Thursday 16 November 2017, 07:48

Socceroos' long and winding road to Russia

  • Australia qualified for Russia via two play-offs and a record 22 matches

  • Socceroos were world’s highest scoring side in qualifying

  • Team’s playing style reinvented under coach Ange Postecoglou

Australia are used to doing it the hard way when it comes to FIFA World Cup™ qualification. The Socceroos had played qualifiers in all six FIFA confederations as early as 25 years ago, when matches in Canada and Argentina completed their full set of continental visits since their first campaign in the mid 1960s.

This time, they secured their place at the 2018 World Cup on Wednesday with a 3-1 aggregate win over Honduras. But Australia’s elongated path to Russia set several new benchmarks that may never be eclipsed.

The Aussies played 22 qualifying matches – the most by any team en route to a World Cup. In doing so they clocked up an astonishing tally of just over 150,000 miles, criss-crossing Asia on multiple occasions. To put it into context, that figure is six times around the earth’s equator.

On the field, Australia set a Russia 2018 high of 51 goals. Ironically, though, it was a lack of goals that cost Australia dearly in a campaign of ups and downs.

After breezing through their opening group stage, the Socceroos played out a couple of costly draws on the road. They could have qualified in their penultimate group match, but lost in Japan – just a second defeat of the campaign – and then failed to defeat Thailand by the requisite number of goals that would have seen them finish ahead of Saudi Arabia on goal difference.

Then came a hugely tense 3-2 aggregate AFC play-off win over Syria, before finally claiming the ascendency against a stubborn Honduras side.

Russia 2018 will mark a record fourth successive World Cup for the nation, and fifth overall. Significantly too, Ange Postecoglou is the first Australia-raised coach to win qualification to the biggest football stage of all.

"It's overwhelming to be honest - when you are coaching your own nation the burden of responsibility is even greater,” Postecoglou said.

Under Postecoglou, who took over just prior to Brazil 2014, the Aussies have developed a highly proactive possession-based game which, in theory at least, should consign old stereotypes to the past. It is an aggressive approach perfectly surmised by Postecoglou, who has said: “I would rather die on my feet, than live on my knees”.

A host of talented new players sprung to the fore during the 29-month campaign, none more so than silky-skilled midfielders Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic.

Despite the injection of fresh blood, it was two old stagers who ultimately made a significant difference. The 38-year-old Tim Cahill was rejuvenated under Postecoglou, and scored a team-high 11 goals while defying the evidence offered by his birth certificate.

Mile Jedinak also proved a pivotal figure anchoring the midfield. Jedinak scored all three goals against Honduras, including two from the penalty spot, on a memorable night for the Socceroos’ captain. He is now set to become the first player to lead Australia at two World Cups.

"It probably means more than I can describe,” said Jedinak about achieving qualification. "We set out on a task a couple of years ago to qualify for a World Cup and make an impact, but first it was always getting there.

"We were one of the last teams to do it, but we did it our way and I'm very proud of what we've done."

Australia’s long road to Russia Matches: 22 (Record shared by Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago in 2002) Minutes played: 2010 Miles travelled: 155,000