ANGE Postecoglou dubbed it the Socceroos’ “season of football”, up to 20 games in 17 months that will see them pursue a place at the World Cup, glory at the Confederations Cup and the chance to embarrass England.
As the Socceroos digest the draw for World Cup qualifying that pitches them against Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq and Thailand, officials have begun the lengthy task of mapping out the team’s requirements against opponents in the next year and a half that could also include Germany, Chile and Mexico.
The 10 World Cup qualifiers – many on double FIFA dates, requiring rapid-transit between games half-way round the world – add to the Confederations Cup appearance that Australia earned by winning the Asian Cup, as well as various friendlies designed to add to Postecoglou’s playing stocks.
“The key is that now it’s almost a season of international football,” Postecoglou said. “For the next 18 months the Socceroos will be at the forefront of people’s minds. From our point of view, if we start to think about the Confederations Cup or anything beyond the first two games, that will miss the point.
“Like a (club) season, you need a really good start because there will be no easy games. The Japan game stands out, but we won’t succeed if we ignore the other fixtures, and our focus will be entirely on the Iraq and UAE games that open it all. The best possible start is getting points in the bank.”
The need for such a start becomes obvious in the details of the schedule, which includes the players flying to Australia to open against Iraq in October and then immediately to the UAE, plus a game in the heat of Ryiadh in November followed by a headlong dash back to Australia to host Japan five days later.
“It’s a challenging group but even more challenging is the schedule,” said Postecoglou. “Four of the first six games are away, and one of the others is at home to Japan. We’ve got a good run home but we don’t want to be chasing things at that point. Pressure builds if you don’t hit the ground running.
“It’s about having a group of players who are able to tackle two games and travel in a short space of time. You need more than 11 players to do that. Every time we’ve had a double date recently we’ve changed the team substantially from one game to the next, as the players need to be able to come in seamlessly.”
Postecoglou insisted that supporters wouldn’t take any results for granted, despite the relative ease with which his side navigated the previous round of qualifiers. “I doubt people will think it’s a walk in the park,” he said.
“Our form in the last 18 months has been good and we’re the Asian champions. But there are more than just banana skins (in the group), there’s real threats.
“For the home games I want every advantage possible, including a good pitch. Hopefully curators up and down the country are listening because the last thing I want is to face tough conditions overseas and then come back to a difficult pitch here.”
© 2016 Fox Sports | This article was written by Tom Smithies and first appeared on Fox Sports on 14 April 2016.