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2015 Asian Cup: Postecoglou's nod to form and legs works a treat

Ange Postecoglou should definitely be replaced before the World Cup. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Expert
9th January, 2015
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A tip of the hat to form and the future via his team selection might have made for an edgy start, but ultimately Ange Postecoglou was rewarded and vindicated for continung to swing the Socceroos pendulum.

Rather than take the conservative approach and play the players that have served him and others well over the years – the likes of Mark Bresciano, Matt McKay and Mark Milligan – Postecoglou went for the younger legs, many playing regularly.

He went for the likes of Mass Luongo, James Troisi, Trent Sainsbury and Aziz Behich when many a manager may have plumped for older options like Bresciano, McKay and Alex Wilkinson.

But Postecoglou doesn’t mind a calculated gamble with his selection. Fill the kids with confidence, give them a plan, a license, and let them go.

That was the modus operandi on the opening night of the Asian Cup in Melbourne. Postecoglou spoke before and after about playing at a high tempo and aiming to wear Kuwait down. To do that he would need legs, and mobility was a big part of his selection.

The make-up of his three-man midfield was particularly enlightening, with Luongo and Troisi advanced of skipper Mile Jedinak. This was about providing the team hub with a physicality for both a dynamic edge in attack and for instant press in defensive transition.

As well, it was about providing the Socceroos, hitherto reliant on Tim Cahill for goals under Postecoglou, with more of a goal threat. The fact that all three starting midfielders ended up on the scoresheet tells of a successful strategy.

But it didn’t start well. Both Luongo and Troisi started with tension and many were already thinking, and saying, that Bresciano should have started after Hussain Fadhel beat Cahill to a near post header from an Aziz Mahsaan corner.

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It took Luongo a good 25 minutes to settle down, but what an influence he had on the second period of the first half.

Cahill’s equaliser came from Luongo’s preparedness to get off the floor quickly and drive beyond defenders at a throw-in, while the second came from a well timed run into the box and a leap that the man his header denied would have been proud of.

It’s the type of forward movement from midfield that Bresciano has made a career of, but sadly no longer has the stamina to maintain for 90 minutes. That’s why the decision to bring him from the bench was a sound one.

Even Troisi, while quiet in the first half, kept running in the second half, ultimately getting a late reward because Kuwait couldn’t live with his constant drive.

Add the movement of Robbie Kruse, Mathew Leckie, Behich and Ivan Franjic – as well as Tomi Juric and Nathan Burns in the second half – and it was little wonder that Kuwait, for all their greater defensive organisation in the opening 20 minutes, couldn’t go with the Roos for 90 minutes.

By the time Nabil Maaloul introduced the lively Yousef Nasser and the great Bader Al-Mutawa, the damage was done, although the Roos still had to rely on three sharp Matt Ryan saves to keep Al Azraq out.

It was a reminder that this was far from the complete performance.

Indeed, in the first half there was much to mull over for Postecoglou, including a few too many long balls, not enough patience in possession and little movement and penetration without the ball.

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The fact the Socceroos were able take a lead to the break gave them the space they craved in the second half, and they did a great job of using it, moving the Kuwaitis around with speed and moving the ball quicker.

It was the type of modern physicality that isn’t so much about battering opponents through  muscle, but through relentless mobility.

Bigger tests await, and the Socceros and their fans would do well not to get carried away and look too far beyond the Oman game on Tuesday, but this was an encouraging performance that should add even more confidence to a team that might finally have turned the corner.

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