Job not yet done, but the Socceroos, inspired by a coming-of-age outing from Robbie Kruse, took a significant stride towards Brazil with a big 4-0 win over Jordan in Melbourne last night.
For years now Australia has been clamouring for the next batch of ‘Roos to not only be given a chance, but to take it, and Kruse gave us a sneak peek at what that looks like with an inspired performance that featured two assists and a terrific solo goal.
Holger Osieck may have been keen to hose down the hype around Kruse’s performance post-match, perhaps understandably so given the importance of the Iraq game next week, but for many fans of the Socceroos, this is what they have been waiting years for.
On the big occasion, with his team under significant pressure to get the win, Kruse stepped up to the plate, driving consistently beyond Jordan’s left back Basem Fathi both on the ball and without it, and showing plenty of variety in his game.
While he looked a threat on the counter attack in Saitama, here there was a reminder that his game offers more.
With the Roos on the front foot for much of the match, Kruse reminded everyone just how creative he can also be, ducking inside, getting on the ball and linking.
What was particularly exciting about Kruse’s performance was that he produced an end product just about every time he got into solution spots, teeing up both Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill, before finding the net himself after a delightful nutmeg on Mohammad Mustafa.
Countless other times he produced accurate cut-backs from the byline, finding feet.
Back in the city and ground where he did some of his best work in the A-League, it was exciting to see how much Kruse has evolved in his time in Germany.
With a performance like this, it was easy to see why he’s much-talked about in the Bundesliga, and the hope here is we can get a little more coverage of the German league to see him more regularly.
With his pace, increased tactical awareness and lightning sharp technique, the hope is his next domestic season is another huge one, wherever he ends up.
If the Socceroos can make it to Brazil, he could be flying by the time we get there, becoming our key player, and he mightn’t be the only one.
While Tommy Oar, on the other flank, had a tougher night against the pacey Khalil Bani Ateyah, there were times in the first half where he showcased his potential.
Meanwhile, Tommy Rogic, in a 15 minute cameo at the end of the match, showcased the quality he possess on the ball, even bagging an assist for his skipper.
If these three attacking midfielders can produce the goods for their clubs next season, then the Roos future isn’t as gloomy as it has often appeared under Osieck.
It’s not quite nirvana, but it may be the start of something, and the hope is they can consistently provide front third penetration for years to come.
In many ways, the Socceroos’ use of lightning speed down the flanks last night was a throw-back to the 1990s, when the likes Jason van Blerk, Stan Lazaridis, Tony Vidmar and another Robbie, in Slater, would consistently bomb-on out wide.
This mightn’t have been the most complete ‘Roos performance, but there were other aspects to enjoy, including the form of central midfielders Mark Milligan and Bresciano.
With the game often stretched between the central defenders and attack, there was much space for both to cover. Milligan, in particular, covered it well, protecting his defence whenever Jordan looked to go quickly, holding up the play, allowing his teammates to transition back.
Miligan’s was a performance of tactical maturity.
Meanwhile, the Socceroos look a far better unit with Bresciano in the team, pulling the strings, especially when he is able to get high up the pitch.
Whereas last week he and Milligan were often redundant as an attacking option, forced to play deep, here they were even able to drift into the box, as Bresciano did for the opener.
While Jordan rarely looked a threat, some credit must go to Osieck for sticking with the Saitama starters and instilling in them an understanding of the different strategy required here.
When they were looking flat at the start of the second period, he injected Archie Thompson, much to the approval of Melbourne’s football fans.
While there were still worrying signs about a defence that refuses to push up too high, this was one of the better efforts under Osieck.
But as the manager said in the post match press conference, this is no time to celebrate, with the attention already turned to recovering in time for next Tuesday’s decider in Sydney.
With the hype around Kruse and the result last night, Osieck’s will be keen to ensure complacency doesn’t creep into the squad, and has again pleaded with the media not to give birth to any heroes.
While Osieck’s ultimate goal remains World Cup qualification, most Roos fans also want a team on the rise if and when we get there.
To that end, Kruse’s performance is one that gives hope.