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May 12, 2014

32 Teams in 32 Days: Australia

Australia will be making their fourth World Cup appearance, reaching the Round of 16 once, back in 2006.

Group B | Spain | Netherlands | Chile


Team DNA

This is undoubtedly the area of greatest change for Australia since coach Ange Postecoglou took over after Holger Osieck was sacked in October of last year.

The team has moved to a far more dynamic style, based on quick counterattacks and releasing the wide men early. A flat back four with two central midfielders screening is almost a certainty, while a traditional striker will be hard-pressed to force their way into Postecoglou's starting XI.

The ability to take this style -- which has been so successful for Postecoglou in the A-League with the Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory -- and apply it with the national players at his disposal remains the big unanswered question. Unlike club football, he won't simply be able to dip into the transfer market if things aren't working in his favour.

Though Australia's task at the World Cup may be tough, they will at least be playing the brand of football most Australians appreciate -- full of energy and always willing to attack their opponent.

Starting scenario

History

Australia have made three previous World Cup appearances (1974, 2006 and 2010), with their best showing coming in 2006 when they reached the Round of 16. 

How they reached Brazil

The Socceroos' qualification process was a nervy one. Scarcely did the team look convincing, and less often did they appear a team able to attack with numbers. And that, in part, was why Osieck was forced out. Heavy losses against Brazil and France in friendlies were the final straw, but a chorus of discontent echoed throughout Australia's qualifiers.

Never was this more evident than in the 2-2 draw at home against Oman in March, when goals from Tim Cahill and Brett Holman prevented an embarrassing defeat -- one which threatened to derail Australia's hopes of appearing in a third straight World Cup. A 1-0 victory against Iraq last June in Sydney clinched qualification; but even then the match was in the balance until Josh Kennedy entered the fray late on.

In short, the team must perform with greater vigour and enterprise than they did in qualification, or an early exit is assured.

The numbers never lie

Calculating a nation's passion for the game based on how well it pays its manager, attends its games and gets out to play:

Key battles

In order for Australia to face archrival England, both nations would need to progress to at least the quarterfinals. With that in mind -- and the extreme unlikelihood of the teams meeting at that stage -- Australia will have to set their sights on their group opponents alone.

A win against either of the 2010 finalists -- Spain and the Netherlands -- would be a huge achievement, and even knocking off world No. 14 Chile would be hailed as a momentous victory in Australian football.

Of all the teams in Group B, defending world champion Spain would be the pick due to the clash of styles. The match is set to be tiki-taka versus counterattack, which should prove a most interesting experiment for the tactical nerds among us.

Spain clearly have the upper hand in terms of big-match experience, but the Australians would love nothing more than to provide a boil over on the world's biggest stage.

Most important player

Tim Cahill is Australia's all-time top goal scorer.
Tim Cahill is Australia's all-time top goal scorer.

Tim Cahill is the obvious answer to this question. The New York Red Bulls star is still a powerhouse for the national team, and often provides the most likely route to goal in a team shy on out-and-out strikers.

However, there is a strong argument to suggest that the 2014 World Cup could be make-or-break for Tom Rogic. Regularly touted as Australia's "next big thing," Rogic has struggled since his move from the Central Coast Mariners in the A-League to Scottish giants Celtic. A subsequent loan move back to his homeland occurred this season, and he flattered to deceive at Melbourne Victory in a campaign dotted with frustrating injuries.

Rogic can mix it with the best of them when he is on. Able to turn a game by beating his player or unleashing a mind-blowing pass to open up the field, his raw talent cannot be questioned.

If Postecoglou can get him to fire, the 21-year-old may well be the ace up Australia's sleeve.

Definition of success

A successful tournament for Australia will probably be seen as one in which they aren't totally humiliated against Spain, Netherlands and Chile within their tough Group B. However, there will still be some who have faith in Australia advancing into the knockout phase.

The Socceroos have a wonderful record against the Dutch and could potentially match up well against the styles employed by Spain and Chile, so all hope is not yet lost.

Video: Australia odds in World Cup (Australia only)

Still, it's hard to see Postecoglou's men finishing in any other position but fourth. A strong showing, perhaps forcing one or two draws along the way, would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction.

Victories against any of their group opponents, let alone moving into the round of 16 or beyond, would constitute as a minor miracle.

How far will Australia go?

Group stage.

ESPN FC Analysts' take: Shaka Hislop

Australia is a strange one. They've had their day; they had a fine tournament eight years ago in Germany. But many of those stars from the past are still the stars today. Cahill and defender Lucas Neill are great, but they're now in their mid-30s. Their leadership will still be crucial, though: If things go badly, Cahill will take all the pressure on his own shoulders, and he can handle that.

After a 6-0 thumping by France in a friendly, Australia brought in Postecoglou, who has only domestic experience. That's a huge gamble. They will have a few friendlies with him at the helm before they get to Brazil, but I don't think it will be enough for Australia to really find any kind of footing.

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