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Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos debut the first steps towards evolution

Socceroos manager Ange Postecoglou was satisfied with his side's outing against Costa Rica. PHOTO: Keith McInnes

Socceroos manager Ange Postecoglou was satisfied with his side’s outing against Costa Rica. PHOTOS: Keith McInnes

Few expect Ange Postecoglou’s changes to the Socceroos to be instant, but last night’s friendly against Costa Rica showed a glimpse of the potential of a new-look side under the new coach.

Shape

After a basic 4-4-2 dominated Holger Osieck’s time in charge, the inclusion of Mark Bresciano, Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan together in midfield was significant, as Postecoglou’s predecessor generally preferred to select just a pair from the aforementioned trio. Here, though, they were fielded in the centre of the park in a shape that was not quite 4-2-3-1, but not totally 4-3-3 either – something in between, like a 4-2-1-3, is probably an apt description. Certainly, Bresciano was the ‘link’ player, nominally in the hole behind central striker Mathew Leckie but drifting up and down the pitch to find space.

Initially, the wingers, Dario Vidosic and Robbie Kruse, moved high up the pitch when the ball was turned over to win the ball back immediately, but as the prominence of Costa Rica’s full-backs became more significant, with Bryan Oviedo cutting inside twice in the first half for a shot on goal, Australia’s wide players dropped back to help protect their full-backs. Still, Postecoglou took heart from the defensive performance, claiming that “throughout the whole game, I thought our defensive pressure was brilliant.”

“Even when we were making mistakes with our football, [the errors] weren’t causing us any problems because we just worked really hard to get it back and then we could start again,” Postecoglou said post game to Fox Sports.

Better ball retention

Postecoglou sides have always played an attractive brand of football, and as the squad becomes more familiar to his methods, the Socceroos should become an impressive outfit in terms of possession, just as the Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory were under the new coach.

Here, against the ‘Ticos’, with three central midfielders all comfortable on the ball, the full-backs pushing forward to provide an extra passing option and the front three taking turns to drift between the lines, there were always passing options for the Socceroos player in possession – and even when they were forced backwards by Costa Rica’s pressing, there was an unmistakeable remit to try and keep the ball whenever possible.

Matt Ryan in full flight against Costa Rica.

Matt Ryan in full flight against Costa Rica.

Goalkeepers

In that regard, the selection of Matt Ryan (in the wake of Mark Schwarzer’s sudden international retirement) might eventually prove significant, even if Mitch Langerak could (and should) be given a chance to impress. However Ryan’s distribution might tip the scales in his favour, his proficiency with the ball at his feet catching the eye here as it has in the first few months of his recent move to Belgium. His confidence when under pressure and clever chipped balls to teammates could make him a handy cog in the domineering possession-based side the Socceroos will inevitably become under Postecoglou.

Playing out

Inside the first minute Rhys Williams, finally in the centre-back position he favours for the national side, brought the ball forward and attempted an incisive ball forward, before a few minutes later being caught being ponderous in midfield, leading to the rather desperate goal line clearance from Ivan Franjic.

Meanwhile, his partner, Lucas Neill, caught the eye with a series of long, driven balls forward, while Mark Milligan also dropped into a deep, left-sided position to hit a fine ball over the top for Robbie Kruse, who was flagged just marginally offside. The emphasis on creating from deep positions was particularly obvious when Costa Rica kept a high line for the opening twenty minutes but even after they dropped to accommodate Australia’s pace in behind the role of the central defenders in initiating play was obvious.

Full-backs

Postecoglou spoke from his very first press conference as Socceroos coach about the possibility of fielding a new pair of players in the full-back positions. True to his word Jason Davidson and Ivan Franjic started left and right respectively and generally impressed with their energy, mobility and proactive style of defending – it made for a neat contrast with previous incumbents Matt McKay and Luke Wilkshire.

Franjic constantly got forward on the right hand side, slipping into the corridor of space near the touchline created by Kruse’s constant positioning in the channels, while Davidson was more reserved with his forays forward – perhaps concerned by the threat of Joel Campbell’s pace in behind, although he did well to dart in front of the youngster to intercept the ball.

Indeed, that sort of ‘proactive’ defending, deliberately looking to win the ball whenever possible, was a marked change from the Osieck era, and on one occasion Neill found himself five metres in Australia’s half trying to win the ball off a Costa Rican attacker.

Approach?

Australia had a surprisingly varied approach, shifting between long periods of possession and more immediate, high-tempo counter-attacks. With Vidosic cutting inside, Leckie working the space in behind Costa Rica’s defence, and Kruse likewise from the opposite flank, there were plenty of opportunities in the first half for Australia’s midfield to hit balls over the top for the attackers to chase. Leckie in particular looked to dart across from the left flank into the space between Costa Rica’s outside centre-back and the wing-back, a few times rotating fluently with Vidosic so that the central defenders were always occupied.

The substitution of Tom Rogic onto the field helped give the Socceroos a noticeable boost.

The substitution of Tom Rogic onto the field helped give the Socceroos a noticeable boost.

Substitutes

The introduction of Tim Cahill and Josh Kennedy in the second half, who played more with their back to goal, coupled with a drop in the game’s overall tempo, meant Australia had to become more patient in their possession play as the game progressed. Aside from one move of sparkling one-touch play down the right flank, resulting in a fine chance that Leckie spurned in front of goal, they weren’t particularly successful in breaking down their opponents with prolonged periods in possession.

However, the arrival of Tom Rogic into the fray gave Australia a new dimension. His ability to skip past challenges in the midfield zone is magnificent and immediately he found room between the lines after circumventing a tackle with a clever touch, later drawing a yellow card from Michael Umaña, as well as coming close to slipping Kruse and Kennedy in on goal. His cameo was electrifying, although Postecoglou has been keen to emphasise that Rogic must get more game time at club level – as Bresciano is currently suspended by FIFA for some dodgy transfer business in Qatar, it’s certainly an unusual situation for Postecoglou to be in, to have both his playmakers struggling for game time in a World Cup year.

The route for the only goal may be perceived as “typical Australia”, but Cahill’s header belied the progress made in the side’s overall approach.

 

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