If there’s one thing Monday night’s farewell draw with Bafana Bafana highlighted, it’s that Australia appears to have lost touch with the reality of where its national team is at.
The overwhelmingly negative reaction to the team’s performance became a storm, with just about every Tom, Dick, Harry and former Socceroo lining up for their stab at Ange Postecoglou and his team.
The latest to join the bashing brigade were Paul Wade and Zeljko Kalac.
It’s as if Australia and Australia football has lost all sense of the fact the Socceroos are only just starting the rebuild process from the mess that was allowed to fester for so long.
Fair enough that mainstream Australia mightn’t understand where the national team is at in terms of its rebuilding cycle, but for the Australian football community to jump on the bandwagon and bash the team so openly has been quite mystifying.
To think that Postecoglou would just come in, have no more that a fortnight in total with his newly assembled crew, and wave the magic wand is the height of naivity, to use a term thrown the way of the team in the past couple of days.
Remembering this has been only the third time the manager has had the squad together, and on the previous two occasions they barely had time to complete introductions before playing.
In that time Postecoglou has not only had to turn over his playing roster, but many of his support staff.
Kalac, in particular, should know better, having been a part of Guus Hiddnk’s rebuild in 2005 and 2006.
He would know, for example, that Hiddink had the best part of a year to rebuild his side ahead of the World Cup and that the ‘Roos weren’t as smooth in the playoff against Uruguay as they were in Germany eight months later.
That sort of fluency doesn’t happen in the space of just over a week on the training track.
From what I saw in Gosford on day three of camp and from all the noise coming out, the intensity of training has been extremely high.
Peter Cklamovski had been working the boys hard, and high standards have been demanded throughout.
Little doubt that’s to do with the way Postecoglou wants the ‘Roos to play, centred around a high octane pressing game.
The plan is undoubtedly to build that mileage into the legs in the early part of the camp and then taper off as the opener against Chile approaches.
Kalac should remember more than most the intense workload that Hiddink put his players ahead of the Cup and the resultant impact that had on the lead-up performances, where there were only sporadic signs of what was to come.
It made sense at the time when Hiddink and his men put those performances down to training legs.
Yet when Postecoglou mentioned it on Monday, he was criticised for seeking an excuse.
Perhaps the manager could have done himself a favour by pre-empting the tiring legs in his pre-match press conference. Yet to these eyes it seemed a valid mitigate..
Far from being the catastrophe it was made out to be, I saw signs of a team building through its foundation phase.
Admittedly there may have been more of an emphasis on the team’s defensive structure, but Postecolgou has rarely been one to rebuild from the back.
Indeed, he appears to me to be building a structure where the defending happens higher, and as a team, thus reducing the burden on the back four.
What I saw on Monday was a team, especially in the opening half hour, looking to evolve from their work in Postecoglou’s opening two friendlies.
Whereas he has used a 4-2-3-1 against Costa Rica and Ecuador, here he adjusted from a 4-3-3 in attack to a 4-2-3-1 in defence.
The subtle difference was in the position of central midfielder Mark Milligan.
When the Roos were on the ball, Milligan pushed up into a position known as the number 8 role, advanced of the holding midfielder but not as high as the number 10, in this case James Troisi.
When Milligan pushed up, Troisi would would peel over to the left, so the Roos would have only one midfielder screening, James Holland.
It was a staggered midfield.
The Socceroos in attack first half (4-3-3)
The fact Milligan found his way into the box in the first minute and then had a strike from the edge of the box minutes later tells you how Postecoglou is thinking.
In fact, the opening quarter of the games was some of the best football seen from a national team in years, involving quick circulation of ball and bodies, overloading on the flanks, and some eye-catching combination play.
With sharper finishing, admittedly a problem area for a team without too many natural scorers, the ‘Roos might have had two or three goals rather than be chasing an equaliser.
When the Socceroos lost the ball, Milligan would retreat into a more traditional screening role on the right of Holland, with Troisi moving to his right in a more traditional number 10 position.
The Socceroos in defence first half (4-2-3-1)
You can see Postecoglou is looking to evolve the team and make it more dynamic in attack.
But it will take him some time to find the right midfield balance, and not having Mile Jedinak and Tom Rogic available gave him an opportunity to assess his alternatives.
We saw in the first half against Ecuador how effective the Tom and Tim show, Rogic and Cahill, can be.
In the second half Postecoglou introduced Matt McKay for Troisi and, in doing so, shifted the balance to a slightly deeper one, with Milligan and McKay advanced of Holland, but in the same line.
This is the conundrum for Postecoglou.
If he wants a more proactive Brisbane Roar style three-man midfield with one screener, then players like Rogic and Troisi might not fit.
Even Milligan, as we saw on Monday, struggled to cope with the non-stop run required in such a three.
Funnily enough, one of the players most suited to such a midfield is Oliver Bozanic, who caught the eye with his cameo.
Mark Bresciano, if fit, would also fit into such a three, but you have to have doubts about his ability to play huge minutes against the Chilean, Dutch and Spanish midfields.
Overall, Postecoglou will have been disappointed his alternatives, Holland, McKay and Troisi, didn’t take their chances.
But there were also some good signs, and neat passages of play.
Particularly when the ball was at the feet of the wide men, Tommy Oar and Leckie, they looked dangerous, dribbling, making South Africa’s defenders defend.
Often they were guilty of not showing the requisite patience, blazing away from the flanks, looking to hit Cahill.
It’s undoubtedly a tactic that could work against the Chileans, but the Roos mustn’t do it to a fault, ensuring there is always variety in their attack.
Given the historic problems in defence, it was perhaps surprising to learn Postecoglou has so far focussed on the attack. But then again, it is Postecoglou.
Undoubtedly his idea is to defend from the front, protecting the defence with high pressing.
If he can get it working in such a short time, it’s a noble tactic.
But given the quality of the opponents there’s every chance they will find a way through the Socceroos press and expose the new look defence.
Jedinak will make a big difference screening, but there’s still plenty of work ahead on the defensive set-up.
True, there isn’t alot of time, but fans must remember the World Cup is just the start of the rebuild. Bigger things await for this team.
Yes, everyone want the ‘Roos to make an impression, even be competitive in Brazil, but the reality is, given where we’ve come from, given our current position both in ranking and as a unit, we were never likely to upset any of our group opponents.
Expectations these days are high for the national team, and that’s understandable, but their ought to be a fairer assessment of where the ‘Roos are at, and heading.
The facts are Postecoglou is doing the work the governing body and it’s previous national team boss put off, and that he’s doing the critical rebuild at a time when we don’t have a bevy of regulars starring in European leagues.
This isn’t to say that Postecoglou should be above any criticism, but the noise after Monday night appeared well out of touch.
Hitherto the manager has the runs on the board, and Australia would be best advised to give him and his young team an opportunity to grow and breath.