A-League takes place on Aussie sports landscape

IMPORTED GOODS: Marquee signings Shinji Ono (Western Sydney Wanderers), Alessandero Del Piero (Sydney FC) and Emile Heskey (Newcastle Jets) at the A-League season launch at Parramatta Stadium.
IMPORTED GOODS: Marquee signings Shinji Ono (Western Sydney Wanderers), Alessandero Del Piero (Sydney FC) and Emile Heskey (Newcastle Jets) at the A-League season launch at Parramatta Stadium.

There is an argument that for the first time in its history, the A-League overtook the Socceroos as Australian football's flagship in 2012.

Whether that continues next year once the national team gets to the pointy end of World Cup qualification is another question.

But it is clear evidence of how far the A-League has come.

By the end of the year, there is no doubt the competition has become entrenched and embraced in Australia's sporting landscape - a serious summer sport. A fruitful seven-month off-season has had a coiled spring effect.

The A-League has emerged in better shape after surviving the roughest of ends to the 2011/12 season, as club owners Clive Palmer and Nathan Tinkler hurled toys from the cot, or threatened to.

It now has an international profile with the additions of Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono to the league, and ambitions for David Beckham to join them.

The quality of the competition has improved to the point it is housing first-choice Socceroos.

Palmer has gone after Gold Coast United were scrapped, but the high-risk, hasty replacements - Western Sydney Wanderers - look promising.

And soccer has a new television deal.

Not as lucrative as some but surely enough to stem some of the red ink A-League clubs have bled, as well as free-to-air coverage for the domestic competition for the first time in a decade.

New Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop inherits the game from Ben Buckley - who helped broker the TV deal - with the tide on the rise.

"The announcement (of the TV deal) comes at a time when the A-League is showing its true potential as the shop window of Australian football," Gallop said.

As always, the cash registers will ka-ching with a little more volume if the Socceroos can qualify for a third successive World Cup finals.

That will be known by mid-2013, but some less-than-impressive results in 2012 make it no certainty - and likely to come down to late in qualifying.

With Japan having cleared out in their group, Australia will hope to beat Oman, Jordan and Iraq in home matches - and take something from Japan away - to book second place in the group and automatic qualification.

Third place would trigger a more-tortuous route against the other Asian group's third-placed finishers before a battle Australia is all too familiar with - the fifth-placed team in South America - to go to Brazil 2014.

Coach Holger Osieck has stuck largely with the experienced guard of players who have guided the Socceroos to

Germany and South Africa, but is unearthing slowly younger talent which might be useable for Brazil.
Much of it has been grown or still resides in the A-League.

Using a Socceroos squad made up almost entirely of A-League players to qualify in Hong Kong this month for next year's East Asia Cup tournament boosted that process.

Perhaps it will finally ease the years of reliance on stars like Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell - who is still clubless after returning to England for personal reasons after a brief flirtation with A-League club Melbourne Victory.

Cahill has departed the English Premier League for New York Red Bulls in the United States, while more Socceroos - led by Lucas Neill and Mark Bresciano - are playing in the Middle East these days than England's top-flight.

It ensures a brighter spotlight than ever for the A-League, in which Brisbane Roar's dominance over the past two seasons is under its most serious threat in 2012/13.

Former coach Ange Postecoglou has left to rebuild Melbourne Victory and early signs are promising.

And coach Graham Arnold's work with Central Coast Mariners and John Kosmina's with Adelaide United mark both out as contenders for a first championship victory - two clubs who have won the A-League premiership, but never the grand final.