It will be another fresh-faced Socceroos outfit that faces the might of Belgium and their superstars in what promises to be a fascinating but difficult friendly for Ange Postecoglou’s troops on Friday morning (AEST).
In their first step towards building to January’s Asian Cup on home soil, the Socceroos will need to be at their best to topple the powerful Red Devils in Liege. A win - their first in 2014 - would be a huge boost but of equal importance will be how some of the new faces adapt to the Ange game-plan.
What Ange Postecoglou will want to get out of this game...
There’s no doubt the Socceroos made some great strides at the World Cup and the boss will want to see that improvement in performance continue in this one.
The emphasis in training this week has been on having more belief in his system and philosophy on how to play. With seven new faces that weren’t in Brazil, Postecoglou will be keen to see how quickly those players can fit into his plans as he aims to continue increasing the depth of talent at his disposal.
This will be an important game for:
After three times previously having to pull out of Socceroos duty due to injury, the Aston Villa utility finally gets a chance to show what he can offer the national team. Equally as comfortable at the back or in midfield, Herd is the type of player Postecoglou loves and the 25-year-old has an opportunity to lock in a permanent spot in the squad with a strong performance, potentially as a right back.
The PEC Zwolle man was expected to make the World Cup squad until a knee injury scuppered his chances. But Sainsbury has started Eredivisie season in superb form and deserves the chance to stake his claim for a central defensive position, although it will be a baptism of fire for him against Belgium’s talented attackers.
He may already have three caps to his name at the East Asian Cup last year but this is the first real test of Juric’s ability to cut it on the international stage. The Socceroos aren’t flush with striking options – apart from superstar Tim Cahill – so Juric has a great chance to become a regular in the squad with a big showing against the likes of Kompany, Vertonghen and co.
Likely starting XI and formation for Socceroos
Given the limited time to prepare and the number of new faces in the squad, Postecoglou is likely to keep things as normal as possible so should stick with the 4-2-3-1 formation he deployed in Brazil. Mat Ryan is expected to get the nod between the sticks, while Herd is likely to get first-crack at the right back position. Trent Sainsbury is set make his debut in the heart of defence alongside fellow former Mariner Alex Wilkinson, with Jason Davidson to beat out Brad Smith at left-back.
In central midfield, skipper Mile Jedinak is a certain starter but it will be interesting to see if Postecoglou sticks with Mark Milligan – who is in pre-season at Melbourne Victory - as his partner or goes with the likes of Massimo Luongo or Josh Brillante who have been in superb form for their clubs.
The attacking positions are the most intriguing though. While Tim Cahill will lead the attack, who plays in the three behind him will depend on where Tommy Oar plays. The FC Utrecht man, who played on the left-wing in Brazil, has been used in the no.10 role in training and may get the nod there against Belgium.
If that’s the case it means Mathew Leckie, Ben Halloran and Robbie Kruse – if fit - will battle for the two spots on the flanks.
Bluffer's guide to Belgium
The world’s fifth-ranked nation, Marc Wilmots’ side have emerged as one of the best in the world over the last couple of years and made the quarter-finals at the recent FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
It’s very-much a ‘golden-generation for the Belgians, with almost their whole squad playing in Europe’s major leagues.
While Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Barcelona defender Thomas Vermaelen, Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku of Everton are missing through injury, they still possess some huge talent and threats.
They include Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany, Kevin Mirallas, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin De Bruyne, Adnan Januzaj, and number one goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.
What a squad. The question for them is how far they can go with such a talented group. You’d expect them to fancy their chances at home against a side that copped nine goals at the World Cup in three group games.
Kompany v Cahill The Belgian skipper is one of the world’s best defenders but will have his work cut-out dealing with the threat of Cahill, Australia’s greatest-ever goal-scorer. Their aerial duels should be fascinating.
Vertonghen v Leckie: The Socceroos’ lightning-quick winger came of age at the World Cup and has carried that form into his club season with Ingolstadt. But Vertonghen is an experienced defender who likes to get forward. It will be a cracking head-to-head battle and another chance for Leckie to show himself on a big stage.
De Bruyne v Davidson The Aussie left-back was another to impress in Brazil, with his performances earning him a move to EPL club West Broom. It will be another step-up in class for the 23-year-old against De Bruyne, who looked brilliant in Brazil with his great engines, pace and technique.
A good result for Australia would be...
Given the huge gap between the nations in the rankings and the limited time Postecoglou has had with this young squad, it will be a huge task for the Socceroos to get a positive result. But as they showed in Brazil they won’t be overawed by their more highly-fancied opponents and will certainly take the game to the Red Devils.
It will be a huge task for the Australian defence to keep Belgium’s array of attacking stars at bay all night but if they can shut-down the likes of De Bruyne, Mirallas and Januzaj, there’s no reason they can’t come away from Liege with at least a draw, though getting one past the fabulous Chelsea keeper Courtois will be a challenge.
Venue: Stade Maurice Dufrasne, LiegeBroadcast details: Friday, September 5 - Fox Sports 1, 4.30am (Kick off 4.45am)