Sports

Is Qatar 2022 really a mission impossible task for Australia?

Australia, who only reached Qatar 2022 by the skin of their teeth, are tackling the FIFA World Cup finals with arguably their poorest-ever squad – at least on paper.

Head coach Graham Arnold has opted for a mixture of experience and young talent to face Denmark, defending champions France and Tunisia in their group games.

For the Socceroos this is their fifth World Cup finals on the spin, so patriotic Aussies will be behind them. At least realistically these fans believe that escaping Group D appears to be virtually mission impossible.

Qatar welcomes the highest number of A-League players ever selected for the World Cup finals, and although the Aussie top-tier is booming it is not yet on the same level as the major European leagues.

The Socceroos only bagged goals from the penalty spot at Russia 2018, where they propped up the table. Again they find themselves in the same group as Denmark and France, whose are bursting with immense quality and depth in their respective squads.

European nations have recently dominated this tournament. Italy triumphed in 2006, Spain won in 2010, Germany were victorious in 2014 with France crowned champions four years ago. However, with the heat in Qatar then Brazil (+350) and Argentina (+500) lead the FIFA World Cup betting odds.

Australia are outsiders for a reason. With goals traditionally tricky to find for the Socceroos, they will sorely miss injured whizzy winger Martin Boyle who has found the back of the net five times during a brief international stint.

Speedy veteran Mathew Leckie is most likely to step into Boyle’s boots to be deployed on the wings. Arnold has been able to rue his eye over the 31-year-old recently. He now plied his trade for Melbourne City following a decade competing in Germany.

The exciting teenage talent of Garang Kuol, who arrived in Australia with his Sudanese family from Egypt as a refugee, could break through at this tournament.

Striker Jamie Maclaren has notched eight goals in his past 11 international matches, and as the trusted penalty taker is likely to be starting games.

Bustling centre back Harry Souttar, just back from injury with English Championship outfit Stoke City, also strikes it rich and has scored six times in 10 matches for the Socceroos with headers off corners.

Midfield maestro Aaron Mooy has impressed in his number eight role with Celtic in the Scottish top flight, while shotstoppers Mat Ryan and Andrew Redmayne are steady hands between the sticks.

No-nonsense Arnold has crafted his squad and could mastermind results that puts the Aussies back on the soccer map.

France have another shot at lifting the coveted World Cup trophy again, but their remarkable squad is depleted and their back four is not as strong as Les Bleus would like.

They will be eager to break the curse that has been in place since the 2002 World Cup finals, which is that all reigning champions from Europe have surprisingly failed to navigate their way out of their group.

On paper France still boast an amazing squad with the prolific pair of strikers in Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappe ready to attack and scare defenders. They hit cruise control in Russia 2018, and are expected to be just as formidable four years later.

Christian Eriksen, considered to be one of the best passers in the world, is the heartbeat of the great Danes and keeps the younger stars motivated. With the athleticism and composure from wily goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel to keep the back four on their toes, then Denmark look pretty flawless.

They are on a roll, only dented at the 2020 Euros played last year. They thumped France 2-0 and have bagged five victories from their past seven games, so should not be underestimated.

Tunisia, with their tremendous balance of experience and in-form players, may prove to be the group’s surprise package. They are the only nation in Group D to have never made it to the knockout stage at the World Cup.

Despite the silky skills of dribbling left back Ali Maaloul and their newly adopted attack from defence tactics, Tunisia tumbled out of the Africa Cup of Nations to minnows Burkina Faso.

As the Socceroos, without their golden generation of players for a change, have only registered two triumphs at World Cup finals in 14 matches then expectations should not be too high. 

A win over Tunisia would instil confidence, but tackling European heavyweights is a different ball game for Arnold. Whether he can sprinkle some magic on his squad to make them shining stars in the heat of Qatar remains to be seen.

At least the Aussie fans will support the Socceroos regardless, even if they are overwhelmed by France. If only the powers that be were so forgiving, as Arnold is fully aware that he will probably be given the boot unless they make it to the knockout stages. It’s a result-driven business, and Arnold means business with his squad who face a tough task in Qatar.