Australia entered the Asian Cup with the usual expectations placed on host nations to perform well in a tournament played on home soil.
The anticipation grew from the moment news broke of Ange Postecoglou’s appointment, just over a year ago. He was tasked to build a side able to compete and at worst make the final in Sydney’s Stadium Australia on January the 31st.
But after managing one victory in 2014 and the lack of a genuine goal scorer apart from the ageing Tim Cahill – pressure to perform on the big stage was beginning to mount.
The Socceroos now face the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the semifinal stage of the Asian Cup, having overcome China in the quarterfinal. However, the UAE look to pose a bigger threat to Australia than China’s, albeit effective in the first half, defensive game plan.
Finding a cohesive defensive unit
The Socceroos have struggled to find consistency in defence with a number of changes in the backline the past 18 months.
Ange Postecoglou has used different partnerships in the centre of defense so far in the Asian Cup with Trent Sainsbury, Matthew Spiranovic and Alex Wilkinson all playing in combinations with each other. With the return of Matthew Spiranovic from suspension a change may once again happen in the backline disrupting any rhythm or familiarity of the centre-back pairing.
Socceroos’ defensive worries don’t stop at centre-half. The host nation has struggled to find replacements for their fullbacks of yester-year. Ivan Franjic has been the only regular fullback in the national team picture in the last 12 months.
Jason Davidson now faces competition from Aziz Behich for a starting birth at left back. However, the form of Behich against South Korea may count against the Bursaspor defender, especially with the attacking potency of Davidson out wide.
The strength of Davidson to overlap and find crosses into attacking setting up Tim Cahill at the World Cup for that memorable goal, as well as against China may hold the West Brom man in good stead.
Balance in central midfield
The creative juggernaut of the Socceroos’ midfield for so long has been Mark Bresciano. And as time has passed, the glitter and stardust in the Socceroos team slowly faded away and in the absence of star of yesterday the appreciation of the midfielder has certainly grown.
Replacing the creativity of Bresciano has been difficult during the Asian Cup with him not playing as prominent a role as he did at the World Cup. But in his absence Swindon Town’s Massimo Luongo has shown he can step up in high-pressure tournament environment.
The injury sustained by Mile Jedinak in the first group game against Kuwait has left a question mark of the Crystal Palace captain’s fitness. Jedinak’s been a rock in the heart of midfield for the Socceroos, providing platform for players like Bresciano and Luongo to create. Doubts over his fitness will hamper Australia’s chances against UAE, especially having to contend with the bushy haired genius of Omar Abdulrahman.
Over reliance on the brilliance of Tim Cahill
Tim Cahill’s proved to be one of Australian football greatest players, however, the continued overreliance of him may prove costly.
The 35-year-old New York Red Bull star scored two incredibly goals against China that saw the Socceroos advance to the semifinals. But when rested against South Korea the side struggled to find the net, and ultimately finished in second place with the risk of playing Japan in the semifinal.
The potential Socceroo front three is filled with pace and power in wide and central areas, and with the plentiful chances on goal players such as Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Nathan Burns and Tomi Juric have had during the Asian Cup added responsibility must be taken.
The risk of relying on Cahill’s hat out of the rabbit styled goals or towering headers may not always bear fruit. With the age clock not on his side and the target on his back as Australia’s go-to-guy succession plans must be made.