Assessment: Australia on the up
Australia have bowed out of the World Cup in the group stages and ESPNFC blogger Rob Brooks gives his verdict on the brighter points of the campaign as well as what went wrong.
One sentence, World Cup recap
This group of Socceroos took the first step toward becoming the national team Australia has wanted for many years.
All team assessments
Group Stage: Australia | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Cameroon | Croatia | Ecuador | England | Ghana | Honduras | Italy | Iran
Ivory Coast | Japan | Portugal | Russia | South Korea | Spain
Round of 16: Algeria | Chile | Greece | Mexico
Nigeria | Switzerland | Uruguay | United States
Quarterfinals: Colombia | France | Belgium | Costa Rica
Semifinals: Brazil | Netherlands
Though Tim Cahill led the line with distinction -- as he always seems to -- Mathew Leckie opened eyes across the globe with his dynamic play. It has taken some time for Australia's next generation to stand up and show they can replace the likes of Cahill, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, but Leckie is now making a move in that direction. One gets the feeling he won't be the only one to drive the national team forward after Brazil, however, as coach Ange Postecoglou gives talented youngsters the opportunity to shine and the belief to do so on any stage.
The only question after the World Cup will be if Leckie will move clubs after recently signing a deal with FC Ingolstadt. The Bundesliga II outfit appear to have sealed a shrewd piece of business in snapping up the former Adelaide flier, but surely it's only a matter of time before they cash in.
It has to be that goal. When Ryan McGowan hit an early cross from a deep area toward Cahill -- who was seemingly covered by two Dutch defenders -- few could have predicted the staggering volley to come. The man known for scoring with his head will now arguably be remembered in other parts of the world for his sweet left-footed strike to restore parity against Netherlands, scoring a goal which enhanced the hopes of his compatriots.
While some who are calling it one of the greatest World Cup goals of all time may be getting a little too carried away, it will certainly go down as one of the brightest moments in the game Down Under. It was the sort of goal every football enthusiast dreams of scoring when knocking the ball around the local park. Cahill did it on the biggest stage imaginable and every fan rode the wave of exhilaration with him -- from laces hitting the leather to punching the corner flag.
The first 20 minutes of the Group B opener against Chile, when Australia conceded two cheap goals. It would be easy to analyse the marking and the numbers around the ball, but those goals really came down to nerves. Postecoglou assembled a young squad that have not played anywhere near enough football together and the occasion simply got the better of them.
Belief steadily grew as the tournament rolled on, but those two early setbacks went a long way in damaging the Socceroos' already faint hopes of qualifying beyond the group stage. It's cruel, really, that the time spent preparing for a World Cup can be so damaged in so little time. It's something Postecoglou and his fledgling stars must learn from.
Composure, cohesion and Cahill's quality. The tide turned in that opening match with Chile when the Aussies finally started to string a few thoughtful passes. That confidence grew into belief when Leckie carefully played an extra pass to Ivan Franjic, who crossed for Cahill to pull a goal back. That simple moment paved the way forward for this young side.
There were times when it was noticeable just how little this squad have played together. Jason Davidson -- who had a fine tournament, and who has arguably solved the left-back conundrum for some time -- played Robin van Persie onside when the rest of the backline moved into an offside trap. That allowed the Netherlands to equalise and showed Postecoglou he has some work to do ahead of next year's AFC Asian Cup.
Finally, if there was ever any doubt, let it now be laid to rest. Tim Cahill may not be Australia's most skillful footballer, nor the most decorated, but if he doesn't have the most heart then we should all give it away. Not only his two goals, but his determination and passion still make him one of the most annoying players to come up against. Australia will miss seeing him in the green and gold one day, but hopefully not for a little while yet.