The optimistic aura surrounding the Australian football team following the World Cup is in danger of evaporating rather quickly this week as the Socceroos take on a powerful Belgium outfit in Liege on Friday morning 4:45am (AEST).
Alternatively, a strong display against one of the best sides in Europe at present would be the perfect start to preparations for the 2015 Asian Cup.
Manager Ange Postecoglou took a young and inexperienced squad to Brazil in June and, despite losses against Chile, The Netherlands and Spain, the general consensus was that the vibrant nature of the team’s performances was a positive sign for the future.
He has rung in the changes to his squad to take on the Belgians and, next up, Saudi Arabia, with a view to analysing some of the other players at his disposal who did not get a chance to show their wares at the World Cup.
There were seven players called up who did not appear in Brazil, as the manager attempts to instil confidence in his system so it never becomes overly reliant on a core group of players. This is a method employed by most of the world’s most successful football teams at both club and international level, but it does take some time to become effective.
The same questions that arose before that campaign must be asked again in the wake of the Belgium match, albeit with considerably less weight behind them considering this is just an international friendly that will soon be forgotten.
There is once again the fear that Postecoglou has pushed the envelope a bit too far in the name of experimentation and future-planning. Could this cobbled-together group of youngsters be in line for a thrashing against the intimidating Red Devils?
Even if they do suffer a heavy defeat, the manager will no doubt wave it off as ‘all part of the process’. There is also the matter of the self-belief of the players to take into account, however, so every match must be approached with an air of competitiveness.
Belgium themselves are preparing for their own much more imminent task at hand, which is the qualification process for Euro 2016. They play Andorra in the first step in that campaign just under a week after they take on the Socceroos.
The Belgian team, then, should be close to full strength, and contains world-class quality all over the park.
In goal is Chelsea’s hotshot keeper Thibaut Courtois, who was brilliant for Atletico Madrid last season while on a loan spell, and has now ousted Petr Cech from the starting team upon his return to Stamford Bridge.
In front of Courtois is something of a wall, or in fact two walls, with midfield and defence both boasting substantial brawn. Giant central defender Vincent Kompany will be missing his regular partner, but there is plenty of depth to bolster a backline that also includes the impressive Jan Vertonghen.
Central midfield contains such beasts as Axel Witsel and Mousa Dembele to shield the defence and provide a platform for the sublime talents of the likes of Eden Hazard, Radja Nainggolan and Kevin de Bruyn. Whichever combination coach Marc Wilmots opts for in the centre, Australia’s midfield will have a massive task in containing their daunting combination of physicality and flair.
Up front, Belgium can count on the sharp and dynamic Dries Mertens and the talented young gun Adrian Januzaj, both of whom can be a handful.
So how should the Socceroos confront such a terrifying prospect? Postecoglou will no doubt endorse the same approach which very nearly worked in Brazil; to take the game to them.
Australia surprised Chile and The Netherlands, in particular, with their attacking, passing, effervescent brand of football in their World Cup clashes.
These are teams who normally expect their opponents, especially those ranked much lower than them, to sit back and attempt to absorb pressure. The Socceroos did not show so-called footballing royalty any of the respect it deserved in Brazil – and it was a tactic that worked very well for them.
A similar strategy against Belgium could result in another high-scoring, but entertaining and competitive, match for Australia.
And you get the feeling Ange will be happy with that.
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