The Socceroos have produced some lovely football at the AFC Asian Cup, moving into the quarter-finals on Thursday with many tipping them to go further in the Cup.
This impressive form has been building for some time, right back to the side’s eye-catching performances at last year’s World Cup - albeit minus the results against the world's biggest teams - to November's friendly clash with Japan.
So what areas have the Socceroos improved in since their Brazilian adventure and why are the results starting to match their exciting brand of football?
Ange Postecoglou has always been an advocate for a 4-3-3 system with his teams but made a slight adjustment following Brazil.
Now, instead of deploying two holding midfielders, he has reverted to just the one with an extra playmaker in front of that lone defensive midfielder, which is nominally the skipper and EPL star Mile Jedinak.
While it makes the side a little more narrow and relies on the full-backs to get forward to provide the width, it also makes it easier for the side to press higher up the pitch in numbers as well as giving more support and ability for striker Tim Cahill to link up with his attackers in and around the box.
While Cahill’s aerial threat from crosses is still there, this adds another more effective tweak to the side’s attacking arsenal.
Stronger depth across the squad
At the World Cup, while Postecoglou gave some new faces an opportunity on the international scene, he relied very much on the same core group for all three group games. When injury and suspension struck to some key personnel …
But that’s certainly not the case now. What the Socceroos boss has managed to do over the last 6 months is identify enough players now that the side can cover almost every position.
With the exception of centre-back, Postecoglou’s 23-man squad for the Asian Cup basically has two players for every single position in the team. As we’ve seen when Mile Jedinak was injured, Mark Milligan stepped up.
Tomi Juric is an ideal back-up for Tim Cahill, while first-choice wide-men Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse have Nathan Burns and Tommy Oar breathing down their neck for a start.
Options breeds competition which in turn brings about performance which is now showing on the park.
Greater experience for players and coaches
For such a young and inexperienced team, it can’t be understated just how beneficial the exposure they got at the World Cup against some world-class opposition.
And it wouldn’t have been just the players who would have grown from the experience. Postecoglou and his coaching staff pitted their wits against some wily and astute managers like Louis van Gaal and Vicente del Bosque in Brazil and would have used that to boost their ability to pull the strings - it’s showing in this tournament.
Not only have they got the team playing at a break-neck speed to steamroll opposition, but Matt McKay’s goal from a corner against Oman – and Postecoglou’s quite obvious celebration with his assistant coaches – proves everyone is contributing in all aspects of the game as well.
More caps and games together
When you looked through the Socceroos player guide in Brazil many had just a handful of caps to their name with the exception of veterans like Tim Cahill, Mark Bresciano and skipper Mile Jedinak.
But those international green-horns all now have a good base of games behind them and more importantly have a lot more games together as a team since the World Cup. It’s only that time together which helps improve the combinations and cohesion of the side.
And with most of the squad in their early or mid-20s (23 seems the magic number), the base is certainly there for years to come as World Cup Russia 2018 and Asian Cup 2019 loom large.
The Socceroos will face China PR in the Quarter-Finals of the AFC Asian Cup at Brisbane Stadium on Thursday 22 January (8.30pm local kick off). Click here to purchase tickets.
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