Cahill’s belief in Postecoglou the cornerstone of Socceroo hopes

Matt Somerford Roar Rookie

By , Matt Somerford is a Roar Rookie

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    As the dust settled on Tim Cahill’s latest green-and-gold rescue act somewhere, beneath the stands of ANZ Stadium on Tuesday night, it is hard not to believe that the veteran striker and coach Ange Postecoglou would have shared a knowing look.

    A quick glance over the shoulder, just a second-worth of recognition, but enough to confirm what they already knew – if Australia’s are to reach Russia next winter it will be because of the faith they have in each other.

    The uncertainty of the Socceroos’ long and winding path towards next year’s finals has drawn its fair share of criticism with Postecoglou’s steadfast determination to stick to the philosophy that first brought him the Australia job four years ago widely derided as the stubborn act of a manger out of ideas.

    With 11 minutes to go in extra-time in Sydney on Monday night, the critics looked as though they might be proved correct.

    Step forward Tim Cahill.

    Australia has, of course, seen it all before.

    The arching delivery. The flailing defender caught under the screen of Cahill’s forearm. The trampoline leap. The vigorous twist if the neck. The inevitable bulge of the net.

    Textbook Cahill.

    All that was missing was the flag-punching celebration that marked arguably Cahill’s finest double for Australia, against Japan in Kaiserslautern 11 years ago.

    For those who had dared to believe in the Syrian fairytale that threatened to unfold before them it was a cold-blooded act of which the 37-year-old has unapologetically built his career.

    “At the end of the game we were laughing about it – I knew I would score,” Cahill told Fox Sports as his teammates celebrated around him on the pitch afterwards.

    “It is what I have done my whole career. It’s like waiting for a bus. I didn’t touch the ball a lot but I knew if I just waited it would come.

    “It’s what I have always done.”

    If Cahill is ever cast in movie he would be one of those bank robbers who sneaks into the background shot at precisely the moment the donut-satisfied policeman starts to doze off at the wheel.

    His highlight reel a cast of burgled tap-ins and slow-motion headers – around that volley against Holland – that have made him so easy to rely upon and a nightmare for defenders around the world to track.

    As his career has begun to wind down it is, however, Cahill’s single-mindedness that has arguably been his greatest strength and which has ensured he remains a threat at 37.

    His dedication to his training regime is unrivalled, driven by the knowledge that if he can keep his body in its best condition then his competitive spirit, and understanding of what he does – including that leap – is enough to unsettle his markers.

    Tim Cahill happy

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    “I know that defenders are scared of me,” he added in his post-match interview.

    “Not because I’m Tim Cahill, but because of what I give.”

    If Cahill is sure about what he brings to the Socceroos he is equally certain how important Postecoglou is to the national team.

    Before last month’s World Cup qualifier against Thailand, Cahill admitted that he would have already retired from international football if it was not for Postecoglou.

    “I wouldn’t be around if I didn’t think we could qualify for the World Cup,” Cahill said.

    “And on top of that, I wouldn’t be around if I didn’t believe in the vision of what Ange says we can do at a World Cup.”

    It was a firm endorsement, against the growing tide of opinion against a Socceroos boss, whose public perception had struck its lowest ebb since guiding Australia to their first major title at the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil.

    A limp performance against the Thais a couple of days later only fired the critics, as the Socceroos failed to secure direct passage to Russia, while Cahill’s support was perceived to be part of an unhelpful siege mentality the squad had created.

    Former Socceroo Robbie Slater described the situation as ‘toxic crap’ but when the squad reconvened ahead of the first leg against Syria in Malaysia last week, Cahill’s response was to double down on his support.

    “My favourite saying is: ‘You miss someone when they’re gone’,” he said.

    “His effect on the game, in years and years to come, people will sit there and go: ‘Wow, an Australian coach did that to our country in four years – won us an Asian Cup, undefeated in the qualifiers other than the Japan away game, and he changed the footprint of football in Australia’.

    Ange Postecoglou and the Socceroos

    (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

    “I’m talking A-League (as well), everyone plays Ange’s style, it’s nothing new.
    “Now our Socceroos are playing and dominating games but that will be the case for him, they’ll miss him when he’s gone.”

    Postecoglou repaid the Cahill’s faith on Monday night by giving him a start in a game he dare not lose.

    His reward was a typical Cahill performance of unyielding spirit as the striker defied his 37-year-old body – and the prospect that his own Australia career was just minutes from ending – over 120 minutes of full-throttle sprints back into defence and penalty-box know-how.

    “He’s just a freak,” Postecoglou said afterwards.

    “I can’t think of when he last played 90 minutes, let alone 120. He’s got real belief in himself.

    “He’s just a unique, extraordinary individual.”

    If ever Australia needed reminding.