Last night, we saw a reinvigorated and rejuvenated Socceroos outfit.
The boring, bland and rather lethargic performances under the latter part of Holger Osieck’s tenure, was replaced with an explosive and more fluent brand under new manager Ange Postecoglou.
It was good to finally witness a more entertaining and positive Socceroos team rather than the malign and mundane that was seen in the past 12 months under Osieck’s guidance.
It was if the players looked to be more enthusiastic about playing in the green and gold, and there was a greater belief and confidence in the game plan in the process of being installed into the Socceroos setup.
Postecoglou’s appointment is just the tonic required to shake up a side looking stale and on the edge of completely imploding.
Across the board, it was finally great to see a few of the fringe players being given their chance to start an international fixture, whilst the likes of regular starters such as Tim Cahill, Josh Kennedy and Matt McKay watched from the dugout.
Those moves alone would instantly give those once fringe layers the confidence to go out and showcase the talent they possess and what they can offer for the next generation of Socceroos.
Starting between the sticks and it would have been a major headache for Postecoglou to pick Schwarzer’s heir apparent from the likes of Mat Ryan and Mitch Langerak.
Both are talent goalkeepers in their own right, yet the fact that Langerak is playing back up in Dortmund as opposed to Ryan who is starting week in and week out at Belgium side Club Brugge suggests Ryan had to be given the nod and first chance to replace Schwarzer.
Ange has said from the outset of his tenure that he will pick players who are playing and who are in form.
The first selection suggests he is following the precedent he has set.
In saying this, Mat Ryan did not disappoint. He didn’t have a great deal thrown at him, in fairness, from the Costa Ricans. However, what was impressive was the way he commanded the 18-yard box as “his area”. He made it known loud and clear, from the outset to his defensive compatriots he was in control of what went on in the box and on set pieces close to the area.
For Postecoglou and the Socceroos faithful, this was the first of many shining lights to come.
To the back four, and Ange would have been impressed with the majority of what he saw from those who were given the nod to combat the Costa Rican flair in attack.
The centre halves in Lucas Neill and Rhys Williams were impressive in nullifying any real threat the Costa Ricans possessed in the final third. Neill in particular looked inspired to prove the doubters wrong and was effective in his leadership as he guided the other members of his back line around. Williams was encouraging and it was great to see him get some minutes under his belt as in the past Socceroos’ camps he has been dogged with injuries.
When Ryan McGowan was introduced to the fray as a replacement for Williams he welcomed the opportunity with open arms and rarely put a foot wrong in bringing the ball out from the back.
It would have been nice to see Alex Wilkinson be given a chance after waiting so long for an opportunity to present itself to be part of a Socceroos camp, even as a replacement for Neill at some point in the game. Hopefully, Wilkinson isn’t overlooked for future Socceroos camps as I feel he has plenty to offer down back with his awareness, height, speed and more importantly his reading of the game as major assets.
Ivan Franjic was impressive at right back, making plenty of runs to support the attack as well as getting back to defuse any wide threat that the Costa Ricans aimed to provide. He is a player that is well known to Postecoglou from the pair’s days together at the Brisbane Roar, and a player who fits the bill of what Postecoglou is trying to implement with the national team.
Jason Davidson on the other flank had an up and down game. He was brilliantly defensively and operated similarly to that of Franjic. Yet, his advances forward were hit and miss on occasions as he turned over the ball cheaply but at the same time provided some nice delivery into the 18-yard box, a feature that did get better as the match went on.
Onto the midfield, Ange deployed a similar formation to managers gone by with two players operating as a screen in front of the back four and then three playing in between those screeners and a striker up top.
Yet, Postecoglou had the endeavour to spark up those two screening midfielders by giving them the freedom and confidence to play out from the back.
Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak were complimentary in many ways rather than offering much of the same as would be predicted before the game, having played in similar roles for their current clubs.
Jedinak essentially operated as “the mop” for the Socceroos with his thunderous tackling and darting eye being able to thwart much of the Costa Rican’s initial attacking raids. His passing was a left to be desired and a facet of his game that may have been a little weak at times but was certainly made up for by Milligan’s presence next to him.
Milligan was exquisite with his vision for a pass and rarely let his guard down with his passing as his passing completion rate was far superior to many other players on the pitch last night.
Milligan is a player who has improved in leaps and bounds in the last few seasons at the Melbourne Victory and it is a credit to Posetcoglou, who as the former manager of the Victory, has provided Milligan with the direction he needed and the stability to find him his best and most natural position.
In my eyes, I think Milligan will be leading the Socceroos to Rio for the World Cup as he has possessed not only a greater quality in his own game but he has provided the leadership qualities he was touted for earlier on his career. Postecoglou has already seen that, making Milligan the captain of the Victory at the start of the season, so don’t be surprised if he is handed the armband at international level in the near future.
Further forward, the three players deployed in behind the lone striker were Robbie Kruse, Dario Vidosic and Mark Bresciano.
All three were great in the alternation of position in that line of three behind the striker to keep the Costa Ricans on their toes, which in turn did rattle “El Ticos” on occasions.
Yet the most pleasing aspect from this trio was the confidence they possessed on the ball. Vidosic and Kruse in particular were not afraid to run at the Costa Rican defense and utilise their natural speed with ball at feet to full benefit. At times they may have tried too much with an unnecessary flick around the corner or a first time pass, when a touch and distribution of the ball would have been better.
Nevertheless, their performance in tandem with one another was an aspect of the Postecoglou’s game plan that was exciting for those in attendance at Allianz Stadium.
When Tom Rogic was introduced to proceedings for Bresciano with roughly 25 minutes remaining, he provided the “X-factor” so many have talked about and showed why he can the spark that has been missing all too often in attack. His first three runs saw him beat a handful of players and lay off some well-weighted balls to the likes of Kruse and Tommy Oar, when Oar was brought on. As soon as the Costa Ricans saw he was able to play, he was quickly shut down which spells what threat he can provide at the World Cup to nations who know little about Australia.
At the top of the formation, German-based Matthew Leckie was given his opportunity to lead the line and in the first half he showed why so many have rated him on home soil. He was great aerially. Like Vidosic and Kruse he was not afraid to take the Costa Ricans on with ball at feet and showed some pace in the final third that has been only seen in the like of Kruse who has been a regular feature in attack in more recent times.
He was withdrawn only into the second half, however, showed he is worthy of his place in the Socceroos set up and with more game time in Germany as well as at international level will only get better.
With Ange Postecoglou’s reign off to a winning start, it was not only important to get the result but to play football that will excite the Australian support. Postecoglou was able to extract that from his players on occasions and that is a start.
We saw a sample of Postecoglou’s tenures at the Roar and at the Victory, which involves pressing from the front and high up the pitch, as well as using the width of the pitch to full effect.
The confidence is back in this young group of players and that is a pleasant sight for the Socceroos faithful. With this confidence coming back as well as Ange getting his message across, the Socceroos might have a handy concoction to once again test, or at least be competitive, with the world’s elite in Brazil.