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World Cup 2014 Previews Group B: Australia

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Team: Australia
Nickname: Socceroos
Group: B
Schedule: June 13 vs. Chile, June 18 vs. Netherlands, June 23 vs. Spain
World Cup History: Round of 16 (2006), Qualified (1974, 2010)
Rankings: FIFA (59), SPI (40)
Winning Odds: 1,000-1

Australia peaked at the 2006 World Cup. Loaded with Premier League players, the Socceroos advanced from the group stage and were a controversial penalty decision away from taking eventual champs Italy to extra time in the Round of 16. The Aussies reclassified to the Asian Confederation and have not had much luck since. A controversial Tim Cahill red card probably cost the Aussies a trip to the knockout stages in South Africa. The country missed out on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding. Their “Golden Generation” has come and gone without even a silver or bronze one to replace it.

Qualifying Form: The Aussies earned an automatic qualification place, finishing second in AFC Group B on 13 points from eight matches. It was not an impressive performance They won just three of their eight matches in the final group. Two were against bottom side Iraq. German coach Holger Osciek was fired, after consecutive 6-0 friendly losses to Brazil and France.

Manager: Ange Postocoglu. He’s a bit of an unknown. The 48-year-old has spent his entire coaching career in Australia. His only previous international experience was ailing to qualify Australia for the U-20 World Cup. He has had just two matches at the helm, since taking charge in October.

Tactics: Postocoglu has not had time to implement a system. In friendlies, he continued the 4-2-3-1 they were playing before he arrived. Normally, Australian teams are physical, hard-working, direct and try to rattle teams. They are sort of a less talented England without the mental hangups.

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Player to Watch: Tim Cahill. He’s Australia’s all-time leading scorer and had three goals combined at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. The 34-year-old is in semi-retirement with the Red Bulls. He’s not what he was in his Everton pomp. However, he’s still a threat through the air. With Chile, the Netherlands and Spain potentially vulnerable at the back, Cahill may be Australia’s best hope.

Squad: Postecoglu has opted for a youth movement. Twenty of the 30-man provisional squad are 25 or younger. Sixteen of those have fewer than 10 caps. Chelsea backup Mark Schwarzer has been pushed out of the squad as goalkeeper. So has 36-year-old defender and longtime captain Lucas Neill, who struggled to find a club and get fit in time. The trouble is the up-and-coming crop does not have the talent level of the last generation. There isn’t even a consistent, top-level league contributor, much less a Kewell or Viduka in the bunch. Bayer Leverkusen’s Robbie Kruse was the closest to that level, but he will miss the tournament after tearing his ACL.

Group Outlook: Australia is one of the weakest teams in the tournament. Getting drawn in an unforgiving Group B was not helpful. The Aussies don’t have a player who would be in the squad for Spain or the Netherlands. Beyond the sheer talent level, they are cobbling together a squad under a new manager right before the tournament starts. Earning a point in any of the three matches would be a grand accomplishment.

Arbitrary Australian Power Rankings: 1. Cate Blanchett 2. Bon Scott 3. Curtis Stone 4. Ian Thorpe 5. Hugh Jackman

[Photos via Getty]

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