x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Aussies not optimistic about chances in World Cup

One fan says Australians are resigned to having their team come home on the first plane from Brazil.

Mohanned Hourani and his 14-year-old son Ali, will be flying the flag for the Aussies, but both fans agree that if their team score just a single goal that would make their year. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National
Mohanned Hourani and his 14-year-old son Ali, will be flying the flag for the Aussies, but both fans agree that if their team score just a single goal that would make their year. Fatima Al Marzooqi / The National

ABU DHABI // An Internet search for the Australian football team turns up this cringe-worthy headline: “Australia becoming the joke of the soccer world.”

“We can rant and rave all we want, slag the coaching staff and howl into the early morning light as the humiliation unfolds on our television screens,” senior sports writer Michael Lynch recently wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald. “The simple fact is that Australia are too old, too slow and simply not good enough.”

Australia fans in Abu Dhabi did not put up much of a defence of their national team.

“I mean, I think Australians are effectively resigned to having our team come home on the first plane home from Brazil,” said Australian Tom Taylor, 22, who just graduated from NYU Abu Dhabi. “Our draw is terrible. We have Spain and Netherlands and Chile so, I’m not a huge soccer fan as it is, but I’m quite confident that there will be no progression beyond those three games for Australia.”

This will be the Socceroos’ third consecutive appearance in the World Cup, and fourth overall.

“It’s good to get there for the third World Cup in a row now,” said Connor Pearce, 19, an Australian who studies history at NYUAD.

The team’s greatest claim to Fifa fame came in 2006, at the World Cup in Germany, when they advanced to the Round of 16.

“We almost beat Italy who ended up winning the World Cup,” said Mr Taylor, who majored in social research and public policy. “That was probably the heyday of Australian soccer and probably that generation is now getting older and moving on.”

The Aussies are ranked 62nd in the world. The team face tough competition in Group B standings. If they are to advance to the Round of 16 this time around, they need to upset defending champions and top-ranked Spain, the South Africa 2010 runners-up Netherlands and Chile, who are ranked 13 in the world.

Given the strong teams they are up against, Mr Pearce said the likelihood of the team progressing beyond the group level was “kind of not really big”.

“They’ll come bottom of the group,” Mr Pearce predicted. “They’ll come bottom of the table. Spain won last time didn’t they? Spain and the Netherlands were in the final the last World Cup in 2010. And Chile are one of the up-and-coming teams in South America, and they’re really fast.”

Not even Australia’s underdog status is enough to persuade Mr Taylor to have hopes for a surprise upset.

“I think there’s underdog and there’s like, dead dog, and Australia might be more of a dead dog than an underdog,” he said. “On a good day, with a good draw, we would still probably struggle to perform. Under the circumstances, I think it will be almost a write-off.”

The best any Australian fan could hope for, he said, was a goal.

“A goal might be nice, if they could score a goal, I think that would make me pretty happy,” Mr Taylor said. “I think expecting anything more than that is really a bit presumptuous.”

Mohanned Hourani, 51, would also be satisfied if his team scored a single goal.

“We’ve got nothing to lose,” said Mr Hourani, who is flying to Brazil from Abu Dhabi to cheer on his team. “If we go out there and we score one goal, I think that would make my year.”

The fact that Australia have no star players may be to their benefit, said Mr Hourani.

“We play very well together as a team, as a collective,” he said. “Most of the teams in the World Cup, including Portugal and England and so on, they have like one or two star players, and they rely on them. But because Australia do not have a star player they have to play as a team, a collective, and that’s what we’re relying on, and I think that will be our strength.”

The UAE is home to about 16,000 Australians who maintain their cultural ties through social groups like Aussies Abroad in Abu Dhabi, the Australian and New Zealand Association in Dubai, the Australian Business Group and the Abu Dhabi Falcons, a local sports team who follow the rules of the Australian Football League.

“We run some major, major Australian events throughout the year,” said Aussies Abroad spokesman Tony Palladino, who has lived in Abu Dhabi off and on since 2007. “So we’ve got a business group, we’ve got our social group and a sports group.”

Mr Palladino said the venue for Aussie World Cup games will change for each game and the locations will be posted on www.aussiesabroad-abudhabi.com.

rpennington@thenational.ae

* Chile v Australia, (Saturday, 2am UAE time; Live on beIN Sport)