The weekend papers spilled a lot of ink trying to convince themselves
and us that Australia’s draw at the World Cup was not too bad and that
even the mighty Brazilian team was shuddering quietly at the prospect
of meeting those never-say-die Socceroos.

The media from the countries Australia drew in Group F, Japan, Brazil
and Croatia, have put a slightly different spin on things:

How Japan sees it: Most outlets in Brazil and Japan diligently reported all the official
and polite standard coaches’ comments from the draw’s press
conferences, about how every opponent must be respected and Australia
is a physically strong team that commands attention for getting past
Uruguay. But James Mulligan, writing for the Japan Times, reported that Japan
Football Association president Saburo Kawabuchi was quietly happy to
have drawn Australia. “It was not so bad,” Kawabuchi said of Japan’s placing. “We didn’t want
to be in Group C with the Netherlands and Argentina. We ended up in a
so-so group. Zico (Japan’s Brazilian coach) told me with a smile that
we would be all right. Emotionally, it might be a bit tough for him to
fight his home country,” Kawabuchi said.

In fact, almost all the Japanese press was understandably so excited
about Brazil landing in the same part of the pond that Australia was
mentioned only in passing. Zico did find time to say that he was aware
that Australia, under Guus Hiddink, shouldn’t be underestimated. “They
(Australia) are well guided. It will be very important for us to
win the first match and boost the morale of my players,” he said.

The view from Brazil: Brazilian coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who attended the draw in
Leipzig, Germany, warned his supporters
not to get carried away by a
wave of over-superiority as they digested the Group F opposition. “It’s
a group that you could, upon a simple glance, think of as weak,
but we’ve got to keep our wits about us. Australia eliminated Uruguay
[in the play-off that went down to the wire with a penalty shoot-out],
Japan has built up a better knowledge of how to play a tournament like
the WC Finals, and Croatia is resurging towards their excellent 1998
team,” he said.

Then again, ol’ Carlos wasn’t so worried that he didn’t look straight
past
the Group. “We will probably play Italy or the Czech Republic
after advancing from the first round,” he said. Interestingly, the Japan Times ran a piece from Rio explaining that the
word on the street was that most Brazilians were worried about Japan as
a hurdle, on top of the assumption that Croatia would be the toughest
other team in the group. In other words, Australia didn’t really come up in the conversation, which says a lot on its own.


The Croatian take on things:
Why lie? Croatian coach Zlatko Kranjcar told reporters: “I think we
ended up in a rather satisfying group. Of course, Brazil are favourites
but we managed to draw with them in a friendly this year and that shows
we are not without chances against them.

“I believe we’re better than Australia and Japan are also beatable.
Altogether, I can say our performance in qualifying gives us the right
to be optimistic before the World Cup.”

And if you thought that was to the point, Kranjcar was also reported to
have said: “I believe we are better than Australia and have no need to
fear them. Australia barely reached the World Cup and I have no reason to be
concerned, so we will look for our chance to advance in the games with
Japan and the Aussies.”


Soccernet
was one of the media outlets noting that some of the Croatian
team to play Australia will be Aussie-born, writing:

Four years ago,
prior to the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, there was a big
discussion “Down Under” over players who turned out for Croatia, even
though they had been born in Australia, such as Josip Simunic and
Anthony Seric. (Frank Farina, then Australia’s coach, darkly muttered:
“I approached Simunic on four different occasions to play for
Australia. He said he wanted to play, but then he wasn’t fit or was
playing for his club. Then he went ahead and played for Croatia.”)

There are many people of Croatian background in Australia, and a lot
of them seem to work as professional footballers. Mark Viduka, Zeljko
Kalac and Josip Skoko bucked the trend and chose to don the colours of
the Socceroos.

Here we go, here we go, here we go…