The Socceroos have made an eye-catching start to the AFC Asian Cup, smashing four goals past first Kuwait then Oman to book a quarter-final berth with a game to spare.
After a tough 2014 results-wise as coach Ange Postecoglou tinkered with rosters and formations, our boys have made a mockery of the FIFA rankings.
Let’s look at the four main reasons why the Socceroos have been so undeniably sexy in the Asian Cup so far.
There was a few eyebrows raised when Postecoglou opted not to have a pre-tournament friendly, instead deciding to give his squad a strong 12-day training camp in Melbourne to prepare.
It’s proved a master-stroke with every member of the squad looking in superb physical condition after enduring a very hot Melbourne over the festive period, and some tough training sessions in around 40 degree heat.
And they have to be fit to execute the boss’ high-octane, high press style of play which has proved too much for opposition sides to handle so far. And with so many players in and around the 23-year-old age that helps too.
As we’ve seen from the first two matches both Kuwait and Oman haven been able to go with the Socceroos for the first 25 minutes before the host nation’s superior fitness and quality takes over.
Little wonder Oman coach Paul Le Guen was so effusive after his team were taken apart by the Socceroos’ “dynamism” on Tuesday night.
Increased depth and scoring firepower
Having used 43 different players since taking charge just over a year ago, Postecoglou now has plenty of options in almost every position.
As we’ve seen from the first two games of the Asian Cup, if one player is unavailable there is another ready to step in and fill the breach without the need to change the system or approach.
It’s no more evident than in attack, which has been the side’s Achilles Heel in the past. Usually so reliant on superstar Tim Cahill for goals, the Socceroos have had eight different scorers in the first two matches.
No longer can opposition sides just worry about shutting down Cahill to blunt the Socceroos. The likes of Kruse, Leckie, Luongo, Troisi, Juric, Burns and Oar means Australia have plenty of firepower in their arsenal.
Harsh lessons now paying dividends
It was all a bit of a rush, as Postecoglou has since admitted.
Last year’s World Cup in Brazil might have ended without a win but the new-look squad and young talent were exposed to some of the best nations and players in the world.
The team’s performances – especially against Chile and Netherlands – proved they can match it with the best if they could stay concentrated and keep their levels up for longer periods.
While they were taught some harsh lessons in Brazil, it’s paying off big time now.
The confidence the players – especially the fresh faces – would have got from the tournament is priceless and they are using that to dominate teams in the Asian Cup.
As Postecoglou has stressed many times since, after playing the best in Brazil the side shouldn’t fear anything after that.
And they certainly aren’t.
Ange's tactical tweak
Following a thorough debrief after Brazil, Postecoglou and his team of assistants and staff rejigged the 4-3-3 they'd used. Now, it's a narrower version of that set up, with two creative playmakers in front of the one holding midfielder. And the two strikers who support Tim Cahill are playing much closer to the Socceroo great, allowing better link up play with the striker and a greater chance to get into the most dangerous positions in the box rather than playing wider.
All in all, the Socceroos look more linked up - so to speak - and a little more direct and attacking. And it's working.
Powerful home support
The Socceroos played just one of 11 internationals on home soil in 2014, travelling everywhere from Brazil to Belgium, the Middle East to Japan.
But they have grown an extra leg in the familiar surrounds of family, friends and rapturous home support.
After going a goal down in the tournament opener against Kuwait, it was the incredible atmosphere of a sell-out home crowd in Melbourne which enabled the side to settle and go on to steamroll their opponents.
It was a similar story in Sydney as more than 50,000 clad in Green and Gold inspired the side to one of their best performances in recent memory.
If Australia is to go all the way, the support of the home fans will be crucial and become more important the deeper they go in the tournament.
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