Socceroos teem­ing with doubt

Brazil thrash­ing has Aus­tralia go to Rus­sia un­sure they can mix it up with the big guns

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

AUS­TRALIA’S 4-0 home loss to Brazil could be re­garded as both the per­fect prepa­ra­tion for the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup and a sting­ing real­ity check for a side des­per­ate to take a seat at the top ta­ble of in­ter­na­tional soc­cer.

Dis­man­tled by a team shorn of tal­is­man Ney­mar and a host of other first-choice play­ers, Ange Postecoglou’s men head to Rus­sia brac­ing for fur­ther stiff tests against Ger­many, Cameroon and Chile at the June 17July 2 tour­na­ment.

The squad of 23 will board the plane with doubts about their tech­ni­cal and phys­i­cal mea­sure against the world’s top na­tions, but they can have no uncer­tainty about their place in the global peck­ing or­der.

Postecoglou blamed him­self for the sec­ond-half sur­ren­der at the Mel­bourne Cricket Ground, hav­ing trig­gered a raft of sub­sti­tu­tions be­fore a three-goal blitz by the Sele­cao.

In real­ity, it was only the ac­ro­bat­ics of num­ber two goal­keeper Mitch Langerak and a raft of spurned chances by the vis­i­tors that spared them a greater hu­mil­i­a­tion.

“You never like get­ting de­feated and you don’t like a heavy de­feat, par­tic­u­larly at home,” said Postecoglou. “That al­ways has an ef­fect. It doesn’t have to have a neg­a­tive ef­fect, though.

“From our per­spec­tive it’s about pre­par­ing for that game (against Ger­many) in about a week’s time... It’ll be good to get over there and knuckle down in prepa­ra­tion for that game. “We’ll be ready for that.” The mar­gin of de­feat was the great­est Aus­tralia have suf­fered since con­sec­u­tive 6-0 away losses to France and Brazil in 2013, which trig­gered for­mer coach Hol­ger Osieck’s dis­missal.

Postecoglou took over and in a lit­tle more than a year was feted a hero for en­gi­neer­ing an Asian Cup tri­umph on home soil in 2015, while fash­ion­ing a more en­ter­pris­ing unit than the stodgier out­fit over­seen by Ger­man Osieck.

Lo­cal fans are ac­cus­tomed to Aus­tralia be­ing a big fish in Asia’s small pond, how­ever, and Postecoglou has long as­pired to build a side that can com­pete at the World Cup rather than just make up the num­bers.

A year out from soc­cer’s show­piece, hav­ing cir­cum­nav­i­gated the globe to scout over­seas tal­ent and blooded a raft of new play­ers, the 51-year-old’s project is far from com­ple­tion.

Last week’s 3-2 home win over Saudi Ara­bia boosted the side’s hopes of qual­i­fy­ing for a fourth suc­ces­sive World Cup but it was an­other un­con­vinc­ing dis­play from a team that has laboured against Asian op­po­nents they once dom­i­nated.

The core of the Asian Cup-win­ning team re­mains in place, partly be­cause the younger gen­er­a­tion has failed to fol­low in the foot­steps of their pre­de­ces­sors, who cut their teeth in Europe’s top leagues.

Tim Cahill re­mains both an in­dis­pens­able part of Postecoglou’s plans and a sym­bol of Aus­tralia’s in­abil­ity to pro­duce a goal-scor­ing suc­ces­sor to the 37-year-old vet­eran.

Postecoglou has tried to wring goals out of a new 3-2-4-1 for­ma­tion but no amount of tac­ti­cal acu­men could make up for the gulf in class be­tween the sides on Tues­day.

An­other hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence against Ger­many looms in Sochi on Mon­day and Postecoglou’s crit­ics will be out in force should that oc­cur.

But the foot­ball les­sons in Rus­sia could ul­ti­mately prove in­valu­able ahead of the next World Cup qual­i­fier away to Ja­pan in Au­gust.

Aus­tralia are third in Group B, but only one point adrift of lead­ers Ja­pan, and their match-up could prove de­ci­sive in the fi­nals race.

PIC­TURE: EPA

WE’LL BOUNCE BACK: Aus­tralia’s head coach Ange Postecoglou talks with Mathew Leckie fol­low­ing their 4-0 de­feat by Brazil in an in­ter­na­tional friendly soc­cer at the MCG in Mel­bourne on Tues­day.

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