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World Cup preview: Australia

Ahead of this summer's World Cup in Russia, Sports Mole assesses Australia's chances as they appear in the competition for the fourth time in a row.

Australia are fast becoming a fixture at the World Cup, with Russia 2018 set to be their fourth consecutive appearance at the biggest tournament in football.

The Socceroos had a few scares en route to booking their place on the plane, but they will now be hopeful of repeating their achievement from 12 years ago and making it through to the knockout rounds.

The Australia team line up before their friendly with the Czech Republic on June 1, 2018© Reuters

Bert van Marwijk's side will once again be underdogs for the most part, particularly after a turbulent buildup to the tournament, but they are no longer newcomers on the grandest stage and may fancy their chances of upsetting the odds.

Here, Sports Mole previews Australia's 2018 World Cup campaign.


GROUP

Australia will not have been too upset when they were drawn in Group C alongside France, Peru and Denmark, with second place seemingly up for grabs between three teams.

World Cup Group C

Euro 2016 runners-up France will, of course, be favourites to top the pile with the wealth of talent at their disposal, but Australia may fancy their chances against the Peruvians and the Danes - both of whom also needed a playoff to qualify for the tournament.

The fixture list has served up Australia's toughest fixture - on paper at least - as their opening tie, though, which means that they may be playing catch-up from the start if results go as expected.

AUSTRALIA FIXTURE LIST

June 16: France vs. Australia (11am, Kazan Arena, Kazan)
June 21: Denmark vs. Australia (1pm, Cosmos Arena, Samara)
June 26: Australia vs. Peru (3pm, Fisht Olympic Stadium, Sochi)


HOW THEY QUALIFIED

Australia's 22-match qualifying campaign began back in June 2015, and they initially made light work of their opening group stage with seven wins from their eight outings, topping the standings ahead of Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Bangladesh.

No team scored more than the Socceroos during that phase either, but things got tougher after that as they were drawn alongside Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq and Thailand in the second group stage.

Australia celebrate qualifying for the 2018 World Cup© Reuters

It all started well enough with back-to-back victories against Iraq and UAE, but four consecutive draws followed before defeat in their penultimate group game against Japan left them in trouble.

A dramatic late victory over Thailand on the final day was ultimately not enough to leapfrog Saudi Arabia in the second automatic qualifying spot as Australia were condemned to the playoffs on goal difference, where they came up against Syria.

Once again they did it the hard way, with veteran Tim Cahill grabbing a priceless brace in the second leg of their playoff - including an extra-time winner - to seal a 3-2 aggregate triumph.

Australia still had an intercontinental playoff to negotiate, though, finally sealing their place as the 31st team at the tournament with a 3-1 triumph over Honduras - all of the goals coming in the second half of the home second leg.


RECENT FORM

Australia will be pleased with their final preparations for this summer's tournament, having thrashed Czech Republic 4-0 and sealed a dramatic late win over Hungary in their two warm-up matches.

The Socceroos needed a 92nd-minute own goal for the latter win - having previously conceded an 88th-minute own goal to make the score level again - but the triumph secured back-to-back victories for the first time in a year.

Australia's players celebrate scoring during their international friendly with Czech Republic on June 1, 2018© Reuters

Alarm bells may have been ringing when Australia kicked off World Cup year with a 4-1 defeat to Norway, but a respectable goalless draw with Colombia followed four days later.

That result should give Australia confidence ahead of their showdown against Peru, and they will also be hopeful that their success against European opposition earlier this month bodes well for their meetings with France and Denmark.


SQUAD

Australia World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: Brad Jones (Feyenoord), Mat Ryan (Brighton), Danny Vukovic (Genk).

Defenders: Aziz Behich (Bursaspor), Milos Degenek (Yokohama F. Marinos), Matthew Jurman (Suwon Samsung Blue Wings), James Meredith (Millwall), Josh Risdon (Western Sydney), Trent Sainsbury (Grasshopper Zurich).

Midfielders: Jackson Irvine (Hull City), Mile Jedinak (Aston Villa), Robbie Kruse (VfL Bochum), Massimo Luongo (QPR), Mark Milligan (Al-Ahli), Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield), Tom Rogic (Celtic), Tim Cahill (Millwall).

Forwards: Daniel Arzani (Melbourne City), Tomi Juric (Luzern), Mathew Leckie (Hertha Berlin), Andrew Nabbout (Urawa Red Diamonds), Dimitri Petratos (Newcastle Jets), Jamie Maclaren (Hibernian).


STAR PLAYER - Aaron Mooy

Aaron Mooy in action for Australia on June 19, 2017© Reuters

A relative unknown when signed by Manchester City in 2016, Aaron Mooy is now a Premier League regular after playing a key part in Huddersfield Town's promotion to the top flight and then helping to keep them there.

Mooy has now racked up 33 caps at senior level for the Aussies and scored five goals, the first of which came on his debut against Guam six years ago.

The 27-year-old grew into his midfield role under former boss Ange Postecoglou and is now tasked with creating chances from deep under Van Marwijk.

Used alongside Celtic ace Tom Rogic and Mile Jedinak, who also boasts Premier League experience from his time with Aston Villa, the Socceroos' strength certainly lies in their midfield ranks.


MANAGER - Bert van Marwijk

Australia manager Bert van Marwijk on May 29, 2018© Reuters

There are only two managers at this summer's tournament who have experience of being on the touchline in a World Cup final, and Australia boast one of those in Van Marwijk.

The Dutchman led his home nation to the 2010 final where they were beaten by Spain, but his task with the Socceroos looks significantly harder after being parachuted in to conduct a rescue job.

Van Marwijk was only appointed in January following the sudden departure of Ange Postecoglou, who resigned from the role in November despite leading his team to the World Cup finals.

The 65-year-old has had only four games and will have spent a maximum of 30 days with his squad before playing their opening match of the tournament, so time is of the essence for him more than almost any other manager in Russia.

Van Marwijk did earn his place at the tournament, though, leading Saudi Arabia through the qualifying campaign as they reached their first World Cup in 12 years, only to then also leave his post after failing to agree terms on a new contract.

Regardless of how Van Marwijk does he will be replaced by Graham Arnold after the tournament, but in his whirlwind spell in charge he will no doubt look to use the experience he has gathered from spells at Feyenoord, Borussia Dortmund and Hamburg in addition to his international pedigree.


WORLD CUP RECORD

Best finish: Last 16 (2006)

Australia celebrate after making it through to the knockout stages at the 2006 World Cup© Reuters

Russia 2018 will be Australia's fourth consecutive World Cup appearance, having only ever appeared in one prior to their return to the big time in 2006.

The Aussies were knocked out in the group stages in 1974, though, and have suffered the same fate in the past two editions of the tournament too, losing all three matches in Brazil four years ago after being drawn in the group of death alongside holders Spain, Netherlands and Chile.

The only time the Socceroos have ever made it out of the group stages came in 2006, when they finished above Croatia and Japan before crashing out to a 95th-minute Francesco Totti penalty in the last 16 against Italy.

Overall Australia have played 13 World Cup matches, winning two, drawing three and losing eight in that time with 11 goals scored and 26 conceded.


PREDICTION

Australia are slightly unfortunate to be starting their campaign against France as defeat in the opening game is always difficult to bounce back from. Reaching the last 16 is not beyond the realms of possibility, but we expect them to miss out to France and Peru in Group C.

VERDICT: Third in Group C

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How far will Australia go at this summer's World Cup?

Group Stages
Last 16
Quarter-final
Semi-final
Runners-up
Winners
Group Stages
83.3%
Last 16
0.0%
Quarter-final
0.0%
Semi-final
0.0%
Runners-up
0.0%
Winners
16.7%
Millwall's Tim Cahill warms up for the match against Cardiff City on February 9, 2018
Read Next:
Cahill named in Australia WC squad
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