Apart from Tim Cahill, Matt McKay and Mark Bresciano, it’s fair to say the best days lie ahead for most of the Socceroos World Cup squad.
That was undoubtedly a big factor for Ange Postecoglou in finalising his 23.
The manager, in and around the Gosford camp, made no secret of the fact he wants to build a team that can grow, and he delivered a squad full for opportunity and promise.
Leading into the camp Postecoglou said he wasn’t interested in players who simply wanted to go to the World Cup. He wanted players who wanted to achieve something.
The concept of a comfortable player wasn’t one that sat well. The World Cup, after all, should always be about making an impression. Given where the Socceroos have come from, and who they’re up against, Postecoglou has taken the umbrella view of using Brazil to fast-track his rebuild.
There is little doubt the manager feels his young players can significantly benefit from being exposed to the world stage. He said as much in explaining the inclusion of Swindon Town’s Massimo Luongo.
He’ll be hoping the likes of Luongo, Ben Halloran, Mathew Leckie, Adam Taggart, Oliver Bozanic, Bailey Wright and Alex Wilkinson continue to push and take whatever opportunities come their way, and take that confidence back to their clubs.
Better still, if a few of them are able to make a name for themselves and attract the attention of bigger clubs, Postecoglou knows it will benefit not only their individual careers but the national team.
With Cahill, McKay and Bresciano close to the end of their careers, and the trio of Eugene Galekovic, Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan arguably at the peak of their powers, he clearly feels he has enough experience in the squad.
Throw in Matthew Spiranovic and Dario Vidosic, who each have more than 20 caps, and James Holland and Tommy Oar, who each have more than 10, and there are 10 players, or over 40 per cent of the squad, you could consider as experienced.
Perhaps the more pertinent question is whether there’s enough cover in all the areas?
The one area where this is particularly glaring is in the fullback spots, and this was the biggest surprise about Wilkshire’s omission. As you look across the squad, a lot rests on the form and fitness of fullbacks Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson.
Even when the squad was at 30 it looked light at left back, but Davidson and Franjic now become pivotal starting players. If either of them are struggling through form or injury, the alternatives look like Ryan McGowan or possibly Spiranovic on the right, and either McKay or Bozanic on the left.
Elsewhere, the unfortunate groin injury to Tom Rogic and the continuing absence of Bresciano makes for a conundrum in the number 10 role. Does Postecoglou go with a conventional 4-2-3-1 which features a 10, or play the 4-3-3 we saw against South Africa, where, in the second half, there was no number 10?
If he does decide to use a 10, there’s every chance James Troisi goes to the head of the queue if Bresciano isn’t strong enough to play big minutes. Or we might see a more withdrawn midfield featuring two number eights in front of the screening midfielder.
An example would be Bozanic and Milligan ahead of Jedinak. A back-up would be McKay and Luongo ahead of Holland.
Whatever the combination, the inability of Rogic to get up and the ongoing waiting game on Bresciano places pressure on Troisi and Vidosic to step up in a creative sense. For the latter, in particular, it’s time to deliver.
Up front, it’s hard to begrudge Taggart his opportunity, even if some argue it came because of the back injury to Josh Kennedy. He’s also there on merit. Both he and Luongo made the biggest impression in the warm-up game against a local Brazilian side earlier in the week.
With Bozanic and Wilkinson, Luongo and Taggart are the biggest movers over the past three weeks. As I argued at the announcement of the original 30-man squad, Taggart has a compelling case on the basis he is perhaps the only natural goalscorer in the squad.
Apart from that, his case was also compelling on the bass of his mobility and adaptability. Clearly he fits the Postecoglou template to a tee, able to play across the front three or four, and inside or outside the box. The same can’t be said of Kennedy.
Taggart also appears in great shape, and that, rightly, is the main pre-requisite for Postecoglou. While he might have been prepared to cater for Bresciano, such an attacking fulcrum, Postecoglou wasn’t prepared to carry many players.
Ultimately it’s a squad with the potential for growth, and all the nation wants from its Socceroos is a team on the rise.