The memories of the last FIFA World Cup in South Africa may still be fresh in the minds of most Australian soccer fans, but on Friday night the Qantas Socceroos will be aiming to recreate another John Aloisi magic moment as they commence their Asia/Pacific Qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014 at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.
They face Thailand in what should be a straightforward victory for the Australians. They have home ground advantage, a squad full of talent and experience, and are taking on a side that is ranked 120th in the world, just below renowned soccer giants Grenada and Liechtenstein.
However, it may not be as simple Holger Osieck‘s team as it seems. Following the success of Germany and South Africa, there is no doubt that expectations are high. Fans are no longer just hoping for qualification, they are expecting and demanding it. And so anything less than a win on Friday night will be seen as a major disappointment, and could heap pressure onto Osieck and his team.
Playing with too much pressure and expectation can make a seemingly straight forward task painfully difficult and has the ability to cripple even the most technically gifted teams. England has proved this throughout its long and disappointing World Cup history.
There’s no doubt this current Australian squad are in foreign territory in terms of expectations as they work their way up in the soccer world, and it could cause Osieck some headaches.
And in this first World Cup qualifier he’s taking no chances, announcing a very strong line-up including renowned stars Tim Cahill, Brett Holman and Mark Schwarzer. Osieck realises just how important it is that his team gets off to a winning start, and has taken no risks in order to try and achieve that.
But what can we expect to see from Thailand’s Changsuek or ‘War Elephants’? There’s no doubt that they are an improving national side, with a professional league infrastructure being implemented in 2009 allowing soccer to become a genuine career choice for young Thais, as well as more and more stadiums being built all over the country.
On the other hand, their current squad contains no players who play outside of Thailand.
Their lack of success on an international level has been one of the biggest enigmas of modern day soccer. Unlike other Asian countries such as India, who can’t generate interest due to cricket’s domination, soccer is by far the most popular sport throughout Thailand. How a soccer mad nation of 67 million have never been able to produce one recognisable star is a mystery, especially when similarly enthusiastic nations like Japan and South Korea have had so much success.
So who will be the victor come the end of the 90 minutes on Friday night?
It’s hard to see a result with anything other than an Australian victory, as they simply have too much quality and will comfortably deal with what Thailand throws at them.
They also have a home ground advantage to spur them on, assuming the fans turn up. Having some internationally recognised players such as Cahill, as well as it being Osieck’s first ever World Cup qualifier should generate enough interest though, so lack of home support shouldn’t be an issue.
It’s the Aussies’ match to lose, and that does place the Changsuek in the always dangerous position of being the underdogs. They will have no expectation of victory and will probably go hammer and tong at the Aussies, which should provide an entertaining game if nothing else.
It’s also an opportunity for Osieck to send a message in his first ‘real’ game, not only to the rest of the qualifying group, but also to the Australian fans and media. He’s already tried to promote a more attacking style to the Socceroos play, and will be looking to really leave a mark on Suncorp.
Expect an entertaining game, with plenty of chances at either end and, hopefully, plenty of goals.
Prediction: Australia 4 – 0 Thailand
You can catch the Socceroos’ game tonight on Fox Sports 2 from 8pm.