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.
Toni Kroos dismisses Mesut Ozil's claims of racism in Germany World Cup camp
- Germany still in turmoil after early World Cup exit and Ozil's claims of racism.
- Loew's side set to face France next month in first match after Russia tournament.
Germany midfielder Toni Kroos says Mesut Ozil was “out of order” to make accusations of racism within the German set up as he retired from international football last month.
“Basically, Mesut is a long-serving national team player and deserved a better exit as a footballer,” Kroos, 28, told German daily Bild.
“I have played with Mesut for many years and know that he is a nice guy. But the way he retired was out of order.
“The proportion of his statement which was fair and justified was unfortunately overshadowed by a much higher proportion of nonsense.
“I think he himself knows that racism does not exist within the national team and the DFB.
“On the contrary, we are always committed to diversity and integration. Mesut was a good example of that, like many of our team mates.”
Ozil, 29, created a furor last month when he retired from international football in an explosive three-part statement in which he accused German FA (DFB) president Reinhard Grindel of racism.
“In the eyes of Grindel and his supporters, I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” wrote Ozil, sparking a storm in Germany and triggering fierce debate about integration.
Ozil fell foul of German fans and was booed during pre-World Cup friendlies after he and fellow midfielder Ilkay Gundogan posed for pictures with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May, raising questions about the pair’s loyalty to Germany.
Only a handful of Germany players have spoken about the saga, which captain Manuel Neuer described as “stressful” while Thomas Mueller said there is “no question of racism within the team.”
Real Madrid star Kroos says Arsenal midfielder Ozil, who like Gundogan has Turkish roots, was wrong to meet with Erdogan and then wait two months before breaking his silence.
“Mesut was criticized for the photo — and rightly so,” said Kroos. “And he missed the chance to explain himself.
“Nevertheless, he was completely supported by the coaching staff and the (national) team.
“Later he was — like the rest of us — criticized for the performance at the World Cup.
“The type of criticism was certainly not always at a good (justified) level — but then you have to deal with that as a player.”
In the first game since their World Cup debacle, Germany, who have plummeted to 15th in the FIFA rankings, will host world champions France in Munich on Sept. 6 in the newly-launched Nations League tournament.
Germany head coach Joachim Loew has promised sweeping changes and Kroos has resisted the urge to retire.
“Yes, I will continue until Euro 2020 and have set the big goal that we will be far more successful than last time,” said Kroos.
Fellow German midfielder Sami Khedira, 31, also ruled out retirement on Thursday and hopes for a call-up against France to make amends for the World Cup disaster.
“After a good season with Juventus, I played my two worst matches at the World Cup with full fitness. That was really bad,” Khedira, wrote on Instagram.
However, Kroos says the squad Loew selects on Aug. 29 must find the necessary drive that was so badly missing in Russia.
“We have to be greedy and more forceful again, as far as goal-scoring is concerned,” added Kroos.
“And we have to be more unpleasant to play against in terms of defense — without just defending.”
Loew welcomed Kroos’ decision to stay on.
“With his experience, class and personality, he is of course a key player who plays a very important role in our future plans — on and off the pitch,” reacted Loew on dfb.de.
However, the head coach has yet to comment on the Ozil fiasco.