‘Don’t think about it’: How the Socceroos are set up to counter France’s brilliance

Tim Cahill says that about 65 minutes into the biggest of games, your legs start to go.

"Don't ask me why, you get cramp."

He's trying to describe what it will be like for the youngsters and first-timers in the Socceroos squad making their debut at this World Cup.

He's pretty relaxed about the whole thing now; he's been here before. Three times, in fact. He's been to finals at Wembley, too, and knows what it's like for adrenaline and tension to take a toll on your body and mind.

"When they get to play in front of a full house, the lactic acid, everything built up, the expectation — the legs go weak, become numb. Your mind becomes fuzzy," he says.

"You can't practice for that."

There will be no soft landing at Russia 2018 for the Australians, experienced and inexperienced alike. On Saturday they take on France, third or fourth favourites to win the trophy and probably the most talented squad of the 32 assembled.

Consider some of the players Australia will be facing.

Antoine Griezmann, the quicksilver striker who just announced he is staying at current club Atletico Madrid in a 45-minute TV special. He could have gone to any club in the world and they would have paid almost anything he wanted.

Paul Pogba, a perfect machine of a footballer who patrols the entire field but becomes particularly lethal in the final third. Manchester United paid $160 million for him. He has been criticised ever since for not justifying that fee. He's got a lot to prove at this World Cup

Then there's Kylian Mbappe — the 19-year-old who's so ridiculously skilful that even if a defender does everything right, he still could end up bamboozled by him. In Mbappe's current form he is perhaps even more dangerous than those last two.

Then there are great players behind those and great players behind those. Even the guys who didn't make France's squad are frightening.

So how do you get your head around facing a team like that?

"Don't think about it," has been the answer all week from the Socceroos.

Even two days out from the game, veteran midfielder slash defender Mark Milligan said the Australians had barely talked about France, let alone watched video analysis or thought about ways to counter individual threats.

That's because their whole ethos, instilled in them in a short space of time by fly-in-fly-out coach Bert van Marwijk, is that if the system works, the opponent doesn't really matter.

The Socceroos run on grass in a stadium with large banners saying #GoSocceroos, and Kazan - Home of the Socceroos

Touted as a defensive coach who would overhaul his predecessor Ange Postecoglou's whole system, the Dutchman insists he is neither defensive or attacking. He's just pragmatic.

He likes attacking football. Of course he does, he's Dutch. But he likes to win even more.

In a short space of time he has tried to teach the team to play like Atletico Madrid.

Atletico in the past few years have won the Spanish league once and made the Champions League final twice and, although they have one or two superstars like Griezmann, their squad is far inferior to their competitors like Real Madrid and Barcelona. Their achievements are almost unbelievable considering the players on their roster.

And that's what van Marwijk needs from the Socceroos, something that defies logic.

The players have bought into it, or at least they speak like they have. Each talked about worrying about his own game, the side's shape, defensive press and knowing where your teammate is going to be.

The style is high energy and will be exhausting.

Massimo Luongo thinks they can do better than just survive against the French.

"We've always been looking to win the game," he says.

"In everything we do in training and that we've done previously, we're always out there to win the game. You've spoken to the manager, he doesn't want to lose games or draw games, he just wants to win."

The Socceroos walk to train in Kazan, Russia.

Details, details

You cannot affect the amount of talent emerging from your country (at least not in a short space of time), but Football Australia has pulled out all the stops to ensure everything else is ideal.

The Socceroos' base at the AK Bars ice hockey club looks perfect for the job. It's not luxurious but it's comfortable. The players love the fact they can walk 100 metres to training and don't have to go on 40-minute bus rides as they did in Brazil.

Out of pure luck, too, the first game is to be played in Kazan, saving that extra flight somewhere.

There's a 25m pool, a games room, a chillout area and a modern gym.

A Playstation is hooked up to the TV in the communal area, but apparently the players have barely touched it, surprisingly. Team chef Vinicius Capovilla was kept on after the Brazil World Cup because they loved his food so much.

The kitchen is open 24 hours and everything is made in house, including the bread. Athletes and staff know exactly what is going into their bodies.

Football Federation Australia flew in a mattress for every man to avoid a similar situation to Brazil four years ago, when a couple of players had to sleep on the floor due to the poor quality of the bedding.

Socceroos paraphernalia covers the entire facility — and it's a large facility. Murals of Lucas Neill, Harry Kewell and Johnny Warren look over the boys. Even the cost of setting up such signage must have been significant.

The Socceroos train, with Kazan in the background.

The FFA secretly contacted family members of each man to collect photos. There were three placed beside each player's bed before he arrived.

There has been an extraordinary effort to create a home away from home, a little slice of Sydney or Thornlie or Brisbane in Kazan.

A sense of family also permeates the squad, with Mile Jedinak, Milligan and Cahill the elder statesmen. Jedinak even has the beard to match.

Teenager Daniel Arzani is "the kid", kept in line by the rest with a stern word or a tough tackle, but quietly admired for his vibrancy and rare abilities.

All of this might mean nothing against the might of France. When you're facing Mbappe coming at you with pace and moving his feet so fast you can barely see them, the perfectly cooked salmon you had for dinner last night won't be on your mind.

The rest of the world gives Australia very little chance of making a splash at this World Cup.

An image of a Monopoly set

On the Russia 2018 edition of Monopoly in the games room at AK Bars, Australia takes up the space where Old Kent Road usually is, while the big teams are all the way around the other side of the board. You get the picture.

Cahill reckons that the French players, with their huge pay packets and all the big finals they've played, probably don't get those same wobbly legs as the Australians, and maybe that's actually an advantage for the guys in gold — for most of them it's the biggest match of their careers.

Australia may simply be outclassed by France, and even Denmark and Peru. But if there is a glimmer of hope out there that they can cause a shock, they have given themselves the best possible chance of latching on to it.

Russian fans watch Socceroos at training

Original Article


ABC .net


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