Roos path anything but easy

by Ben Somerford on Aug 31, 2011

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Socceroos coach Holger Osieck spoke to earlier this week and made the comment: “In Asia it is a little different compared to, say, Europe because there are so few spots up for grabs. It is a long stretch and if you qualify you have to play 14 matches so it is a tough road in Asia.”

Indeed, a little under three years out from Brazil 2014, Australia begin their World Cup qualifying campaign this Friday at home to Thailand.

It's the start of a very, very long journey. Some say it's simple; make no mistake, it isn't.

For starters, as Osieck points out, there's only four and a half spots up for grabs between 46 member associations.

This isn't the Asian Cup qualifiers where we were afforded a few slip-ups. Any slip-ups in World Cup qualifying and suddenly things get difficult in Asia with so few spots available.

Secondly, to reach the World Cup through Asia, a team must play a minimum of 14 matches. It's a brutal qualifying process and to emphasise that point, you only need to realise that no other confederation has their top teams competing in qualifiers this early, just under three years out from the actual event in Brazil.

Finally, Asia is Asia; the largest continent on Earth. Travel distances are huge particularly given there's a spread of teams from West and East Asia who'll compete until the end. The travel distance between, for example, Brisbane and Dammam - where Australia will meet Saudi Arabia on September 6 - is more than 12,500 kilometres.

To make matters worse, Australia couldn't really be any further away from Europe, where most of our players ply their trade meaning every trip home is a long one.

Several players and officials have made the point before, it is a physically taxing process and a logistical nightmare.

Saudi Arabia's Football Federation have already recognised that and tried to utilise it to their advantage, by playing their home qualifier against Australia in the nation's third largest city Dammam, which is almost 400 kilometres north-east of the capital Riyadh where the Socceroos will land.

Unfortunately for the Socceroos too, our draw for the third round of qualifiers hasn't helped either, with every stand-alone fixture to be played in Australia rather than perhaps Oman or Saudi Arabia in West Asia, meaning a lot of travel will be required for our European-based squad members.

It's a tough gig for our national team players, but it's in this context that it is amazing that veterans such as Lucas Neill, Mark Schwarzer, Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell keep putting their hands up for selection, given the physical toll it must take on them.

It's remarkable really, especially when you compare them to English players like Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes who called it quits early despite plying their trade in their home country.

Perhaps you could look at Korea's Park Ji-Sung, who encountered similar travel distances and retired from their national team after the 2011 Asian Cup at the age of 29 while still having a big impact at Manchester United.

Indeed, regularly flying halfway around the world and back to play for your country is no easy gig. In this context, suddenly the mantra we've heard all week about 'not underestimating the Thais' makes sense, despite our opponents being some 98 places behind us in the Fifa rankings.

Osieck added: “It’s very important to have a great start, we should aim to win our home games and go from there.” It begins on Friday at home to Thailand.