Sport Football Socceroos take first steps to belief: Francis Leach

Socceroos take first steps to belief: Francis Leach

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· Match report: Postecoglou era off to a winning start
· Lucas Neill anger at crowd

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tim Cahill rises in a crowded penalty box to score the goal that wins the game for Australia.

It’s a scenario that could have been plucked from any Socceroos performance over the last decade.

In a week when the Socceroos were selling change with as much conviction as Barack Obama on the campaign trail, it was the veteran attacker who provided Ange Postecoglou with a win in his maiden appearance as national coach against Costa Rica.

Postecoglou promised to relight the fire within a team that had looked stone cold when they were dismantled by Brazil and France.

Make no mistake, the former Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar boss had plenty on the line. Postecoglou had publicly questioned the spirit and attitude of the Socceroos. It demanded a response.

Thankfully he got one.

It started rather shakily. Mat Ryan, anointed as Mark Schwarzer’s replacement, got his wires crossed with young left back Jason Davidson, who almost nodded the ball into the back of his own net.

Soon enough though, the Socceroos started trying to implement the Postecoglou doctrine.

Pass and move, lift the tempo and prize possession of the ball. And when you don’t have it work twice as hard to win it back.

Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse were testing the Costa Rican defence out wide and produced the best moment of the first half just before the interval when Kruse provided a beautiful cross from the right which Leckie met at the back post only to balloon his shot.

It was after half-time that the Socceroos had their best moments and they came with the substitutions.

Former Central Coast Mariner Tom Rogic’s arrival on the pitch changed the dynamic of the match.

Rogic is a product of futsal, the close quartered, five-a-side version of the game where skill and artistry are mandatory.

He combines these assets with the ability to set out on scything runs through midfield. When he does, you get a glimpse of football as we’d like to imagine ourselves playing it. Powerful, graceful and sublime.

At the moment he is marooned on the bench with his club side Celtic in Scotland. For his – and Australia’s – sake, he needs to find a club to play first team football pronto.

Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan provided a solid shield in midfield that allowed the Socceroos to play with the type of ambition that had deserted them for most of 2013.

At the back, Rhys Williams and Lucas Neill were largely untroubled by a moribund Costa Rican attack. Shorn of five of their best, the visitors failed to muster a shot on target.

For Neill, he marred a night of personal vindication by reacting with a foul-mouthed spray to some verbal coming from over the fence. It was unseemly and reflects the tension and discontent that lingers between the team and its public. Above all, though, the captain needs to rise above it.

Robbie Kruse remains the Socceroos most creative force at the sharp end of things. And then there is Cahill.

The fans crave him. His opponents fear him. He remains essential.

Postecoglou is a long way from building an empire here. He knows he’s working off a rough draft and with limited resources.

By his own admission the clock is ticking loudly as the World Cup approaches.

Belief will be his greatest asset over the coming months.

And the Socceroos rediscovered a little of that Tuesday night.

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