The perfect start as Socceroos show glimpses of Ange Postecoglou’s vision

Socceroos get off to flying start in Asian Cup with 4-1 win over KuwaitPostecoglou has reason to smile after Socceroos blitz KuwaitSecurity measures won’t be ramped up for ANZ Stadium Asian Cup fixtures

Ange Postecoglou has always hoped  that Australia would play a certain way but the process of regeneration – and a string of difficult opponents – has meant his vision has been a slow, often frustrating burn.

But on the first night of the Asian Cup on home soil, against an opponent of dubious quality – who sacked their coached after a 5-0 defeat to Oman only six weeks ago – the time for deliverance had come. They didn’t disappoint.

It must be frustrating for the coach to not have elite technical players like his predecessors but, regardless, he’s committed to forging ahead with his possession-based style until it becomes second nature.

Kuwait, finally, were a team that allowed the Socceroos to practise what they preach. They did not press, instead preferring to hanging as deep as the AAMI Park margins allowed.

Harder for Australia to break down, yes, but offering enough space for them to grow in confidence. Postecoglou has seldom been afforded that luxury. His players gobbled it up.

A 4-1-4-1 formation doesn’t sound attacking but it actually meant the Socceroos had five players pushing up at any one time – four attacking midfielders just behind Tim Cahill. And, almost every time you looked up, the players had rotated with each other without looking out of place.

Mathew Leckie and the sharp James Troisi swapped on the left, Robbie Kruse was mostly as a number ten but drifted wide or helped Tim Cahill if he so desired. Massimo Luongo was fairly committed to the right flank – and was probably Australia’s best – but Ivan Franjic’s energy gave him ample support.

What does all that mean? An avalanche of numbers in advanced positions, perhaps the most an Australian team has had in years. It can’t always be this way, certainly not against elite football nations, but Australia, at last, set out to dominate a team they should dominate.

It could have all gone to pieces, too, had they lost their heads when Kuwait went 1-0 ahead.

Herein lies the problem with man-marking. It sounds – to our traditional Australian sports mind – to be risk-averse. But if one defender makes even so much as a half-mistake, the attacking team has the upper hand.

Australia set up fine at the corner, but when two players went to same man, the Kuwaitis had a spare. That spare was Hussain Fadhel, who was lost by Trent Sainsbury and Matthew Spiranovic. Mat Ryan was stranded as Fadhel scored the tournament’s first goal.

But the goal came so early that Australia had time to re-group. Overloaded with attacking players anyway, the Socceroos needed no tactical adjustment. They just had to stay composed and stick to the plan.

Mile Jedinak’s free kick, won after Kruse was brought down, was inches away. The interplay, back and forth, in the middle of the park and the edge of the box, only increased.

Fahad Al Ansari – the 195 centimetre man-mountain in the centre of the Kuwait midfield – did all he could to clog the space and organise his teammates. The wing-backs, Fahad Al Hajri on the right and Khaled Al Qahtani on the left, were fighting to stay above water. Something had to give.

Soon after, Luongo beat out three Kuwaitis to pick out Cahill, who stabbed the ball home with a Totti-like finish. You just cannot deny his ability to find an extra gear in the national shirt.

Now they wanted the lead before half-time and that’s exactly what they got. Franjic, who used to play down the road in a local competition until a few years ago, showed great ability by switching onto his left foot and delivering a cross that Luongo somehow rose to meet.

Mile Jedinak added a third from the spot in the second half but Al-Azraq were already beaten.

That gave Postecoglou the ultimate luxury as the game wore on, resting Cahill and Kruse, bringing on Tomi Juric and Nathan Burns. He then brought on the old stager, Mark Bresciano, for Luongo, for some feel-good home-town minutes. Troisi merely iced the cake in injury time.

The Asian Cup has begun, and for Australia, it couldn’t have started any better.

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