Kerala Blasters' loss, Australia's gain at Qatar World Cup

Australia assistant coach Rene Meulensteen celebrates qualifying for the knockout stages. Photo: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay

In some sense, Kerala Blasters FC have played a part in Australia's historic progress to the round-of-16 in the Qatar World Cup.

When the Socceroos upset Denmark 1-0 Wednesday evening to join Group D leader France in the knockouts, a face so recognisable to football fans in Kerala was seen all smiles in the Australian dugout: Rene Meulensteen.

The Dutchman is now assistant to Australia's head coach Graham Arnold.

Not so long ago, Meulensteen was the head coach of Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League. When he arrived in Kochi in mid-2017, Meulensteen, a former Manchester United assistant manager, was given a rousing reception.

Kerala Blasters fans receive Rene Meulensteen at the Kochi International Airport in July 2017. Photo: Josekutty Panackal/Manorama

However, it wasn't a memorable outing as Meulensteen was sacked midway into the 2017-18 season after the Blasters made an unremarkable start, winning just once in their first 7 matches.

Soon after the failure of the Blasters assignment, Meulensteen found employment down under, where a change was afoot. Arnold had replaced Bert van Marwijk as head coach of Australia after their 2018 World Cup ended in the group stages.

Freshly out of work, Meulensteen, a once right-hand man of Manchester United's legendary manager Alex Ferguson, joined Arnold's Australian project.

Kerala Blasters fans hold a Rene Meulensteen banner to receive him at the Kochi International Airport in July 2017. Photo: Josekutty Panackal/Manorama

In the four years since Meulensteen has played a significant part in assembling the Socceroos squad for the World Cup. He toured the world scouting their Group D opponents, France, Denmark and Tunisia.

Though he failed to improve Kerala Blasters that famously pulls on a yellow jersey, Meulensteen has found success, of sorts, with a national side that also wears yellow.

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