Everything to play for.
That’s the message Ange Postecoglou is sure to be reiterating to his players as the Socceroos prepare for their 2014 World Cup finale.
The Australians face a wounded Spain at 2am on Tuesday morning in Curitiba. The defending champions have detonated and imploded like a tall building. It’s been a spectacular fall from grace. What sort of mindset they bring to the game will be crucial.
Or has the humiliation of shipping seven goals in two games, and having to head home before they had even had the chance to unpack their bags, be like a lead weight in the saddle of this once mighty team?
Either way, the Socceroos’ approach needs to be as fearless and urgent as it has been in both its previous encounters with Chile and the Netherlands.
When he took the job, Postecoglou promised to deliver a team that would reflect the values instilled in the national shirt. Central to that was honoring the legacy of previous Socceroos teams, like the World Cup squad of ’74 and Frank Arok’s “mad dogs”.
These were teams made up of those who played in modest leagues, and for little money. They also refused to be intimidated by the names of their opponents and reputations that preceeded them.
Postecoglou has delivered on that promise.
Hothoused in camp for a month, some of his players have bloomed in spectacular fashion. Matthew Spiranovic has become the player he always promised to be and is the rock on which the defence is now built.
Jason Davidson, whose impulses seemed to trump his judgement on too many occasions, is now a more assured and more assertive fullback.
Mathew Leckie is still a work in progress.
Leckie is a bull, barreling up and down the wings, terrorising defenders. If only he could deliver a final ball of the highest quality he would be on the shopping lists of major clubs all over Europe.
Like his teammates, his performances have raised expectations. And rightfully so.
Postecolglou is genuinely not satisfied with heroic failure, and, in the end, that’s all this team has delivered.
The intensity of their work rate and the quality of their passing exhibited here need to become a gold standard.
What needs to improve with this Socceroos team is the ability to take their chances when they present.
The sight of Leckie meekly chesting the ball toward goal rather than stooping to conquer with a diving header when the game was on the line against the Netherlands epitomises the gulf between the good and the great teams.
It’s only a moment, a heartbeat in the life of a game. It’s knowing when the moment comes, and how to own it, that will define you.
There are sure to be moments such as these against Spain. Let’s see who has learnt the lesson and is prepared to seize the day.