World Cup 2018 team preview: Australia is high on question marks, low on talent

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ team-by-team 2018 World Cup previews. With less than a month to go until this summer’s tournament, it’s time to get familiar with each of the 32 teams participating in Russia. Next up in Group C is Australia.

For more analysis, lineup projections and predictions, head to our World Cup preview hub, bookmark it, and return as all 32 team previews and eight group previews roll in.

Outlook

Odds to win Group C: 6.7%
Odds to advance: 23.5%
Odds to win World Cup: 0.2%
Elo rank: 40
Yahoo Sports power rank: 29

Our writers say: The Socceroos are headed to their fourth straight World Cup, and just their fifth overall. But they’re unlikely to replicate their only trip out of the group stage in 2006. This team is decidedly lacking in pedigree. Leander Schaerlaeckens

(Odds via BetOnline, converted to percentages – and therefore slightly exaggerated)

Mile Jedinak and Aaron Mooy will have to be on their games for Australia at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

Basics

World Cup appearance: 5th
Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (2006)
2014 finish: Group stage (0-0-3)
Qualifying: Finished third in Asia’s Group B behind Japan and Saudi Arabia, won Asian playoff vs. Syria, won intercontinental playoff vs. Honduras
Schedule: France (Saturday, June 16, 6 a.m., FS1), Denmark (Thursday, June 21, 11 a.m., Fox), Peru (Thursday, June 26, 10 a.m., Fox/FS1)

Squad

Manager: Bert van Marwijk
Captain: Mile Jedinak (M)
Top players: Aaron Mooy (M), Mathew Leckie (F), Mat Ryan (G)
Full 23-man (or preliminary) squad

Breakdown

Why they’ll win games: To be completely honest, it’s pretty difficult to make a case for Socceroo victory. Very few players stand out. There’s no defined, well-drilled system. There is, though, a willingness to attack, and some decent players in the forward half of the team, so perhaps Australia can pull off an upset out of nowhere. France, with all its uncertainty, is actually a decent first opponent to have on the docket.

Why they’ll lose games: The list of reasons is long. To shorten it, just look at qualification records. Australia was probably the worst of the 31 teams that earned their ways to Russia. In the most forgiving final round of the six regions, it needed to go to two playoffs because it couldn’t finish ahead of Saudi Arabia. In one, it needed extra time to sneak past Syria. The downside of its willingness to attack is that the ball doesn’t move crisply enough to make those attacks count. And the defense, to put it kindly, is subpar.

How they’ll play: Nobody really knows, because after leading the Socceroos to Russia, manager Ange Postecoglou resigned. Van Marwijk has stepped in, and has a history of success at both club and international level. But if a recently 4-1 friendly loss to Norway is any indication, he hasn’t quite figured out how to set his side up. Postecoglu preferred three at the back late in the qualifying cycle. Van Marwijk will probably play four.

Projected lineup (4-2-3-1): Mat Ryan; Josh Risdon, Trent Sainsbury, Milos Degenek, Aziz Behich; Mile Jedinak, Massimo Luongo; Matthew Leckie, Aaron Mooy, Robbie Kruse; Tomi Juric.

There is uncertainty aplenty here. Among the players who aren’t sure-fire starters are Risdon at right back, Degenek in the middle, and Kruse on the wing. Mooy could play deeper next to Jedinak against weaker teams, but Australia won’t see any of those in Russia, so Van Marwijk will probably opt for a second defensive-minded central midfielder behind the Huddersfield man.

Rooting Guide

What makes them unique: Van Marwijk earned his World Cup trip – but not with Australia. He led Saudi Arabia to an unlikely berth, then left his post over a contract dispute shortly after securing qualification. Two months later, Postecoglou left his, and van Marwijk took his place to conclude a miniature game of managerial musical chairs.

Why to root for them: They’re called the Socceroos, which, in the non-African division, is probably the best nickname at the tournament.

Why to root against them: Simple: they’re neither good nor entertaining.

If you’re going to watch one game … choose the opener against France – more so for France, but also because there’s a bit of earth-shaking upset potential.

More Yahoo Sports World Cup team previews

Group A: Russia | Saudi Arabia | Egypt | Uruguay
Group B: Portugal | Spain | Morocco | Iran
Group C: France | Australia | Peru | Denmark
Group D: Argentina | Iceland | Croatia | Nigeria
Group E: Brazil | Switzerland | Costa Rica | Serbia
Group F: Germany | Mexico | Sweden | South Korea
Group G: Belgium | Panama | Tunisia | England
Group H: Poland | Senegal | Colombia | Japan

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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