Postecoglou's Socceroos revolution begins to pay dividends
Momentum is everything in football and right now the Socceroos are riding a wave that may carry them all the way to their first AFC Asian Cup title.
The 4-0 victory over Oman in Sydney on Tuesday night secured the Australians a spot in the quarterfinals. The game against South Korea on Saturday in Brisbane will determine who finishes on top of Group A.
This was the Socceroos' most complete performance since their 6-0 thumping of Uzbekistan in the semifinals of the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar.
After a year of auditioning players, suffering poor results and facing questions about his football philosophy, Ange Postecoglou's vision for the national team has started to materialise in the most spectacular fashion.
After a 2014 that produced a measly 12 goals in 11 games, Postecoglou's men have netted eight times in two matches in 2015.
Just as importantly, the burden carried by Tim Cahill to score has been alleviated. Thus far in the Asian Cup, the Socceroos have had eight different goal scorers, including just one for the talismanic former Everton midfielder.
As in their opening match against Kuwait, the Socceroos looked ponderous and hesitant in the opening exchanges. When Raed Ibrahim's raking shot drew a brilliant save out of Mathew Ryan, Oman looked most likely to score. Postecoglou will be desperate to eradicate these slow starts as his team will surely be punished against better opposition.
Things soon began to turn for the Socceroos. Matt McKay profited from Trent Sainsbury's aerial prowess to tap home the opening goal for Australia.
Following this, Australia threw off their torpor and were irresistible. At the heart of the transformation was youngster Massimo Luongo.
Luongo may be the midfield master Australian fans have been waiting for. Following on from his man of the match performance in Melbourne, the Swindon Town attacker's touch and vision were delightful.
He is in constant motion, taking the ball without breaking stride, working angles and mining space for others. Luongo's style demands a higher work rate from his teammates. He is fast becoming the metronome at the heart of this side, dictating the tempo and changing the shape of the game. As he left the park on 50 minutes to make way for Mark Bresciano, it was clear that the torch had been passed.
Matt McKay's tireless running is often underappreciated. But it complements Luongo perfectly.
The Brisbane Roar veteran is crucial to his team when not in possession. He closes down opponents and wins back the ball, distributing with precision.
With Matthew Leckie continuing to burn up and down the wings and improving the quality of his delivery (two assists in two games), the Socceroos look a much greater threat from midfield and on the counterattack.
For Robbie Kruse these past two games have reaffirmed just how important he is to Postecoglou's plans. The Bayer Leverkusen winger now seems fully recovered from the knee injury that wrecked his World Cup dream.
It was a delightful sight for Socceroos fans to see Kruse flying around the park like he owned it.
Scoring himself and providing a perfect ball that resulted in a penalty neatly dispatched by Mark Milligan, Kruse is determined to make every moment on the pitch matter. His quality in the final third was sorely missed by the Australians in Brazil. He might prove to be the difference in this tournament.
After being questioned about the paucity of attacking options, Postecoglou looks to have a surplus of strikers to call upon. Western Sydney Wanderers forward Tomi Juric staked his claim with an eye-catching cameo that included a goal.
While the Socceroos celebrated scoring four goals in consecutive matches, the sight of a rare, clean sheet for the defence will also delight Postecoglou.
The Socceroos' boss insists his first priority is to play an expansive, attractive game that comes with risks. But he surely knows that to win the trophy here he needs to minimise those risks wherever he can.
Oman coach Paul Le Guen would have been bitterly disappointed his side offered so little resistance after such a bright start.
Simply, Oman were swamped by a Socceroos team who were relentless. The Australians enjoyed 70 percent possession, which was testament to their determination to win the ball back the moment it was lost.
In recent years, the Socceroos' reputation for ruthlessness has been eroded as the team has undergone a transition that has been painful at times. After Australia's two stunning victories to begin their Asian Cup campaign, the fear factor may be returning to visiting dressing rooms when playing on Australian soil.
Quality opponents such as South Korea, Japan and Iran won't be too fazed. It will take more than consecutive victories to convince everyone that this team can complete the mission here. Yet, inside Postecoglou's dressing room there are 23 players who now realise they belong at this level and are capable of producing something special.
In the end, that belief may just be the difference.
Francis is a football commentator and broadcast journalist with ABC Grandstand in Australia. He can be seen regularly on ABC TV's Offsiders. You can follow him on Twitter @SaintFrankly