midfielders: Aaron Mooy, Jackson Irvine, Ajdin Hrustic, Keanu Baccus, Cameron Devlin, Riley McGree
Forwards: Awer Mabil, Mathew Leckie, Martin Boyle, Jamie Maclaren, Jason Cummings, Mitchell Duke, Garang Kuol, Craig Goodwin
Date and Place of Birth: (05.07.1996 Dandenong, Victoria)
Current Club: Hellas Verona
Hrustic will likely be entrusted to provide attacking impetus from deep to create opportunities for Australia’s forwards. A Europa League winner last season with Frankfurt, Hrustic is an excellent striker of the ball and can be categorised as a dead ball specialist, which could turn out to be hugely important in such a tough group. His guile, technique and creativity are vital for Arnold.
Date and Place of Birth: (15.09.1990, Sydney, New South Wales)
Current Club: Celtic
A multi-faceted midfielder capable of playing both attacking and holding roles, Mooy’s role in the Australian setup is likely to be more of a holding one. He is trusted to dictate the play in midfield without surrendering possession with rash passes. Known for his accurate passing and composure on the ball, Mooy will be crucial as an outlet to establish a foothold in challenging games.
Date and Place of Birth: (08.04.1992, Plumpton, New South Wales)
Current Club: FC Copenhagen
A veteran of the 2014 and 2018 squads, the hugely experienced former Brighton goalkeeper more than makes up for his relatively short stature for a goalkeeper with incredible agility and excellent distribution in possession. With Australia expected to face periods of sustained pressure, particularly against France and Denmark, Ryan is likely to be called into action on many occasions. His accurate distribution will also be crucial in relieving pressure.