Qatar 2022 might be one of the best opportunities Australia will ever get to equal – or even surpass – their best ever performance at a World Cup finals owing to the time of year, climate and potential impact of travel restrictions around the world. There is still work to be done before the Socceroos book their place at the Finals though. Here we'll take a look at how the recent Socceroos squad have performed during World Cup qualifiers.
Socceroos Squad for 2022: What we learnt from the recent matches
Well, tongue in cheek a little, but the biggest takeaway from the recent round of matches is that the Socceroos are not unbeatable. The team had been on an 11 game winning streak; that ended when they fell to a 2-1 defeat to Japan. Of course, there were more takeaways than just the end of a record-breaking winning run though.
At the moment, Australia generally does enough in games to get results; they could do more though. The biggest question marks are unquestionably around the creativity and final product. Too often, players want to play safe rather than risking a turnover of possession or, from wide, hitting a ‘dangerous area'; the 1-0 win over Vietnam in September was a fine example of this whilst the Socceroos had the lions share of possession against Japan as well.
You can argue both ways on whether that's actually a problem for what would lay ahead at a Finals. Arguably, the better the quality of the opponent the more expansive they'll be and the more gaps you'd have to exploit. Of course, there is a flip side to that; against better quality, the opportunities to find those holes are greatly reduced. What's the problem with the team? Is it confidence, ability or simply trying to create the perfect chance? Regardless, it's the key area Australia need to improve.
What players took the headlines?
Let's start things off with Martin Boyle of Hibs. He's flying in the Scottish Premiership and arrived in the last international break chomping at the bit. Against Oman, he bagged a goal but wasted a big chance too. In the Japan match, it was more of a showcase for Boyle's work rate and desire to be part of the Socceroos squad. His quality was lacking but that is true of plenty of players who took to the grass that night. The ball is hitting the net so regularly for Hibs that his inclusion in future squads is guaranteed.
Despite his links with a move from Championship club Stoke City to the Premier League, there are plenty of voices within the Socceroos fanbase that are yet to be convinced. We disagree; he has delivered decent performances in the last month. He was the pick of the defensive players against Oman making two clearances, two blocks and an interception. Against Japan, we saw another side to his game as he made five clearances and won 100% of his aerial duels whilst playing out from the back with a 92% success rate. We see Souttar and Trent Sainsbury being the partnership moving forwards.
Across the two most recent games, you could make a case that Eintracht Frankfurt man Hrustic was deserving of the man of the match award in both. He has the knack of always being available as an out ball for the defence, he puts himself about and on the ball he just sets the Socceroos tempo so well. It's not like he's just a show, get, simple give type player either; Hrustic has a great range of passing as well and even with a fair few raking balls in his stats he still put up over 90% accuracy against Oman. It was Hrustic that notched the Aussie's goal against Japan too. Hrustic has only got seven caps to his name but that number is going to grow and grow.
Fran Karacic returned to the squad for the latest doubleheader after injury and he's quickly shown why he deserves his spot. His first feel of the grass came with 10 minutes left of the Oman match; he immediately made an impact through grabbing an assist. The Japan game saw him start at right-back and produced an assured display. He won seven out of 10 ground battles, made four tackles and, in an attacking sense, put a total of six balls into the danger zone. Karacic's return to the squad is a big boost for the Socceroos; whether he's in the XI every time we are not so sure but his place in the squad is nailed on.
There you have it, a quick look at the Socceroos squad with an eye on future World Cup Qualifiers.