Tinkerman Postecoglou's World Cup balancing act

Ange Postecoglou’s inspired tinkering in Moscow has left him with a conundrum – how to best balance tenacity and technique to ensure a return trip to Russia for the 2018 World Cup?

Socceroos, Chile

The Socceroos gave Chile little room to move Source: Getty Images

His six changes for the final group game against Chile at the Confederations Cup were seen by some as a spin of the roulette wheel. Top performers Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy were left out with lesser lights given a chance to shine.

But, whether by design or good fortune, the gamble produced a ker-ching moment for the emboldened coach who watched his Socceroos play with an intensity and pugnacity missing from the earlier group games against Germany and Cameroon.


The fallout, in the context of August and September’s qualifiers against Japan and Thailand and far beyond that, could have profound repercussions for the make-up of future starting teams as Postecoglou seeks to marry his ardour for tiki-taka touches and intricate build-up play with innate Australian grit.

Playing Tim Cahill from the start of the 1-1 draw with Chile proved a masterstroke, as the 37-year-old turned back the clock to his days as an in-your-face midfielder at Everton during his 56 minutes of helter-skelter endeavour.

Cahill’s zest and aggression – including one tackle which veered close to red card territory – galvanised those around him with James Troisi, Jackson Irvine and Massimo Luongo, with only Kruse starting in the 1-1 draw with Cameroon, playing like men possessed against the world No.4 nation.

Writing off Cahill as a little more than a bit-part player whose role as team cheerleader and mentor is more important than his on-field contribution has proved a dangerous pastime for many.

On the strength of what he brought to the table at Spartak Stadium in his 100th appearance for his country, Cahill’s days as irresistible force for the national team are not yet done.

Chile’s coach Juan Antonio Pizzi summed up Australia thus: “The game was played like a World Cup quarter final.

“They were an excellent opponent. They played with a great commitment, maybe too much at times.

“They also kept possession very well and we had to fight hard to try and recover the ball.

“This is a very difficult team play against.”

It’s a balancing act for Postecoglou as he moves into the final year of his tenure and attempts to leave a legacy at the next World Cup which will shape the future of how the game is played at all levels in Australia.

The implications for this within his World Cup squad are intriguing - as physicality and a high press are weighed against the pursuit of finesse.

Having started with both Mooy and Rogic in the loss to Germany and draw with Cameroon, they made way as Luongo, Irvine and Cahill came in to set the turbines whirring in midfield.

Mark Milligan dropped into the back three alongside Ryan McGowan – his first start of the tournament – and Trent Sainsbury. Troisi, the official man of the match, was deployed in an advanced role behind striker Tomi Juric.

A number of questions remain for Postecoglou: does he sacrifice the artistry of Rogic, who struggles to run out 90 minutes and use him off the bench from now on.

And, for all his undoubted class, is Mooy no longer integral, if the system is about pressing opponents high and not allowing them any respite.

If that’s the end game – and it was against Chile – then the likes if Luongo and Irvine might be more tailored for the task.

Could it also be time for utility Milligan to play out the remainder of international career at the back, after showing in shutting out Alexis Sanchez that he has lost none of his defensive arts.

The once automatic starting spot of Mathew Leckie may now be also under some consideration as he toils to make the adjustment from winger to wingback.

Kruse started ahead of him against Chile and did more than enough to give Postecoglou pause for thought during 90 minutes of rich endeavour.

With Japan looming on 31 August in Australia’s penultimate Asian Group B qualifier - Australia is a point adrift of Japan but behind Saudi Arabia only on goal difference – Postecoglou has plenty to ponder.

So too the Blue Samurai, who will not have taken heart from a Socceroos performance which harked back to the 2006 World Cup when they cut off the Blue Samurai at the knees under Guus Hiddink in that famous come-from-behind 3-1 victory in Kauserslautern masterminded by Cahill with his double off the bench.

Australia didn’t beat Chile, but they might just have found a way of bemusing the very best when they head back to Russia this time next year.

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5 min read
Published 26 June 2017 at 7:40pm
By Dave Lewis