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Leadership will decide the contest between Australia and Oman

Having claimed victory by a comfortable margin over Kuwait to open the tournament, host nation Australia would all but book their spot in the quarterfinals of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup with a similar result against Oman in Sydney on Tuesday night.

With so much on the line, this clash will hinge on leadership.

Not surprisingly, Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou included a good dose of youth in his first starting XI of the tournament, and it ultimately paid dividends as they went top of Group A after the opening round.

However, a couple of Postecoglou's young charges were culpable in the early stages. Massimo Luongo's lax defending allowed for a corner, from which errors attributed to Aziz Behich and Trent Sainsbury led to Kuwait taking a shock lead.

While the response was fantastic as the Socceroos slowly grew in confidence before taking a 4-1 victory, the question is whether Postecoglou will persist with the same formation when faced with a more difficult challenger in Oman.

The win also came at a cost, with captain Mile Jedinak ruled out of the Oman clash after picking up an ankle injury during the first half of the competition opener.

Jedinak's considerable absence will likely be filled by Mark Milligan, who was a regular starter alongside the Socceroos' skipper under Postecoglou's old 4-2-3-1 system before the Aussie manager did away with the second holding-midfield role.

The alternative to this plan would be for Postecoglou to alter his formation to allow room for Milligan to play alongside Mark Bresciano in the middle of the park. This would give a rest to either Luongo or James Troisi, both of whom are on a confidence high after scoring against Kuwait.

Melbourne Victory captain Mark Milligan is favourite to fill in for the injured Mile Jedinak.

Postecoglou, however, will be loath to change his defence again, despite the concession of a truly sloppy goal from a set-piece on Matchday 1. The defence's resolve will only grow with stability, rather a constant state of flux.

After watching Oman's strong performance against South Korea on Saturday, the Socceroos will also be well aware that the danger posed midweek is far greater than that presented by Kuwait.

A win would give Australia breathing space on six points, but a slip-up could throw everything into doubt, particularly with a showdown against South Korea waiting on Jan. 17 in Brisbane.

For their part, Oman will be looking to provide more than mere nuisance value, having performed admirably against South Korea. Though they were put on the back foot for extended periods, the last-ditch defending of Abdul Salam-Al-Mukhaini, plus crucial saves by Ali Al-Habsi, kept them in the game until the end.

Indeed, had it not been for a fine reflex block onto the bar from South Korean custodian Kim Jin-Hyeon in injury-time to deny substitute Amad Al-Hosni, Oman would have claimed a point. And few could argue they didn't deserve it.

That was one of a select few clear-cut chances created by Paul Le Guen's men, which pointed to the danger they will pose to the host nation.

Key player Abdulaziz Al-Muqbali should have done better late in the second stanza when his touch deserted him while one-on-one with Jin-Hyeon. Raed Ibrahim Saleh also went desperately close earning a draw for Oman. That's not to mention the strong penalty shout Qasim Said had in the 16th minute.

Should the visitors convert similar chances early on in Sydney, it would not be a surprise to see them sit back to defend staunchly. From what we saw in the first game, the Le Guen-coached team would certainly not relinquish their advantage as readily as Kuwait did.

In the absence of the Socceroo captain, there is a leadership void that young stars like Mathew Leckie and James Troisi have the chance to step into.

Facing two of the tournament favourites back-to-back, it is understandable the Oman boss has chosen to play with a 5-4-1 formation. While giving them cover in the penalty area to deal with crosses, it also allows The Red Warriors to counter-attack swiftly down the flanks.

If the Socceroos are to enjoy the dominance many expect them to, it is critical the wide men pin Raed Ibrahim Saleh and Ali Al-Busaidi back from the outset.

This would allow Australia to take advantage of an overload in central midfield and control possession with relative ease -- particularly if Al-Muqbali is as isolated up front as he was against South Korea.

Whether or not the Socceroos can then break down the trio of Omani central defenders becomes the point of interest. Will Mathew Leckie be able to cap one of his penetrating runs with a neat finish? Will the guile of Mark Bresciano be needed to provide that killer pass?

Without their fearless captain to guide them through the middle, the opportunity exists for another Socceroos leader in the wings to take centre stage.

Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks

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