With Ange Postecoglou at the helm, Australia commenced 2017 at 44 on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking and facing a significant challenge to qualify for a fourth successive FIFA World Cup™.
Fast forward 12 months and the Socceroos find themselves amid a very different landscape. A new coach has been appointed in the shape of experienced Dutchman Bert van Marwijk after Postecoglou’s surprise resignation.
Following a gruelling but ultimately successful World Cup campaign, the Socceroos rose to 36 on the global ranking, behind only the Islamic Republic of Iran among Asia’s five nations that will feature at Russia 2018.
Australia’s FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking history
Opening position: 49 (1993)
Highest position: 21 (2009)
Worst position: 100 (2014)
Average position: 48 (since Ranking commenced)
Australia’s current position is their highest since 2013. That year marked the end of the road for the vast majority of the country's ‘golden generation’, and the new high on the global ranking provides evidence that the current crop of Socceroos are asserting themselves at international level.
Midfielder Aaron Mooy and goalkeeper Mat Ryan have enjoyed breakthrough seasons in the English Premier League at Huddersfield Town and Brighton & Hove Albion respectively. The likes of Mathew Leckie (Hertha Berlin) and Tom Rogic (Celtic) have also shown glimpses of their attacking prowess at both club and international level over the past year.
Significant too is less of a reliance on talismanic forward Tim Cahill. After Cahill contributed an extraordinary 16 goals for the national team across 2014 and 2015, the Socceroos had seven different goalscorers among their 14-goal tally during World Cup qualifiers in 2017.
Crowned Asian champions in 2015, Australia have also benefitted from an early experience of Russia last June for the FIFA Confederations Cup. They collected a 1-1 draw against Cameroon, before reprising that result with a dynamic showing against Chile, with the Socceroos in the hunt for a semi-final berth until the final moments of that final group match.
It all makes for a strong platform for Van Marwijk to build upon. The 65-year-old, who led his native Netherlands to the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final™, is more than familiar with Australia’s current personnel. He earned Saudi Arabia drought-breaking qualification to the 2018 World Cup, playing Australia twice en route, and nudging Postecoglou's side out of an automatic qualification berth on goal difference.
Van Marwijk’s appointment continues a Dutch coaching theme for the Socceroos, which began with Guus Hiddink’s arrival ahead of the 2006 World Cup. It was a trend maintained four years later with Pim Verbeek, while the national federation also appointed two Dutch technical directors during that period.
“I think it [Van Marwijk’s appointment] is great news,” said former Australia midfielder Brett Emerton, who played under the Dutchman at Feyenoord for three seasons in a period which included a 2002 UEFA Cup title. “He can be quite demanding, and makes it clear what your role is. But at the same time he is a pleasure to play under.
“He is a great man manager and knows how to get the best out of each and every player. He’s not a typical Dutch coach. He’s quite flexible in the way he plays.”
Van Marwijk will kick-start his Socceroos career with matches against Norway and Colombia in March.
A testing Russia 2018 opener against France in Kazan awaits Australia on 16 June, before further World Cup matches against Denmark in Samara and Peru in Sochi.