Socceroos out to display A-game in Honduras playoff
Socceroos out to display A-game in Honduras playoff
That’s the rallying call from the side’s Sharjah-based defender Ryan McGowan who said the Socceroos have the class to beat the Central Americans and book a trip to Russia next summer.
Australia find themselves in the playoff having failed to get out of their Asian qualifying group. The side finished third behind Japan and Saudi Arabia forcing them to come through a playoff with Syria, which they won 3-2 on aggregate, and now this two-leg clash.
But McGowan, who played for the Aussies in the 2014 World Cup, has told his teammates they have the class to come through the tough challenge.
“I’m not going to be the only player to say it’s the biggest thing you can do as a player to represent your country at a World Cup,” he said from San Pedro Sula.
“I was very lucky at the last World Cup to play in that and it’s something that’s driven me since then to get back there and do even better.
“These two games are so important and have so much riding on it, but I really do believe we’ve got enough in the team and enough of everything — skill, power, mental determination — to get over these two games and go to Russia with the bit between our teeth and make an impact.”
Being forced to come through two playoffs was not part of the plan when Australia joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006. Qualifying through Asia would undoubtedly prove to be tougher than Oceania, but it was assumed that they had the players to qualify and avoid the pain and hassle of playoffs against South or Central American teams. That was the plan, and in 2010 and 2014 it worked out pretty well.
But for 2018 the actual reality of qualifying through Asia hit, and hit hard. Asian qualifying is no walk in the park and Australia had become complacent, taking World Cup qualification for granted.
They enter today’s clash in less than ideal shape. Captain Mile Jedinak returns to the squad after just 99 minutes of action for Aston Villa this season, while influential midfielders Mark Milligan and Mat Leckie are suspended after picking up yellow cards against Syria in their previous playoff.
There’s also the small matter of a certain Tim Cahill carrying an ankle injury from Melbourne City’s loss to Sydney FC last Friday. Arrived a day later than the rest of the team to allow his ankle more time to recover.
That’s just on-field; off the field there is the biggest drama of all — the future of coach Ange Postecoglou.
The 52-year-old’s future has been the subject of furious debate after it emerged just hours after Australia’s win against Syria last month that he would jump ship even if Australia get past Honduras and qualify.
Despite having numerous opportunities to deny the reports, Postecoglou has chosen to remain coy on his future, which, despite what the players say, will no doubt play on their minds leading into the match.
Whatever Postecoglou decides regarding his future, there is no doubt his legacy, despite winning the Asian Cup in 2015, rests on these two games. Becoming the first coach since 2001 to fail to take Australia to a World Cup won’t sit well on his resume.
They might be taking the long road to Russia, one filled with potholes and endless twists and turns, but come this time next week Australia will be hoping it’ll all be worth it.
Mohamed Salah’s brilliance and impact better seen off-pitch than on it
- Jurgen Klopp praises the positive impact Mohamed Salah has had on attitudes towards Islam and the Arab World
- Salah has 43 goals in all competitions this season and is a serious Ballon d'Or contender
LONDON: “Mohamed Salah is the best footballer in the world at the moment,” “Salah is up there with Messi and Ronaldo,” “Salah has the world at
In a world ever more prone to hyperbole and after yet another masterclass from the Egyptian ace, it is not surprising that such grandiose statements get bandied about with the regularity of a Salah goal. The 25-year-old was simply sublime during Liverpool’s 5-2 destruction of Roma on Tuesday night.
He has now scored 43 times this season, has a genuine chance of winning the Ballon d’Or, and with every match looks more deserving of the superstar mantle his admirers have given him.
But while we can sit back and marvel at his talent, all those tributes are perhaps missing the point. We can debate whether he is a world-beater on the pitch, but what is not in doubt is that Salah is a game-changer off it — and that is the true mark of just how impressive he has been since moving to Liverpool.
Go to Anfield for any match now and, once the rousing rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” has died down, it is likely you will next hear the Liverpool fans’ hymn to Salah. Sung to the tune of “Good Enough” by Britpop band Dodgy, it goes like this: “If he’s good enough for you, he’s good enough for me, if he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim, too.” Such is the “Salah effect.”
Britain is a hugely fractured country at the moment. The Brexit vote and debate surrounding it has held up a mirror to an island ill at ease with itself, with regressive attitudes to race, religion and immigration out in the open.
That Salah has been welcomed with open arms and lauded in that climate — albeit in a city with a proud tradition of tolerance — is quite something, not least at a time when Islamaphobic attacks in the UK are on the rise and when, as recently as 2016, a national newspaper ran a headline that claimed “1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ sympathy for jihadis.”
The context of the Salah worship evident not just in Liverpool, but also around the country has not been lost on his manager, Jurgen Klopp.
“(The hero status of Salah) is fantastic. It’s exactly what we need in these times,” the German told Channel 4 News.
“To see this wonderful young man, full of joy, full of love, full of friendship, full of everything, in a world where we all struggle a little bit to understand all the things happening around on this planet — so it’s just fantastic.
“He is a Muslim and he is doing all the things that Muslims are doing before a game, washing procedures and stuff like that … like Sadio (Mane) by the way, like Emre Can, by the way; they all do that. Nobody says what we have to be…
“Now we wait, that’s completely normal in a team and that’s how in an ideal world the world would work; we all try to understand each other and deal with all the little strange things for the one or the other.”
Sport sometimes aims for profundity when there is none. Witness any stomach-churning statement of national brilliance during an Olympics, or any underdog story, and you will find people deriving a lot more from some match than the simple “team scores more to win game” narrative that is most set in reality.
But the “Salah effect” has prompted real change off the pitch. From fans singing “I’ll be a Muslim, too” to appreciating the Liverpool talisman simply as a great player regardless of background, the “Egyptian King” is a genuine role model for his country, the region and Islam at a time when the world needs it most.
“We are all kind of ambassadors and sometimes we fit to that role and sometimes not, and at the moment Mo is the perfect ambassador for Egypt, for the whole Arabic world. I love that,” Klopp said.
So it is immaterial whether Salah wins the Champions League for Liverpool, beats Ronaldo to the Ballon d’Or or leads Egypt deep in the World Cup — he has already done more than most footballers do.
Should the positive image of both Arabs and Muslims he has created endure, then that will be his true mark of greatness.