The Socceroos will start their 2018 World Cup campaign against former champions and tournament fancies France, with group matches to follow against Denmark and Peru.
Australia avoided another group of death when the draw was made in Russia overnight, but will be doing well to reach the knockout rounds after being drawn against three teams ranked in the world’s top 12.
France are the most formidable opponents. Les Bleus are ranked as one of the favourites in 2018 – behind only Germany and Brazil – and were responsible for knocking out the Netherlands in qualifying.
But the Socceroos will rate their chances of progressing past both Peru (world No. 11) and Denmark (12) given their struggles to reach Russia. The top two nations in the four-team group qualify for the round of 16.
Socceroos assistant coach Ante Milicic said the team would be well prepared for their opponents in the pool.
“We’ll pay them the utmost respect,” he said, acknowledging that France, Denmark and Peru were very good sides.
“We knew it would be a difficult group, so we’ve got three tough games, but I think the main thing for us is that logistically when we look at the cities where the games will be played, most notably the first game against France, for that to be in Kazan where our base is, I think that’s going to be a huge plus for us,” he said.
“They’re all difficult games, but we believe we’re a chance.”
Denmark finished second in their European group behind Poland, losing to minnows Montenegro at home. They eventually qualified with a play-off win over Ireland.
Peru finished fifth out of 10 teams in South American qualifying, defeating New Zealand in a play-off to book their place at a first World Cup since 1982.
Australia, without a coach after Ange Postecoglou’s resignation last week, needed two play-offs of their own to progress to a fourth-straight tournament.
But they will be buoyed by the draw, which is more manageable than their task four years ago: heavyweights Chile, 2010 finalists the Netherlands and Spain, the team who beat the Dutch to lift the trophy in South Africa.
Immediate reaction to the draw from players and fans was positive. QPR’s Massimo Luongo said the opening game against France looked “difficult but exciting” and was optimistic Australia could make it through.
“Happy with that group,” said 2014 World Cup defender Ryan McGowan.
Midfielder Aaron Mooy simply posted a picture of a giant muscular kangaroo in response to the draw.
But after Postecoglou’s departure, and with the administration of the local game in turmoil, Australia’s first priority will be to find a new coach – or even work out who will appoint one.
French coach Didier Deschamps said the draw “could have been worse”.
The draw will also please the Socceroos’ backroom crew, given the opening game match against France is in Australia’s training base of Kazan, and the Denmark match is in Samara, only 350km to the south. The final game, against Peru, is in Sochi, on the Black Sea.
The Socceroos can draw upon memories of a win against France, albeit a distant one. Under coach Frank Farina, Clayton Zane scored the only goal of the game against the then-world champions at the 2001 Confederations Cup.
The last meeting went less well, particularly for then Socceroos coach Holger Osieck. He was sacked in the aftermath of a 6-0 drubbing in Paris in 2013, to be replaced by Postecoglou.
In great news for armchair viewers, the Socceroos will kick off their tournament at 8pm AEST on Saturday 16 June.
The second match against Denmark in Samara takes place on 22 June at 1am AEST before the group stage finale against Peru in Sochi at midnight AEST on 27 June.
Should Australia replicate their best result at a World Cup – in 2006 – by reaching the knockout stage, they would play either Argentina, Iceland, Croatia or Nigeria.
Australia’s name was drawn by the former Italy defender Fabio Cannavaro – one of a host of former stars taking part in the draw – who played in the 2006 second round game when Italy defeated the Socceroos with a controversial last-minute penalty.