Perhaps the the most pleasing aspects of a great World Cup in Brazil were watching Australia fall back in love with the Socceroos and more and more in love with the round ball.
If tournaments are defined by their football, then this was a World Cup where the output was generally of a positive and attacking nature, but there was much more in Brazil.
Those on the ground talk of an incredible party atmosphere from a host nation obsessed with the Selecao and having a good time. It appeared to welcome the world, and the world contributed to ensuring the nation, at least for one great month, forgot about much of its social inequality.
It’s not that Brazilians or fans around the world could forgot about Sepp Blatter and his regime, the social injustice gripping much of the nation or the many conflicts around the globe, but the football gave people an outlet, a sense of connecting to the biggest thing on the planet.
The flow of images and stories through traditional and social media, painting this connection across the globe, only added the allure of the World Cup.
It was great to see Australia embrace the festive mood, and undoubtedly the efforts of a very fresh Socceroos played a big part in making the nation feel good about this latest World Cup.
It was only nine or so months ago that Australians were very despondent about the hopes of the nation team, so the turn around is a huge credit to Ange Postecoglou in particular.
The fact the Socceroos went to Brazil with an Australian at the helm, restoring the offensive values of the national team, is a credit to how far the game has come down-under.
What it should do more than ever is give Australians a sense they not only belong on the world stage, but, with the right planning and personnel, can compete.
It should send a message that the prize of being competitive on the biggest stage isn’t impossible, and that we can do it with our own.
After all, here was a team of Australian educated managers taking it to one of the greatest managers the world will remember.
I don’t recall any team in Brazil quite taking it to the undefeated Netherlands and their manager Louis van Gaal like the Socceroos and Postecoglou did in Porto Alegre.
As I described at the time (http://www.theroar.com.au/2014/06/19/ange-and-his-young-roos-will-learn-from-the-errors/), Postecoglou built a plan to disrupt the Dutch high, and, what’s better, the strategy was almost perfectly executed.
But for the naive defending, which unfortunately was the biggest blight on the Roos campaign, this was an outstanding performance.
Van Gaal being van Gaal didn’t heap much praise on Postecoglou and his men after the match, but deep down he knew he had gotten out of jail, and was glad to see the back of the men in green and gold.
Van Gaal’s was a tough game-plan to beat, built around a tight, impenetrable defence, and the most rapid of counter-attacks centred around Arjen Robben. We saw it to frightening effect in their opening demolition of the world champions Spain.
Yet Postecoglou was unwavered, finding a weakness by disrupting the Dutch high, not allowing the ball into the feet of the likes of Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie.
While van Gaal eventually adjusted after an injury to one of his defenders, this was a tactical performance of the highest standard, only undone by the type of error you can forgive from a team so freshly assembled.
For some context on the strength of Australia’s display that afternoon, the Dutch only conceded two other goals in almost 700 minutes of football. That’s six other games, two of which went to extra time.
For some further context, only the much loved Mexican manager Miguel Herrera and Argentine’s Alejandro Sabella had plans worthy of similar acclaim, and neither of them quite had the bravado of Postecoglou.
The Netherlands were arguably the second best team in Brazil behind world champion Germany, so it was a big tick to Australian football that the world was not only talking about Tim Cahill’s left foot volley, but the quality of the showing.
But it will mean nothing if Australian football isn’t about to learn from the entire exercise.
The next step is to try and go back to a World Cup and not only produce the proactive football we saw in Brazil, but do it with a sense of security at the back, composure and multiple solutions up front, and a level of mental strength that can hold-up over three or more games.
It is no good having strategies that make an impression one game and then fall to bits the next, as we saw against Spain (http://www.theroar.com.au/2014/06/24/socceroos-wilt-possession-suffer-pain-spains-passing-game/).
The end game is to have a fool-proof game featuring an adaptable squad of clever, rounded, worldly players, but still playing to Australia’s renowned strengths, including the physical and offensive.
What Australia and its football community should take heart from is the fact the past two winners of the World Cup, Spain and now Germany, are nations that have implemented systems and styles built on technical proficient players, and reaped the rewards.
It’s ironic, when you think about it, that Australia has implemented a curriculum based on Dutch ideals, yet it’s the Dutch who have taken a reactive approach to try and win the past two World Cups.
While they’ve gotten very close under Bert van Marwijk and now van Gaal, it’s perhaps just that they weren’t able to snare the prize after deviating from their proactive ideals.
Brazil is another example of a nation struggling with its football identity, and look at the result here.
What Australia at least re-discovered after an insipid period under Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck is that it can be competitive by understanding the end game and sticking to the path.
Watching Postecoglou progress the team and nation from here should make for fun viewing.
But behind him we need to have other managers ready to carry on the job, so the ongoing football education of the nation remains paramount.