Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou says his Asian Cup champions have only just begun.
Postecoglou says a stirring 2-1 extra-time triumph against South Korea in the cup final has set a benchmark for Australian football that must never be lowered.
“This is not the end game for us. This is just the beginning,” Postecoglou said after delivering Australia its first major men’s soccer title.
The Asian Cup victory was true to Postecoglou’s charter of regenerating the national team.
Midfielder Massimo Luongo, a 22-year-old later named player of the tournament, scored a screaming goal in the 45th minute.
Australia seemed set to hold that lead until, with just two minute remaining of regulation time, the Koreans equalised.
“I knew there was a twist in the tale somewhere,” Postecoglou said.
“It would have broken a lot of teams … to be so close to being champions and to have that taken away from you. I mean, you could feel the whole stadium lose its breath for a moment.
“But the thing we did know was we were still going to be strong in extra time … we knew we probably had them on fitness.”
In a nerve-jangling extra-time, Socceroos substitutes Tomi Juric, aged 23, and James Troisi, 26, featured in the winner – the former’s burst creating a chance completed by the latter.
“Full credit to the two subs. They came on, created and scored the goal and it’s exactly what you want from players who come on,” Postecoglou said.
The Socceroos’ 23-year-old centre-back Trent Sainsbury was named man of the match.
Their 22-year-old goalkeeper Mat Ryan made some vital saves and was named goalkeeper of the tournament.
The likes of Mathew Leckie, 23, and Robbie Kruse, 26, produced cameos while defenders Jason Davidson, 23, and Matthew Spiranovic, 26, toiled gamely.
This was not a title built on the talents of Tim Cahill, who was subbed on the hour mark.
Veterans Mile Jedinak, Mark Milligan and substitute Matt McKay were blue-collar workers but not sparks while evergreen midfielder Mark Bresciano didn’t play a minute of the final.
Little wonder the performances of his younger players heartened Postecoglou.
“For a lot of these guys … they’re all in their early 20s,” he said.
“They’re still just learning the whole international caper and there’s certainly a lot of improvement in them.”