The Socceroos Asian Cup campaign starts now.
Tonights match in Osaka against regional rivals Japan will set the tone for what’s to come for Ange Postecoglou’s team as it prepares to host the biggest football tournament Australia has ever seen.
Make no mistake, tonight is no “friendly”.
Matches between The Socceroos and The Samurai Blue never are. Both teams know that if they are to win Asian Football’s biggest prize it is likely they will need to triumph over the other at a crucial point in the campaign.
Australia and Japan both had a disappointing World Cup experience in Brazil.
Neither side registered a win. Whilst The Socceroos showed daring and enterprise they were regularly shredded in defence, shipping 9 goals in 3 games.
The Japanese campaign was equally underwhelming, culminating in a 4-1 drubbing in their final group game against a revitalised and exuberant Colombia.
Since then it’s been something of a roller coaster ride for Japan. World Cup coach Alberto Zaccheroni paid the price for a poor campaign in Brazil and has been replaced by Mexican Javier Aguirre.
Results continue to be patchy for The Samurai Blue. In October they were pummelled by Brazil 4-0 in Singapore but responded at home last week with a 6-0 romp against Honduras.
Just which Japan turns up tonight may decide the outcome of the contest.
For Ange Postecoglou the raw numbers for 2014 don’t make great reading.
10 games for 1 win, a scratchy 3-2 result against Saudi Arabia in London in September. In that time The Australians have also piled up 7 losses and 2 draws conceding 18 goals along the way.
Of the 10 goals scored by The Socceroos in 2014 Tim Cahill has provided 6 of them. The chronic dependance Australia has on its talismanic veteran for goal production is Ange Postecoglou’s greatest headache.
In fact, scoring at all, anyway, anyhow, is a major challenge right now. The Socceroos have scored in only 1 of their last 5 matches.
If they’re to seriously challenge for honours in January that drought needs to end - and fast.
Postecoglou maintains 2014 has been year zero in his football revolution and with that has come the requisite pain. He has continued to turn over his squad in an attempt to unearth players he believes have the talent and temperament to cope with the pressures of international football.
The Socceroos coach has auditioned players like they were contestants on a game show as he attempts to settle on his best XI for The Asian Cup.
In the last 3 matches alone Postecoglou has used 26 players. It’s hardly a recipe for stability and recent poor results reflect that lack of continuity.
The Socceroos coach makes no apology for this approach. His sights are firmly fixed on the long term renovation of a team he feels had been neglected.
The Asian Cup is the one real opportunity Australian Football has of claiming serious silverware and it simply can’t be a pit stop on a road to some other destination.
Needs must for Ange Postecoglou and his Socceroos. Whether he can balance his long term mission with the pressing demands of the here and now will be the biggest challenge of his career.
This Socceroos team is very much a work in progress, but time stands till for no man and no team.
And tonight, the time is now.