Yet to play a competitive match in charge, Ange Postecoglou will lead Australia into a World Cup set against the back drop of a year of ups and downs, in one of the tournament’s toughest groups. The picture of a newly appointed coach only months before a World Cup seems less than ideal, but the manner in which the exiting manager left leaves many in the country with some optimism.
The German Holger Osieck had been the coach throughout the qualification cycle since the Australians’ were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup. His tenure was mixed to say the least. Notable friendly victories followed a brilliant 2nd placed showing in 2011’s Asian Cup. However, team infighting and a perceived negative approach to matches left a clear divide within the fan base.
The Australians’ qualified with a relative whimper but were rarely troubled in their Asian qualifying group. Osieck’s tactics were clearly cautious, something the home fans rarely embraced, culminating in a narrow 1-0 home victory over Iraq on the final match day to clinch qualification.
Public disagreements followed with Australia’s most notable player, Tim Cahill, subsequently leading to a rocky relationship with the Australian Football Federation (AFF). Two inexplicably organised away friendlies, which probably had more to do with the image and monetary value of the federation rather than squad development of the team, in Brazil and France, spelt the end of Osieck’s reign. For all the managerial nous in the world, defeat was likely in both of these outings, but back-to-back 6-0 defeats gave the AFF the perfect opportunity to fire the national team boss.
A clear imbalance between the national team and the supporters had emerged in the last year. One thing that the AFF dealt with immediately bringing in one of “Australian’s own” Ange Postecoglou who had impressed domestically with Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory. Postecoglou’s immediate sound bites pointed to a more forward thinking national team set up, concerned with player development and gains in the domestic league over short term national success and foreign based stars.
It’s an approach which has had mixed reviews. Along with the retirement of legendary goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, Postecoglou has pointed to youth over experience in other areas of the pitch. Immediately condemning Middle East based players and out of form veterans in favour of the less tested youth base that hail predominantly from the A-League. Out went the original centre back pairing of Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski, as did Brett Holman, one of Australia’s most consistent performers over the last few years. It’s only been in recent weeks that Postecoglou has reopened the possibility of some of these returning (mainly due to injury) but the general balance in the squad has demonstrably changed.
All would point to an air of vibrancy going into the World Cup. However, mediocre friendly performances since he was appointed in October have suggested that Postecoglou could be looking towards next year’s home coming Asian Cup for progress to be seen. The situation was summed up simply in their most recent friendly outing against fellow World Cup participants Ecuador, where Australia surrendered a 3-0 half time lead to lose 4-3 in stoppage time. The spark and attacking urgency which was arguably missing in Osieck’s Australia was there, however the lack of defensive assuredness and top level experience clearly showed as they wilted under pressure from an average Ecuador side.
Their side going into the World Cup next month is pretty inexperienced but still possesses some individual gems. Left back Jason Davidson has shone in Holland and has posed a threat from out wide, linking well with the aerial ability of Tim Cahill in the Socceroos’ attack. Davidson may eventually move to CB, even as soon as the World Cup as there is only a slim chance of regular centre half Rhys Williams, of Middlesbrough, regaining full fitness in time. Another who is set to miss out is Bayer Leverkusen’s Robbie Kruse, with the likes of left winger Tommy Oar taking on much of the pressure to produce something special in the attacking third. In the net, Matty Ryan is likely to be Postecoglou’s first choice after a decent season in Belgium while the raw potential of Tom Rogic will at least provide a danger coming off the bench.
A draw which includes fixtures against Spain, Chile and the Netherlands isn’t going to garner much hope of progression for such a young side. Postecoglou has reiterated that his team’s aim is to make the country proud, which may ultimately come down to their performance and work rate over the final results. He will have a further six months of preparation ahead of 2015’s Asian Cup, where a growing squad should impress, as long as the coming months don’t damage their confidence.
This article was written by Martin Lowe. You can follow Martin on Twitter.