Usually, surrendering a 4-3 loss to opposition of a similar caliber to yourself throws up more questions than answers. Any answers that prove self-evident are also generally detrimental: player X can’t be trusted in a two-man midfield, tactics Y are ineffective against good teams or striker Z has no business even being considered for competitive international football.
Australia’s 4-3 loss to Ecuador in London on Wednesday actually saw the opposite occur. The three biggest questions facing the Socceroos concerned one of Mat Ryan or Mitch Langerak succeeding Mark Schwarzer, how would the defence would cope without the presence (or spectre) of Lucas Neill, and whether new coach Ange Postecoglu’s rejigged midfield and forward corps could produce goals relying on players so recently of the 99th-ranked A-League.
Ninety minutes and seven goals revealed enough about Australia’s progress under Postecoglou for football fans in the Antipodes to be excited by the upcoming challenge of Chile, Spain and the Netherlands. Most of this good humour follows the success of players disdained by previous regimes (including Ivan Franjic and Matthew Spiranovic), the faith shown in youngsters Curtis Good and Massimo Luongo, and a gameplan that’s more than “don’t screw up”
A few extra days of preparation and more game time for the likes of Rogic and Leckie means the also-rans of the late Osieck days may be a thing of the past.
More obviously, the Socceroos appear to have a vision for the future under a long-term coach, rather than the aspect of a team managed purely to embellish a resume.
The talent gap between Australian and their groupmates means that World Cup progression will be almost impossible. However, using that tournament to prepare for more accessible fish to fry – specifically, the Asian Cup at home in 2015. A result for Postecoglou in Brazil would be a return to the Australian teams of the past that were tough to beat and an inspired showing against class opponents.
The team are unquestionably in better shape than at the time of Holger Osieck’s departure late last year. The team now plays with a vision for future success rather than a fear of current failure.