Mission accomplished for fringe Socceroos
All’s well that ends well for the Socceroos, who comfortably reached the East Asian Cup finals despite a slow start to the qualifying tournament in Hong Kong.
All-s well that ends well for the Socceroos, who comfortably reached the East Asian Cup finals despite a slow start to the qualifying tournament in Hong Kong.
A narrow 1-0 win over the hosts was followed by a 1-1 draw with danger side North Korea and suddenly things were looking shaky for Holger Osieck-s men.
But 17 unanswered goals against minnows Guam and Chinese Taipei ensured Australia easily bettered North Korea-s goal difference to book a place in next July-s finals.
There they-ll take on hosts South Korea, heavyweights Japan and defending champions China in a four-way tournament which falls outside FIFA-s official international dates.
That means all four nations are likely to overlook European-based talent, although the issue will almost certainly affect Australia the most.
That-s because the majority of the South Korean and Chinese squads are domestic-based players, while the J. League is traditionally the strongest domestic league in the region.
That-s not necessarily a bad thing for Osieck, who can use the tournament to run the rule over A-League players capable of pushing for World Cup selection in Brazil the following year.
One such player who will hope to be in line for a call-up is Western Sydney Wanderers midfielder Aaron Mooy, who impressed in his performances in Hong Kong.
His superb free-kick against Taipei was straight out of the top drawer and underlined just what a technically proficient player the former St Mirren man is.
His coach will also feel vindicated after Osieck-s tactic of handing significant match time to the likes of Mooy, Eli Babalj and teenager Adam Taggart against lesser lights Guam and Taipei ultimately came up trumps.
"I'm not listening to any of the critics because I work very closely with the team and I know what all the players can do," was how Osieck responded to criticism he had missed an opportunity to blood new talent in the first two games.
"It's my assessment and I know who is ready and who still needs to put in a lot more effort."
One player Osieck knows well is Melbourne Victory striker Archie Thompson, who needs just one more goal to equal Damien Mori-s all-time goal scoring record for the Socceroos.
Despite his advancing years, the 34-year-old can reasonably expect to play a role in the East Asian Cup and like his Socceroos team-mates in Hong Kong, Thompson will be looking to use the tournament to press for World Cup selection.
Indeed, Australia will increasingly be forced to rely on two separate squads going forward - as many of their international rivals have done for years.
That-s good news for the A-League, which has legitimately become a focus of the national coach in a way it struggled to under Osieck-s predecessor Pim Verbeek.
Osieck has already said he may look beyond the squad which qualified for the finals.
"There are going to be other players who have not played here in that squad in July who will have the opportunity to show if they-re ready," he admitted after the win over Taipei.
So was the qualifying tournament a success? On the basis of the outcome, one would have to suggest it was.
Not only did the Socceroos qualify for the finals, several fringe players also gained some much-needed international experience.
But given that China won the last edition of the East Asian Cup - in the same year they watched the World Cup in South Africa from the sidelines - there-s no reason the Socceroos should get carried away.
There are more important goals to strive for than success in a relatively minor regional tournament, not least successfully qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil.
But if the goal of joining the Asian Football Confederation was to play more meaningful football, then Australia-s participation in the East Asian Cup qualifying tournament has already proved of use.
The views expressed in this article are purely those of the author and do not represent those of Football Federation Australia.
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