My Kingdom for a striker. That was the lament heard around the nation following the Socceroos’ 2-1 loss to Japan in Osaka.
After an enterprising first half Ange Postecoglou’s team wilted under the sustained pressure and technical excellence of a Japanese team determined to leave its mark on the Australians ahead of a probable return bout in January’s AFC Asian Cup.
Make no mistake, the Japanese were determined to remind Australia that there was a gap in quality and class between the two teams and they succeeded in their mission.
The Socceroos have only won one of their last eight games against Japan. If there were mind games being played on Tuesday night there was only one winner.
Once again the Socceroos displayed plenty enterprise but failed to convert long periods of dominance in the first 45 minutes into goals.
All of that hard graft for little reward has become a recurring theme for the national team in recent encounters.
Having scored in just one of its past five games coming into the game in Japan, Socceroo fans were anxious to know who would start to deliver the goals required to win games.
The sight of Tim Cahill rising unmarked in the penalty area to nod home a late consolation goal in Osaka was bittersweet.
True, Australians simply love seeing their top guy tormenting the Samurai Blue again. Yet it was a case of days of future past.
At a time when the Socceroos desperately need a fresh source of goal production, they had to draw from the same deep well as always to get on the scoreboard.
There is little point dwelling on the paucity of clinical attacking options. We are who we are.
And if it’s Tim Cahill who scores the crucial goals to win the AFC Asian Cup, so be it, the future can wait.
The AFC Asian Cup is the one major prize that is within the Socceroos’ grasp and it should now be the sole focus of all endeavours.
Still, lessons need to be learnt from Tuesday’s night in Osaka. James Triosi, Matthew Leckie and Massimo Luongo all exhibited energy and ambition for long periods in the first half. The final ball that might undo a determined defence still eludes them though.
The contrast with Japan’s technical proficiency after half time was stark.
Having been stung by Australia’s first half dominance, Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Yasuhito Endo and Takashi Inui raised the tempo and Australia wilted.
The ability of Honda and his team-mates to pass and move at speed in confined spaces unnerved an Australian defence that offered no threat on the counter attack.
Denis Bergkamp called it “Stillness and Speed” - the ability to control the ball, hold it for a heartbeat, watch the game shift around you and then deliver a ball with lightning accuracy.
The Blue Samurai have it, The Socceroos yearn for it.
Not all is lost though.
There was enough to take from that first half performance to suggest the ‘Postecoglou Project’ is making gains.
The challenge for the Socceroo boss and his players is to build on the positives from Tuesday’s defeat - and quickly.
Because next time these two teams meet, it’s for keeps.
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