Outright Odds: 125/1
Group F Winners: 14/1
After a 32 year absence from the finals, Australia finally overcame their play-off hoodoo to qualify for Germany. Play off agony to Iran in 1997 and Uruguay in 2001 was vanquished last November as the Australians again faced Uruguay and beat them in a penalty shoot-out. Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was nearly taken off before the shoot-out commenced, but two stunning saves booked Australia’s World Cup place.
Under coach Guus Hiddink, Australia have progressed immensely. The former South Korea coach and England target took over from Frank Farina last July and even though teams such as Fiji, Vanatu and Tahiti were brushed aside with ease, Hiddink successfully completed what he called “almost mission impossible”.
Australia netted 32 goals in seven qualifying matches and even their two-legged final against the Solomon Islands was a farce as they ran out 7-0 winners in Sydney in the first leg. Indeed, only fifth-placed South American side Uruguay offered genuine competition, winning 1-0 in Montevideo only for Australia to win the return leg by the same scoreline and triumph on penalties.
When Australia switch to the Asian qualifying zone after the finals the quality of opposition they face will improve dramatically and will make for a better team. Entry to this year’s World Cup will be a step into the unknown despite the squad all having experience of European club football at some stage in their careers.
Despite their lack of success as an international team, punters in the UK may be inclined to lump on the Aussies due to their Premiership contingent. Players such as Blackburn Rovers’ Brett Emerton, Everton’s Tim Cahill and Liverpool’s Harry Kewell will provide plenty of midfield class while Middlesbrough striker and Australia captain Mark Viduka can be a frightening prospect when he’s in the mood.
While Kewell is capable of world class displays, as he showed in the second leg against Uruguay after coming on as a substitute, there are question marks over the team as a whole which should persuade you to invest your betting bank elsewhere.
There is plenty of flair going forward but there is a telling lack of pace in defence which will be Guus Hiddink’s main cause for concern. Full back’s Tony Vidmar at 36 and Kevin Muscat at 32 switched to the Dutch and Australian leagues respectively to see out the end of their careers while centre back Craig Moore is not noted for his lightening pace either.
Australia are capable of causing an upset but they are likely to fall just short of qualifying for the last 16. They could get their campaign off to a flying start with an opening match victory over Japan in preparation to switching to the Asian qualifying zone after the finals.
Australia to beat Japan @ 13/10
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