Dependable Cahill is the jewel in Socceroos' crown

ANALYSIS: It was a performance that showed why Australia are the champions of Asia and why it will take a hell of a team to deprive the Socceroos of a spot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.


Tim Cahill turns away after scoring his match-winning goal Source: Getty Images Europe

After a somewhat uninspiring performance against Iraq on match day one, the Socceroos knew they had to lift their individual and collective game to be able to emerge unscathed from the key clash with the United Arab Emirates at Abu Dhabi's Mohammed Bin Zayed sauna.

Having beaten Iraq 2-0 in Perth last week, Ange Postecoglou's men went one better by defeating the UAE 1-0 with a late goal from the greatest ever Socceroo: Tim Cahill.

After coming on as a substitute for main striker Tomi Juric, Cahill was in the right place at the right time to slot the ball home from a long cross by Brad Smith to give the Australian team a vital victory on the road and joint leadership of qualifying Group B.

It was Cahill's 48th goal in 92 internationals: that's more than a goal every two games.

There may have been finer players than him over the years but no one in history has contributed so much and so tangibly to the Socceroos' cause.

Saudi Arabia and Australia lead the six-team section with maximum points from two games and will meet next up in Jeddah on October 7 (AEST).

The match should have a huge bearing on the outcome of the group.

Postecoglou reverted to his customary 4-3-3 line-up for the match in Abu Dhabi after a rather unconvincing display against Iraq using a diamond.

Captain Mile Jedinak did not recover from the knock he received in Perth and his defensive midfielder's role was taken up by Mark Milligan, who played in defence against Iraq.

Matthew Spiranovic made a welcome reappearance in the centre of defence while Ryan McGowan came in for Milos Degenek at right back.

Massimo Luongo was the one to miss out in midfield and made way for winger Robbie Kruse before coming on in the second half.

Postecoglou's faith in a system that works well for Australia and the type of players he has was rewarded with a marvellous all-round performance against a team that had beaten Japan in Saitama albeit controversially barely five days earlier.

There was a greater fluency and better movement about the team from the very start and it was soon apparent that ball players like Tom Rogic, Aaron Mooy, Mathew Leckie and Kruse were relishing the open spaces that simply were not available in the game against the Iraqis.
Of course, a more open approach meant the Socceroos had to take a few risks and on a couple of occasions the rearguard was nearly caught napping by defence-splitting passes from the magnificent Omar Abdulrahman but this is all part of Postecoglou's way: an unwavering belief in his methods that essentially centre on attacking the opposition and giving them no respite.

Postecoglou knows his men are strong enough to beat any side in Asia and will always pick the players and tactics that will enhance the team's high stature.

Australia's commanding performance in Abu Dhabi's oppressive heat and humidity might also convince Postecoglou (as if he does not know already) that a four-in-the-middle formation is only there as a back-up or for those special occasions that are dictated by the opposition or by circumstances.

The UAE could never really cope with the Socceroos' volume of play and with a bit more sharpness up front the visitors could have scored a more emphatic victory.

The three points in Abu Dhabi, however, sets up things nicely for the Socceroos.

And if they can get something from their next encounter against the Saudis in Jeddah and beat Japan in Melbourne five days later they would go to Bangkok for their fifth match against Thailand in November knowing that another victory would just about earn them a ticket to Russia.

I know, we are talking about a few 'ifs' here and there will be several twists and turns before the Socceroos get to that point.

However there is no denying that we are dealing here with a powerful Australian side that are winning and, more importantly, doing it in their own way.

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4 min read
Published 7 September 2016 at 8:35am
By Philip Micallef