KAZAN, Russia (Reuters) - Australia’s crunch World Cup match against Peru on Tuesday could be Bert van Marwijk’s last game in charge but the no-nonsense Dutchman has already left a deep impression during his short time in charge.
Managing the weakest team in a group boasting France and Denmark, Van Marwijk was given little hope of leading the team through to the knockout rounds.
Given that the 36th-ranked Socceroos are still very much alive, his short tenure can be seen as something of a success.
Australia need to beat 11th-ranked Peru in Sochi on Tuesday and hope that France defeat Denmark at the same time to have a chance of reaching the last 16.
The Socceroos’ fate may be out of their hands — and goal difference may ultimately deny them — but Van Marwijk is convinced that the seas will part for them.
“I hope and I think that we will stay here in Kazan,” a relaxed Van Marwijk told reporters in the changing room at the team’s training base.
“I think the players of France they also have their own pride, they won two times but they didn’t play well and they want to prove to the whole world that they are one of the best teams.
“I think so, I believe that they will do their utmost best.”
Hired only for the World Cup and with his successor Graham Arnold already anointed, Van Marwijk was tasked with a rush-job for Russia, given a handful of games to mould a modestly-resourced team into a competitive unit.
Despite lacking world class players, a sports-mad Australian public inevitably heaps great expectations on their national teams, and the strain of guiding the Socceroos in Russia proved too much for Van Marwijk’s predecessor Ange Postecoglou.
Having steered Australia through the hard work of qualifying, Postecoglou quit in November, leaving a team questioning its identity before their fourth straight World Cup.
Like other nations that lack a strong tradition in soccer, Australia tends to look overseas for guidance, and particularly to the Netherlands for its tactical nous.
Australia has fine memories of Guus Hiddink, who guided the Socceroos to the last 16 at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, their only appearance in the knockout rounds.
Another Dutchman, Pim Verbeek, took the team to South Africa in 2010.
Serendipity played a part in Van Marwijk’s appointment, given that he was available to take over after walking away from Saudi Arabia over contractual disagreements despite guiding the Green Falcons to Russia.
Saudi Arabia, under replacement coach Argentine Juan Antonio Pizzi, have slumped out of the World Cup already, while Van Marwijk’s Australia have become stronger under the man who guided the Netherlands to the 2010 final.
While Australia reached the knockout rounds in Germany, Hiddink enjoyed the fruits of the team’s “golden generation”, a squad of players competing in Europe’s biggest leagues.
The current side captained by Mile Jedinak is of a lesser vintage, so getting them through to the last 16 would far outstrip Hiddink’s achievement.
Van Marwijk was asked whether he was proud of his team’s performances, having held Denmark to a 1-1 draw following a gallant 2-1 loss to France.
“I’m not the type who is the whole day proud,” he said gruffly. “I tried to explain to you if you can organize a good team, you do not always need the best players. The last step is that we have to reward ourselves for the work we do.”
Editing by Ken Ferris