Top Teams Should Not Underestimate Oz Challenge

Frank Farina said it perfectly after being handed a tough, but equally exciting draw for the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, “If we are serious about where we want to go we have got to compete against the best.”

Frank Farina said it perfectly after being handed a tough, but equally exciting draw for the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup, “If we are serious about where we want to go we have got to compete against the best.”   But while facing the likes of Germany and Argentina is a daunting task for any international team, it-s by no means an impossible task, which some would have you think it is. In a group that also consists of African champions Tunisia, by rights Australia should be the whipping boys, especially when you consider the current Fifa World Rankings. Argentina is ranked number 3, with Germany 13, Tunisia 36 and Australia 64.   However Germany, Argentina and Tunisia should ignore the chances of the Oceania champion team at their own peril, that-s if previous performances at this tournament are anything to go by.   Farina added, “To come up against the big two (Germany then Argentina) first up is a bit daunting in some people-s eyes but I am not unhappy.”

Nor should he be, because at Australia-s two previous performances at the tournament, they have resulted in a runners-up place in 1997 and a third-place finish in 2001 and along the way, they have scored an upset or two against the more fancied teams.   In -97 Australia went into the tournament straight after the demoralising World Cup exit at the hands of Iran, where qualification looked assured until two late goals by Iran saw the team bow out on away goals difference.   But rather then just go through the motions, Australia bounced back from that heartbreak to thrash fifth-ranked Mexico 3-1 and set tongues wagging. Next stop though was No.1 in the world Brazil and nobody gave the boys from down under a chance, but an inspired goalkeeping display from Mark Bosnich saw Australia cause a mini-upset by holding them to a 0-0 draw.   So here we have Australia facing two teams ranked in the top five teams in the world and it was on four points and only the host nation Saudi Arabia to come. A tired looking Australian team lost 1-0, but still qualified in second spot and a place in the semi-finals against Uruguay.   Uruguay, two-time World Cup winner, was actually ranked lower than Australia going into this tournament, but had swept aside all three opponents in its group and was expected to be too strong. A Harry Kewell golden goal winner in extra time, saw Australia through to the final and another meeting with Brazil.   Now people will look at the final scoreline and see 6-0 and say what a thrashing, but what many won-t realise is that Mark Viduka received his marching orders in just the 24th minute and the hapless Aussies were never going to be able to contain the world-s best team, hungry for revenge after the embarrassing 0-0 draw.   Missing the next tournament, after fielding an entirely Australian-based line-up in the qualifying tournament (1998), Farina, who took over in 1999, was not about to miss the 2001 tournament, especially as it was in Korea/Japan and would act as good preparation for the all-important Oceania World Cup qualifiers that were coming up next month and then in Play-off qualifiers in November and also hopefully the World Cup.   Having qualified after winning in the Oceania Nations Cup in Tahiti in 2000, again Australia was the rank outsider in its group, which pitted them against France (ranked 1 in the world), Mexico (13) and Korea Republic (39).   Like in -97 Australia upset the Mexicans with a 2-0 victory and then faced unbeaten World Champions France. Admittedly France were not at full strength, but neither was Australia, and it was to be a magical day for Newcastle lad Clayton Zane, as he scored the only goal of the game, in what was France-s first loss in any major competition for a number of years.   Again having beaten the best, Australia let itself down by losing to Korea, although with six points next tom its name, it was fairly secure of a place in the semi-s.   Japan was the semi-final opponent and in scene-s not witnessed by too many Australian players, they lost, undeservedly, 1-0 in absolutely terrible conditions. So no final appearance this time, but another meeting against Brazil this time for third/fourth place.   Australia again defied the odds against the number two world ranked Brazilian side to win 1-0 and exact some revenge for the final loss in 1997.   A similar scenario awaits Farina and the Socceroos when they travel to Germany in June 2005, with nothing to lose and a bit of history on its side. One expects Germany and Argentina not to take Australia lightly, but then again, all the pressure is still on them according to Farina and Australia is just the team that will take advantage of that.   “Our aim is to get two, even three points from the first two games and from there anything can happen,” Farina says with an air of confidence.