Former Socceroo Brett Emerton thinks new boss Bert Van Marwijk could be the key to the Socceroos’ surprising a few people in Russia 2018.
It’s always tricky as an ex-Socceroo trying to analyse our own team – your heart can’t help but intervene, but you don’t want to sugar coat our chances either.
Our qualifying road to Russia was rocky to put it mildly. We made it much harder than it should have been, but now we’re in and that’s the only thing that matters.
We’re the longest odds in our group to qualify, and with France almost a certainty to advance, we’re in stand-off with Denmark and Peru for second spot.
But we’re always at our most dangerous when people overlook us. We’re gritty and committed and we always play with passion when we put on that Socceroos kit – yes, even the spew kit.
We’ve also got a secret weapon and no I don’t mean Daniel Arzani, although the kid is going to be something special. I’m talking about new head coach Bert Van Marwijk, someone I know very well.
I played under Bert at Feyenoord and have seen first hand what he can do with a team, so I was excited when he was given the appointment.
In 2002 we won the UEFA Cup with a team that had nowhere near the quality of some of the teams that we beat on the way.
We knocked off European powerhouse Inter Milan in the semi-finals and in the final we beat Borussia Dortmund 3-2, although I got a dubious red card in the semi-final and missed the final, something that stings like Bull Ant bite to this today.
We had much less talent than Inter and Dortmund but under Bert we were able to beat them thanks to our organisation and belief – and hopefully that’s the case for the Socceroos.
Bert still gets criticised for that 2010 World Cup Final against Spain. He gets called negative and cynical. Admittedly it wasn’t a great exhibition of football by the Dutch, but he got them to the final, beating Uruguay and Brazil along the way.
And if there was a way to beat a Spain team that will live forever as one of the greatest international football has ever seen, rattling them physically was about the most effective a strategy I saw deployed against them.
It’s worth remembering that Spain won that game 1-0 in extra-time. Holland had their chances — and if they’d managed it, the history books might have been kinder.
Unlike Ange Postecoglou, Bert isn’t locked in to any particular system.
He’s happy to adapt his playing style to suit his players and crucially, his opponents. Let’s not forget he helped Saudi Arabia qualify for its first World Cup since 2006 before taking this job.
We’ve already seen some changes: The Ange three-at-the-back experiment has been ditched in favour of a more traditional 4-4-2. He’s playing more conservative and more defensive.
He’s started Andrew Nabbout as the striker, a player whose A-League career once hung in the balance. And he hasn’t been afraid to give Arzani, the youngest player in the World Cup, a run.
We looked efficient against a rag-tag Czech Republic and struggled against a motivated Hungary squad but let’s be honest, we’re in a group with France. They’re full of talent, a fantastic team with players like Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, who I like as a Golden Boot winner.
But France are also capable of an implosion. With such incredible talent, maybe someone will get upset at not starting and bring some unrest into the camp, like Nicolas Anelka and Patrice Evra in South Africa.
Plus theres’s a good chance Pogba will spend more time on his Instagram account than his football. Whatever the case, it will be a challenge for head coach Didier Deschamps to get all that talent to gel together and play well as a team. Their insipid 1-1 draw against the US is evidence of that.
I think they could underestimate us in that first game and if we get an early goal…then we’re a chance.
That said, even if we lose to France – a distinct possibility – it’s by no means a disaster. I see no reason why we can’t be competitive against Peru and Denmark and if things go our way, we can scrape through.
The bottom line is that Bert’s appointment is perfect for this tournament. He’ll lead us through the campaign, making adjustments when necessary and base it on short-term practicality not long-term philosophy.
What we do after the tournament is up to Graham Arnold – but right now, I back Bert to make the right moves and I think the rest of our group could be in for a big surprise.