KAZAN, Russia - Australia coach Bert van Marwijk has challenged his players to have the "guts" to believe they can cause a massive World Cup shock by beating trophy contenders France in Kazan on Saturday.
Van Marwijk replaced Ange Postecoglou in January and has since helped instill a disciplined, attack-minded approach in a bid to achieve their objective of "surviving the first round". Although the 65-year-old Dutchman admitted Australia would only normally have a ten percent chance of beating the Euro 2016 finalists, he is dreaming big on the eve of their lunchtime Group C clash.
And he's challenged his players to do the same: "We know we're playing one of the best countries in the world. It's not always the best players who win prizes. We like to be the best team and we have a lot of discipline in the way we play. We also have to have guts to believe in something. What is very important tomorrow is for us to be ourselves."
In a group also containing Peru and Denmark, Australia fancy their chances of qualifying for the last 16, a feat they achieved once before, in 2006, with another Dutch coach at the helm in Guus Hiddink. Four years after that achievement, van Marwijk was coach of the Netherlands side that reached the World Cup final, only to succumb 1-0 to Spain in extra time.
Van Marwijk comes to Russia boasting the peculiar achievement of having qualified Saudi Arabia for the World Cup, before leaving his position late in the campaign. Unsurprisingly, he had little to say about the Saudis' 5-0 thrashing by Russia on the opening day Thursday when asked by one Dutch journalist. "I expected that question, but I'm here as coach of Australia," he said. "That's the most important thing. For me, that (Saudi Arabia) is history."
Despite showing marked improvements under van Marwijk following a marathon, 22-game qualifying campaign under Postecoglou, the Socceroos head into Saturday's clash knowing they are up against "a better side than ours", said winger Mathew Leckie.
Names like Paul Pogba (Manchester United), Ousmane Dembele (Barcelona) and Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid) stand out markedly in comparison to the Socceroos who ply their trade in England, Japan, Australia, Scotland, Germany and Turkey. But Hertha Berlin winger Leckie is backing van Marwijk's call to arms. The 27-year-old believes Aussie team spirit could cause France's team of global stars problems.
"Obviously we know that the individual players of France play at the best clubs in the world and on paper it's a better side than ours," he conceded. "But what we've been trying to achieve over the last few weeks is to go into the game a great team, rather than as individuals. We've worked hard on being a compact team and a disciplined side and that's going to be the key to us getting any kind of result tomorrow."
Asked if Australia could suffer the same fate as the Saudis, van Marwijk replied: "We better not come tomorrow if we think like that. We worked four weeks now really hard, and you must believe in something. We also need to have a little bit of luck. But one of the key things is we also need to be very organised, not just for five or 10, or 20 minutes, but for 90 minutes and extra time. You also have to be very fit, also in your head."