Australia have achieved several famous results at the FIFA Confederations Cup over the years, but Russia 2017 will mark the end of a lengthy 12-year absence from the tournament.
Under coach Ange Postecoglou, Australia are continuing to build a template for success on the international stage. The Postecoglou-era began in earnest with a new-look side shining for periods in an intensely tough group at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Toughened by that campaign, the Socceroos fired on home soil to win their first-ever AFC Asian Cup and earn a return to the Tournament of Champions.
Ahead of the tournament, FIFA.com spoke to Postecoglou about imparting his clear ball-playing philosophy on the team, what fans can expect to see from the Socceroos at Russia 2017, the importance of the team’s success to grow the game Down Under, and much more.
FIFA.com: What was the key to winning the Asian Cup in 2015?
Ange Postecoglou: We had a really clear plan about how to win the Asian Cup, and that started pretty much from the time I was appointed (in November 2013) prior to the World Cup in Brazil. We went through a process of regenerating the team with a real focus on knowing that whilst the World Cup was in six months time and would be a real test for a young group, it was really important to give them that experience, so that six months after the World Cup, we could tackle the Asian Cup. We stuck to our guns, we stuck to the plan and really benefitted from preparing for over 12 months for a tournament. In the end, that was probably a key ingredient towards us being successful.
What kind of experience was it to win at home?
It is obviously one of those unique moments. To win a major tournament is big enough in itself, but when you get the opportunity to do it on home soil, and you kind of know that it is obviously a once in a lifetime opportunity. There is the added pressure of knowing you’re the home side with expectations, but we kind of embraced that and it was a great day and a great tournament all-round for us. We played some really good football, scored a lot of goals, and when it counted against a really strong opponent in South Korea, we came out on top.
What can fans expect to see from Australia at the Confederations Cup?
We are trying to play a certain brand of football, which we have done for the past three years. It was in its infancy at the last World Cup. Even though we had a really tough group with Chile, Holland and Spain, we took the game to the opposition, particularly against Chile and Holland, and were probably a bit unlucky not to get something out of those two games.
The team has evolved since then. We will come to the Confederations Cup, and we certainly won’t take any backward steps. We will try and play the same sort of football that we have being playing for the past three years, and measure ourselves against the very best – that is the whole idea of it. That should make for some exciting games, which I’m sure we will contribute to.
It suits the Australian character a little bit better to be a pro-active team.
How much is the team’s playing style reflected in your football philosophy?
The core of my beliefs is in the way we want to play our football. When I was appointed three years ago, that was part of the mission - that we want to play a certain brand. It suits the Australian character a little bit better to be a pro-active team. In all our sports, we tend to try and not take any backward steps and that is the same in football. It is something I have strong beliefs about. Wherever I have coached, that is the kind of football my teams play, and it is the same at national team level as well.
What qualities does the Australia squad possess and what players should fans look for?
In terms of the demographic of the group, it is still a very young group. Guys like Tommy Rogic and others, they are all in their early 20s, but we have given them a lot of experience at a very young age. I think moving forward that is going to be our greatest strength, in that irrespective of the player’s relatively young age in terms of years, the experience they have had of potentially playing in a senior World Cup already, Confederations Cup and Asian Cup … All those things mean we will have a great deal of belief.
I think we are an exciting side. Certainly we are very mobile, we are an attacking team and an aggressive team. With the players we have at the moment, that really suits their mentality. We put a lot of belief into them at a very young age and when you do that, and you have success along the way like we did at the Asian Cup, it means they won’t be daunted by anything they face in the next 12 to 24 months.
Obviously Australia wants to be back in Russia for the World Cup in 2018, how would you evaluate Australia’s results so far in qualifying?
We have been solid. We were probably disappointing in our last game against Thailand. We just didn’t perform to our own levels. We knew the first half of qualifying was going to be tough for us, with three extremely difficult road trips, in conditions that, unless you play in them, people just don’t understand just how challenging they can be.
We went to the Middle East and played UAE and Saudi (Arabia), and Thailand. To come through that unbeaten and also with a win on the road, I think we are in pretty good shape. We have three home games this year and we also have Iraq on neutral territory, so we really only have one away game. The beauty of it is that it is in our hands. With the Confederations Cup in the middle, this is an exciting year for us.
With other sports being so strong in Australia, how important is it for the sport’s growth that the Socceroos continue to perform at major tournaments?
Yes, it is important but it’s not as vital as it used to be because our professional competition is growing every year. It used to be almost a boom or bust cycle based on qualifying for the World Cup, but the popularity of the sport is growing all the time irrespective.
For us, we have gone beyond the stage of just wanting to qualify, obviously that is the first task, and as we have seen already it is always challenging through Asia, but we want to get to World Cups and make an impact now. That would provide more of an impetus for the sport. That is the reason we are playing our football the way we are, because we believe that should we qualify, it would give us more of a chance of making an impact at a senior World Cup than we have in the past.