FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE…

AUSTRALIA’S Socceroos have qualified for a fourth consecutive World Cup, but getting to Russia 2018 hasn’t been plain sailing.

The Socceroos had to play 22 games to qualify after failing to secure direct entry. Then coach Ange Postecoglou shocked the nation’s round-ball fans by resigning. He’d taken them to the world stage but would be watching from the wings.

But the team’s there now, and under new coach Bert van Marwijk there is cautious optimism that Australia can reach the knockout stages for the first time since the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

The Socceroos lost all three group matches in Brazil in 2014, but the draw has been kinder this time and they will face France, Peru and Denmark in group C.

The French are strong favourites to top the group, but pundits reckon Australia are capable of taking points off the Danes and Peruvians to clinch second spot and a place in the last 16.

• Richard Garcia when he played for the Socceroos.

Ahead of Australia’s opening match with France this Saturday (June 16), we sat down with former Socceroo Richard Garcia, now assistant coach at Perth Glory, to discuss Australia’s chances:

Q. How far can the Socceroos go at Russia 2018?

“It’s a tough one to call, just getting there is a great achievement. But if we make it out of the group that would be fantastic. In 2006 we got through to the round of 16 with a win, a draw and a loss, but in 2010 that wasn’t good enough. So it’s very hard to predict what is required to progress, but I’m sure we’ll give it everything.”

Q. Do you think the Socceroos will play their usual attacking game?

“I think we’ll definitely play with that bravado and attack, because that’s when we’re at out best, and in any case, we probably don’t know how to play a restrictive, defensive-style game. It’s not in our nature. We definitely have great attacking players capable of hurting Peru and Denmark and I think we’ll be competitive in those games. Against France you might see us play a bit tighter and be slightly more cautious, but we will still have a go when the opportunity presents itself”

Q. Who are the key players for Australia?

“I think Mathew Leckie is pivotal to our chances. He’s been in great form and plays in the Bundesliga. He will be one to watch. The midfield will be a key area as well; that’s where you control the game. So guys like Tom Rogic will have to perform well to give us a chance.”

Q. What’s your prediction for the opener against France?

“I’ve got a feeling we might be able to nick a score draw, a 1-1 or something like that. Sometimes the bigger teams can take a while to get going in the tournament and if you catch them early you have a chance. Getting a point against France would be a huge confidence boost for the team and stand us in good stead for the remaining games. It’s a massive test in our opening game and hopefully we can do well and build on that.”

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