Wednesday morning’s (AEST) opening FIFA World Cup 2018 qualifier against Kyrgyzstan in Bishkek marks the start of long journey fans of the Socceroos hope ends with a berth at their fourth consecutive World Cup.
Ange Postecoglou’s whirlwind tenure has already seen him take the Socceroos to a World Cup, before an historic Asian Cup triumph on home soil in January.
But it’s qualifying the Socceroos for a major tournament that the Aussie boss is desperate to achieve.
The first test presents an unknown challenge for the Asian champions. Playing a footballing minnow in a city most Australians have never heard of is the first hurdle.
The 177th-ranked nation of the former Soviet Union state aren’t expected to present too much of an obstacle for the Socceroos but there’s no chance the Aussies will treat this lightly. No chance.
Defender Trent Sainsbury, playmaker Massimo Luongo and attacker Robbie Kruse are unavailable due to injury meaning there will be at least three changes from the side helped lift the Asian Cup on that memorable night in January.
Alex Wilkinson – in season and in form with K-League club Jeonbuk Motors - probably has his nose in front of Bailey Wright to partner Matthew Spiranovic at centre-back.
James Troisi is expected to get the nod in the no.10 role, alongside skipper Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan in midfield, while either Nathan Burns or Tommy Oar should have one of the wide roles with Mathew Leckie.
It will be a familiar duo at either ends of the pitch with Tim Cahill to spearhead the attack and the in-form Mat Ryan to start in goal.
The fullback roles are probably the position causing the most conjecture.
Does Postecoglou stick with the tried and trusted Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson or go with Tarek Elrich and Aziz Behich?
The latter two have played consistently for their club sides throughout their recent seasons – with Adelaide United and Bursaspor respectively – but Franjic and Davidson have never let the Socceroo jersey down.
The Socceroos would have got a good look at what is likely to confront them on Wednesday after Kyrgyzstan opened their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-1 win away to Bangladesh last week.
Anton Zemlyanuhin – who scored a brace in that match – was their standout player.
The Kyrgyzstan skipper is central defender Azamat Baymatov and his battle with Cahill will be a doozy.
This will be an opportunity for the Socceroos to lay down a firm marker they mean business in this round of qualifying.
Postecoglou won’t just demand a victory but also a dominant performance that results in goals.
In little-known Bishkek, Australia begins on their long Road to Russia.
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