SYDNEY (Reuters) - Surviving past the first round of this year’s World Cup finals in Russia is the minimum goal for the Socceroos, new coach Bert van Marwijk said on Thursday, even though the side struggled to qualify for the global showpiece.
The 65-year-old Van Marwijk was appointed to the role last week, replacing Ange Postecoglou who had unexpectedly quit just two weeks after he helped the team qualify for the finals through two playoffs.
The Socceroos, whose best performance at the finals was making the second round in 2006, will play France, Denmark and Peru in the pool stage at the June 14 to July 15 finals, their fourth successive appearance at the World Cup.
“I go to the World Cup with only one thing that counts - to survive the first round,” Van Marwijk told reporters in Sydney after arriving in the country earlier on Thursday. “If I didn’t have confidence in that I wouldn’t be sitting here.
“It’s a big challenge especially because we have not so much time. I have to get to know the players in such a short time.
“That makes the challenge harder.”
Van Marwijk inherits a team that struggled during the qualification campaign and is still heavily reliant on the goals of Tim Cahill, who turned 38 in December.
The Dutchman, however, has a strong pedigree in international soccer and was in charge of the Netherlands when they made the World Cup final in 2010 and most recently guided Saudi Arabia to World Cup qualification for the first time since 2006.
He fell out with the Saudis after qualification and replaces Postecoglou, who took Australia to their 2015 Asian Cup triumph but stood down for personal reasons.
Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop added his organisation was aware of the challenge facing Van Marwijk, but they felt they had got the right man.
“We know we have a tough group in Russia but when we were in Amsterdam, Bert made it clear we weren’t going to Russia to make up the numbers,” Gallop said, while adding that Van Marwijk had been their top pick.
“Top of the list was Bert,” Gallop added.
“His credentials - having made a World Cup final, having coached Saudi Arabia against the Socceroos ... his knowledge of our players made him a compelling case.”
Van Marwijk said he would spend the weekend watching three matches in the A-League as well as games in the European leagues to get up to speed with the players available to him.
“They are strong, physically strong,” he said of his first impressions of Australia’s players.
“The challenge is to let them play in a way that gives a them a chance to win games.
“I’m a realistic coach. I like creative football, I like to have the ball but I also like to win. That’s the most important thing.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty