Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reflecting on the Socceroos' 30-man squad

Most suspected that Australia manager Ange Postecoglou would select a young side for the upcoming World Cup, but few perhaps were able to envisage the aspect of the 2014 Socceroos.

There are only a few readily recognizable faces in the squad, with Postecoglou true to his word in selecting ten players of his initial 30 from the A-League. As expected, there was no room for longstanding captain and lightning rod Lucas Neill, while the recent international exiles of Emerton, Holman, Schwarzer and Ognenovski mean the Aussies will fill their gold kits with an almost patriotically green squad.

Five Socceroos survive from Australia’s watershed 2006 campaign – Luke Wilkshire, Joshua Kennedy, Tim Cahill, Mark Milligan and Mark Bresciano – and they will be expected to provide most of the veteran professionalism required to extract the best from a group described best as youthful and perhaps even na├»ve.

Asia’s brotherhood of ageing bruisers are now no more than a bolded entry in gilt-edged history books. Australia is looking to the future with a special focus not on the 2014 World Cup but on success at next year’s home Asian Cup.

Bresciano, resident Old Man
Pete Smith suggests this squad is nothing if not fresh and links to the Golden era of Socceroo football all but gone. Postecoglou has opted for dynamism and exuberance – especially in defensive positions – and a squad unjaded by long exposure commuting globally to represent a nation with only a passing interest in local football.

This is probably the best squad Postecoglou could select. The team also accurately represents Australia’s standing in the football world – there are big gaps between some numbers in FIFA’s rankings. Locals also seem happier with this lineup of exciting question marks than one highlighting staid veterans.

Featuring only two players from Europe’s big four leagues, whoever comprises the final 23-man roster will hardly be hampered by expectations. These Socceroos are also unscarred by past unrealistic hopes engendered by a wonderful run under Guus Hiddink, the ravages of age on bigger bodies or more recently, thumpings against quality opposition. What they have is pace, a new identity based around Postecoglou’s preferred passing game and a typical Australian passion for the contest.

While mandated by his superiors (and common sense) to empower a new youthful team, Postecoglou’s quick revamp may have hastened the departure of players like Schwarzer and Holman who may have played a key role in Brazil. Without these battle-scarred troops, the coach risks marking another band of younger, more impressionable players in the toughest slate of matches any team will play. With the Asian Cup (and the 2018 World Cup) more realistic targets for Aussie success, failure at the upcoming tournament might have longstanding consequences.

The flip side of callowness is a youthful confidence that serves sportsmen well. While there are only weeks to go until the tournament, Postecoglou must use that time to make sure the coin comes down on the right side for his young Socceroos.

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