Australian football appeared to be in the doldrums after a poor performance by the national team at the AFC Asian Cup 2007. The Socceroos could only manage one win in four games, and went out on penalties to Japan in the quarter-finals.
Yet with the arrival of much-travelled Dutchman Pim Verbeek, the fortunes of the national team have taken a sharp turn for the better. Australia are undefeated in the opening phase of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, strolling past Qatar 3-0 in their first match before securing a 0-0 draw against China in Kunming.
A hard-fought 1-0 win over Asian champions Iraq on Sunday has put the Aussies three points clear in AFC Group 1. In recent weeks, Pim Verbeek's men have also found time to defeat 14th-ranked Ghana 1-0 in a friendly match in Sydney.
The Socceroos' recent successes have been built on their excellent defensive record; under Verbeek, they are yet to concede a single goal. Middlesbrough's veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer has made a sizeable contribution in this regard, saving a penalty from Shao Jiayi in the final minute of the qualifying match against China.
Against Iraq, Schwarzer was the hero again, making a number of crucial saves to maintain Australia's 1-0 lead. There have been other impressive contributions in the defensive third of the pitch, especially from Newcastle Jets stopper Jade North, a standout performer against both China and Ghana.
The efforts of Schwarzer, North and others have seen Australia gain 74 points and rise eight places to 35th in the June FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
The heat is on
In the forthcoming weeks, Australia face Iraq and Qatar again in their AFC World Cup qualifying series - but this time, there's a twist. The Socceroos will be playing in the Middle East, in desert conditions which many of them will be unused to.
Verbeek has admitted that the next stage of the qualifying campaign will be his toughest test so far. "It will be two very tough weeks. We came here to Brisbane, because of the weather and climate, to make it easier to acclimatize to go to the 40 degree heat in Dubai. But that didn't work out."
"But we have the three points. We don't know exactly what to expect in Dubai; we will find out in the coming days."
Calculation of points for a single match
P = M x I x T x C
M: points for Match result
Teams gain 3 points for a victory, 1 point for a draw and 0 points for a defeat. In a penalty shoot-out, the winning team gains 2 points and the losing team gains 1 point.
I: Importance of match
Friendly match (including small competitions): I = 1.0
FIFA World Cup™ qualifier or confederation-level qualifier: I = 2.5
Confederation-level final competition or FIFA Confederations Cup: I = 3.0
FIFA World Cup™ final competition: I = 4.0
T: strength of opposing Team
The strength of the opponents is based on the formula: 200 – the ranking position of the opponents.As an exception to this formula, the team at the top of the ranking is always assigned the value 200 and the teams ranked 150th and below are assigned a minimum value of 50. The ranking position is taken from the opponents’ ranking in the most recently published FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.
C: strength of Confederation
When calculating matches between teams from different confederations, the mean value of the confederations to which the two competing teams belong is used. The strength of a confederation is calculated on the basis of the number of victories by that confederation at the last three FIFA World Cup™ competitions (see following page). Their values are as follows:
|Points Last Month|
|Points outside Ranking calculation|