Socceroos start with win over Hong Kong
With little time to recover from their unconvincing win over Hong Kong, it may be a case of survival of the fittest as the Socceroos prepare to face their toughest East Asia Cup qualifying opponents North Korea on Wednesday.
A Brett Emerton goal in the 86th minute secured the 1-0 win over 172nd-ranked hosts Hong Kong in their opening match of the qualifying tournament at Mong Kok Stadium on Monday night (Tuesday AEDT).
Australia had the lion's share of possession but were never really able to get on top of a well-organised and determined Hong Kong side despite the huge difference in rankings favouring the world No.33 Socceroos.
Brisbane duo Ivan Franjic and Matt Smith started in their international debuts while Newcastle's Adam Taggart and Sydney FC teen Terry Antonis also earned their first caps as late substitutes.
But it was teenage Central Coast dynamo Thomas Rogic who, despite only playing the last 10 minutes, looked most impressive in a shaky team performance.
Coach Holger Osieck later revealed Rogic wasn't sent on earlier due to a slight niggle he was wary of agitating with a hectic tournament schedule of four games in seven days.
"There really isn't much time to prepare and get over fatigue," the coach said.
"So we'll see which team has the best recovery in this very short period."
And while a very uneven pitch wasn't conducive to fluid football, skipper Emerton admitted the 1-0 win was not how Australia wanted to kick off their campaign.
"No this was not a perfect start, but we're very relieved to come away with a win in the end," he said.
"I think our next game will be the toughest of the lot so now we just have to regroup and focus on Wednesday's match and prepare as best we can in the short time that we have.
"It's going to be a test for the body. One out of the way and three to go.
"It's something I haven't really come across in a long time.
"Four games in seven days is something very unique."
North Korea, boasting J-League stars Ryang Yong Song and An Yong Hak, seem to be coping with the gruelling schedule, so far trouncing Taiwan 6-1 and Guam 5-0.
North Korean coach Yun Jong Su admitted they were targeting the clash with the Socceroos as their key match.
"The most important match is on the fifth of December and we are looking forward to displaying a more spectacular and more fantastic game against Australia," he said.