The morning after Australia failed to qualify directly for next year’s World Cup, a defiant Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou brushed aside criticism of his coaching style and said he had “survived much worse.”
That’s unlikely to placate some of his detractors, including former Premier League players Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater, ahead of Australia’s two-match series with Syria next month — despite Postecoglou getting a fresh endorsement from Football Federation Australia.
“I won’t be pushed into the shadows of Australian football history like others,” Postecoglou said Wednesday. “I don’t make anything of (the criticism) and I won’t waste my time responding to it.”
Australia had a narrow 2-1 win over Thailand on Tuesday night in Melbourne despite having three-quarters of the possession, 45 shots and comprehensively outplaying the visitors, who had failed to win a match during the qualifying round. That left the Socceroos with 19 competition points, a total equaled later in the evening by Saudi Arabia when it beat already-qualified Japan 1-0 at home.
But Saudi Arabia had a better goal differential — plus-seven to five for Australia — so the Saudis advanced as the second team in Group B along with Japan to qualify directly for Russia in 2018. Iran and South Korea qualified as the top two teams in Group A.
The third-place teams in each group — Australia and Syria — will play a home-and-away series in October, although Syria will likely play its home game at a neutral venue because of the civil war raging back home. Those matches are scheduled for Oct. 5 and then Oct. 10.
The winner of that series will then have to play the fourth-place team from the CONCACAF region, which takes in North and Central America, in an intercontinental home-and-away series in November for the right to play in Russia.
A tough road to take, and one that could have been avoided if Australia had made more of its chances against an overmatched Thailand on Tuesday.
Former Manchester United goalkeeper Bosnich, now a television commentator, suggested Australia should face Syria with a new coach.
“At the moment, he’s hanging by a thread in my opinion,” Bosnich said of Postecoglou. “There should be serious consideration given to the fact we need a different voice because those players, regardless of what they’re saying publicly, aren’t responding like they used to.”
Bosnich was particularly critical of Postecoglou’s 3-2-4-1 setup.
“Don’t be using the national team as an experimental laboratory, it’s too important for that,” Bosnich said. “We’re not England or Brazil or federations with a lot of money. We are strapped for cash and this game in this country needs us to qualify for the World Cup all the time.”
Slater, who played 44 matches for Australia, said it was “time for a change.”
“We need a new approach!” he posted on Twitter. “We now need saving.”
Postecoglou became Socceroos coach in 2013, determined to stamp an Australian approach on the game plan after taking over following an eight-year run of mostly foreign managers including Guus Hiddink, Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck. He had built up his credentials in the domestic A-League after being replaced as coach of Australia’s under 20-team in 2007 when the team failed to qualify for U-20 World Cup that same year.
The 52-year-old Postecoglou obviously had that on his mind Wednesday morning while reacting to the latest criticism.
“I took the role to do it a certain way and I’ll see it through,” he said “The Australian football industry chewed me up and spat me out 10 years ago. This is nothing new. I’ve survived much worse than this and if anything it motivates me to keep going because I want to make sure Australian football gets on the right path.”
Asian Cup champion Australia only lost one game in the third round of World Cup qualifying — a 2-0 defeat in Japan last week.
If FFA chief David Gallop has his way, Postecoglou will survive at least in the immediate term.
“We are fully behind Ange,” Gallop told Australian Associated Press. “While it was a frustrating night with so many close chances, we are focused on assisting Ange and the staff and the team in preparation for the critical playoff games.”