Socceroos reap the benefits of a torrid 2014

In 2014, this Socceroo squad was challenged, put through the wringer from London to Abu Dhabi, Brazil to Belgium.

Ten out of the 11 games the Socceroos played last year were outside Australia.

In the cauldron of a World Cup in Brazil, and friendlies in Belgium, Japan and in the stultifying heat of Abu Dhabi and Doha - these Socceroos have been severely tested in the last 12 months by a schedule planned courtesy of a new coach with new ideas.

Of course that was the intention.

To toughen up this greenhorn green and gold squad, to take them out of any perceived comfort zone and to foster a togetherness through battle. 

Results often went the way of the opposition but there was always a bigger picture.

He needed to expand his playing base, he needed to experiment with squad selections to learn who could fit into his game-plan - one which has evolved since Brazil.

Rankings were the last thing on coach Postecoglou’s mind after Brazil, and rightly so.

Now, on home soil and preparing for the Asian Cup the players clearly are enjoying a familiar environment.

With public expectation somewhat dampened down after the results in 2014, the squad goes into the Cup not weighed down. And that’s always good. The mood among the players – from watching training all week – appears excellent.

On Friday, in the midst of a Melbourne heatwave, preparations for the Asian Cup move up a gear with the tournament opener against Kuwait now just seven days away.

All 23 Socceroos are not only in camp but the latecomers – skipper Mile Jedinak and defenders Aziz Behich and Chris Herd – will now have had their rest and be ready to join the main group.

The focus for the first four days at Collingwood’s excellent training ground opposite AAMI Park was on passing and move drills as the players filtered into Melbourne from around the globe and Australia.  

It was a mish-mash with up to three groups at any one time undergoing various levels of training, from light walking and stretching to high intensity drills and a type of beep test called “Yo-Yo”.  

Now, with the full squad at his disposal and the squad settled in to their Melbourne environment, we’ll start to see a more expansive sessions as shape and formation work is emphasised by coach Ange Postecoglou.

A lot of shape and formation work will be done behind the scenes with Thursday likely to have had a team meeting to underline the ideas he wants implemented.

These ideas were reinforced in Japan in November when a camp of around 8-9 days proved invaluable ahead of the friendly with the Samurai Blue.

We got a glimpse into this when the Socceroos outplayed Japan for large parts of that friendly before losing 2-1.

This week, Socceroo James Troisi hinted at the possibility of two playmakers behind Tim Cahill up front.

What we did see in Japan was a narrower attacking third which allow the likes of Troisi and perhaps Bresciano to play closer to Cahill.

This coming week will offer another insight into the tactics of the Socceroos. 

They’ve been through a tumultuous 2014. But 11 games all over the world have given this group an edge going into the Asian Cup, despite the FIFA rankings.

FIFA World Cup qualifiers swing into action later in the year and there’s a date with the world champions in Germany.

But first, it’s the Asian Cup. And I’ve a good feeling about it.