Postecoglou camp theory put to test
SOCCEROOS coach Ange Postecoglou wanted a longer camp in Japan, rather than an extra game, so he could work on the game plan with his players without the pressure of having to put it into practice in a game.
He will find out tonight in Osaka whether the change in strategy - compared to the three friendlies the team played in eight days last month (against Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar) - has paid dividends.
"We've worked hard, which is great, and I think we've got some really meaningful progress in terms of the way we want to play," Postecoglou said. "Every time we've been in camp the intensity at training has been first class, we just haven't been able to train enough."
The Socceroos have slipped to No.94 on the FIFA rankings under Postecoglou, the lowest the team has been.
He has always maintained his policy of giving as many players as possible the opportunity to show they are worthy of a spot in the team was designed to achieve the best result possible at next year's Asian Cup.
"We want to do well in the Asian Cup and succeed there, and everything we do in the meantime will progress us to that point," he said.
Notwithstanding that aim, a poor showing against the Blue Samurai would raise more questions about the aggressive, attacking style Postecoglou wants to implement, and whether the players he has at his disposal are able to execute that against quality opposition.
Japan, ranked No.52 in the world, is arguably the best team in Asia with players such as Keisuke Honda (AC Milan) and Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund) in the line-up.
The team will be full of confidence after a 6-0 win against Honduras in a friendly on Friday, but Postecoglou said he welcomed the challenge.
"It's always a tough game (against Japan), that's why we chose this fixture," he said.
He also said it wasn't "just about results", but was also about how the team performed.
And how several players perform tonight will no doubt determine whether they stay in the green-and-gold jersey for the opening Asian Cup game against Kuwait in Melbourne on January 9.
Of particular focus will be the Socceroos' back four.
That area has been an issue since the departure of the likes of Lucas Neill, Craig Moore and Scott Chipperfield in recent years.
Ivan Franjic will likely start at right back, with Alex Wilkinson and Trent Sainsbury in the central defensive posts and perhaps Aziz Behich or Jason Davidson at left-back. A host of other hopefuls, including Nikolai-Topor-Stanley and Chris Herd will be keen for some extended game time to push their claims.
At the other end, striker Tim Cahill has been under an injury cloud and his absence would leave an enormous hole.
SOCCEROOS: Aziz Behich, Oliver Bozanic, Mark Bresciano, Josh Brillante, Tim Cahill, Jason Davidson, Ivan Franjic, Chris Herd, James Holland, Mile Jedinak, Robbie Kruse, Mitch Langerak (gk), Matthew Leckie, Massimo Luongo, Matt McKay, Mitch Nicholls, Aaron Mooy, Mat Ryan (gk), Trent Sainsbury, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, James Troisi, Alex Wilkinson.
- APN SPORTS BUREAU