The devil is in the detail for Socceroos
When things are tight, when there is nothing between two teams, when the scales are evenly matched in a game with huge stakes – then the details matter.
It’s said that the devil is in the detail, but that’s a theological question for another day.
What is an acknowledged fact is that the team which masters the detail of preparation just that little bit better, loads the circumstances in its favour and gains an edge – no matter how insignificant it might look at the time – tips the scales in its favour.
The fact that the Socceroos have had to play the first leg of this World Cup qualifier away from home, in Honduras, means they have to make two onerous journeys – to Central America and then to Sydney – in the space of a week while their opponents only have to make the long trip once.
But the fact that the FFA has the money, the logistical savvy and the ability to organise a charter flight to speed the recovery redresses that balance.
It proved critical 12 years ago, when the Socceroos prevailed in extra time in a penalty shootout over an exhausted Uruguay, the night that Mark Schwarzer and John Aloisi became national heroes.
And it might, just might, make all the difference again this time if can arrive home fresher, better rested and, crucially, having been able to provide treatment to injured players and a proper recovery regime on the long-haul flight back.
In 2005 the Socceroos lost the first leg against Uruguay in Montevideo 1-0 and were able to return on a charter flight, arriving in Sydney well before their South American rivals, who had to cope with jet lag, tiredness and the time difference.
As the game went into extra time the Aussies sensed that they would finish the stronger, and their mental strength in the shootout – when Schwarzer saved two spot kicks – was a crucial element.
Archie Thompson, the former Melbourne Victory forward and now a Fox pundit, was part of that squad.
He was a starter in the team that lost 1-0 at the Estadio Centenario and is in no doubt that the ns’ superior organisation made all the difference in the deciding game a few days later.
Archie Thompson (bottom, third from left) and the Socceroos team in the 2005 World Cup qualifier in Uruguay Photo: AP
“It’s such a huge advantage. You have doctors, physios, you can get a massage, you can get up and walk around and know that no one will tell you to sit down or stop,” Thompson said.
“You get a lot more space to stretch out, to sleep, to relax and recover. It made a huge difference to us I think.
“I can’t remember it all now as it was a blur, but I do remember we landed somewhere on a Pacific island and we were able to get out, stretch our legs, take a break before getting back on.
“It’s that detail that can shape things. I know it costs a lot, but look how much they will make from qualifying for the World Cup.
“It will be a lot more, so can they afford not to?
“I can remember seeing footage of them [Uruguay] arriving, and they looked tired and fatigued, and that gave us a boost.”
Current Victory boss Kevin Muscat was part of the squad that lost the second leg to Uruguay four years earlier in Montevideo, and he too believes that having a charter flight is an essential weapon in the Socceroos’ armoury this time. Back in his day the team travelled to Uruguay on scheduled airlines.
Having the second leg at home is also a positive factor for the team, he says – if they do a job in Honduras first.
“It is an advantage but we have to perform well there to make sure we can capitalise on that advantage in Sydney,” Muscat said.
“It does help [a charter flight] though.
“It doesn’t really get mentioned or spoken about, but if you have a look it’s part of Ange’s remit, his philosophy, to make sure we are world class in the way we prepare.
“How we are now set up as a national team with all the infrastructure that Ange and the FFA have created, it’s second to none, all those small little things will add up, but ultimately it’s the result now that counts.”