Former Socceroo Mark Bosnich has predicted Australia will miss qualification for next year’s World Cup if they are forced down the intercontinental play-off route, urging coach Graham Arnold to spend the next two months refreshing his tactics.
The Socceroos are currently in third position in Group B with four more matches to play – and despite going winless in their last three outings against Japan, Saudi Arabia and China, they remain in control of their own destiny.
Mark Bosnich (inset) says Graham Arnold needs to give the Socceroos greater tactical flexibility.Credit:Getty, AP
But the importance of finishing in the top two in the group and securing direct qualification to Qatar 2022 was underlined over the weekend as FIFA conducted its draw for the intercontinental play-offs.
The outcome was the one Australian fans were dreading: Asia’s play-off winners will face the fifth-best team from South America, which is likely to be one of Colombia, Peru, Chile or Uruguay – all of whom sit comfortably ahead of the Socceroos in FIFA’s world rankings.
Bosnich, who played alongside Arnold during his Socceroos days, believes it is “presumptuous” to assume they will even get that far, since they’ll first have to beat the other third-placed nation in Group B – currently the United Arab Emirates, who are coached by ex-Australia boss Bert van Marwijk – to earn the right to face the South American team.
Both fixtures will be sudden-death, one-legged showdowns at a neutral venue, most likely Qatar.
“If we happen to go through that route from a realistic point-of-view, we’re not going to qualify,” Bosnich said on Stan Sport FC.
“However, let’s go the biased way, from an Australian point-of-view – you’re going to have to believe you will do. But the way they’re performing and the fact they’ve drawn that fifth South American team, I really can’t see it.
“Also I think we’re looking a little bit too forward, a little bit presumptuous if you like – we’ve still got to get past the third-placed team in the other group.
“The most important thing, now, is to put all of that to one side and to focus and do everything you possibly can to get in those top two positions. Obviously it’s going to be increasingly difficult, especially after the draw with China.”
The expected returns from injury of Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy and Adam Taggart should boost the Socceroos significantly for their next matches against Vietnam at home on January 27 and Oman away five days later. After that, they are home to Japan and away to the Saudis in the March window – the two teams currently ahead of them in Group B.
Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic and Adam Taggart.Credit:Getty
But Bosnich believes Arnold cannot solely depend on fresh personnel to change Australia’s fortunes, and said he must use the intervening period to come up with a different way of playing.
“With the limited time you have, it’s very, very difficult [to do that], but they’re going to have to do it – it’s quite simple. They need to tweak things,” he said.
“It should have been already in place that we’re going to have different ways [of approaching] defences that are really stacked or people who play a smarter way like Saudi Arabia did, but right here right now, they’re going to have to come up with something different.
“It’s quite apparent, for me, the last two games, that not only teams have worked us out, but when it comes to having a plan B or plan C, there is nothing at the moment.”
Bosnich’s criticism comes after he attacked Arnold on last week’s episode of Stan Sport FC for saying the Socceroos had been “playing great” after drawing at home to Saudi Arabia.
“He’s going, ‘we’ve got the stats to back it up’. What stats?” Bosnich said.
“We all make mistakes … this is where you need someone around you to say ‘listen, gaffer, boss, Graham – please don’t be saying things like this because not only will the footballing public see through it, but you’re setting all of us up [for failure], you’re putting a target on us.’ How do you say you’re playing great?
“I’m sure, if he’s watching this, he will take it personally. He will say that he won’t, but he will. But it’s not [personal]. He’s an ex-teammate of mine, even though I haven’t spoken to him for 18 months – that’s another story altogether. If he was playing great, we’d be saying they’ve been playing exceptional. I’m telling him – you are not playing great.”
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