Australia must stick with Postecoglou and unite to qualify for World Cup
Australia will have to do it the hard way if they are to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia, starting with a two-legged playoff against Syria next month. Few could argue they don't deserve this fate.
A 2-1 victory at home to 130th-ranked Thailand was ultimately not enough for the Socceroos to secure automatic qualification, as Saudi Arabia upset Group B leaders Japan 1-0 hours later in Jeddah to claim second spot.
Indeed, the result was simply the latest in a string of heart-wrenching performances in which Ange Postecoglou's men failed to turn possession into goals. This profligacy, paired with Postecoglou's insistence on playing an as-yet ineffective 3-2-4-1 formation over the past six months, now sees the Socceroos' boss in danger of losing his job.
Many influential pundits such as ex-Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich are calling for the former A-League champion's head, even prior to the two-legged playoff against the Syrians on neutral ground in Malaysia, and then in Sydney. Australia is a football nation in pain.
It is an extraordinary situation, the champions of Asia currently find themselves in, one which was unthinkable as the team were lifting their first piece of major silverware in January 2015.
So, what has brought about this shift in public opinion on Postecoglou's ability?
Recent results haven't helped. Three wins in 12 outings during a World Cup qualification and Confederations Cup year will do anyone's reputation severe damage.
More than the bottom line, though, Postecoglou has won himself few friends with his short-passing obsession, and unusual team selections.
The Socceroos will play the ball out from the back on every occasion. All opponents know it and attempt to thwart it. As such, the ball very rarely does the work for the Socceroos, who are forced to nudge it in increments up the pitch, seldom beating a defender with a deft pass between the lines of set defence.
Players short of game time at club level, such as Brad Smith, continually receive minutes for the national team, which certainly cost the Socceroos in Japan during their 2-0 loss last week.
Now, with qualification still two tricky playoff ties away, a big decision on the future of the manager rests in the hands of Football Federation Australia.
Surely, it would be foolish to dispense with a coach proven at this level, and against similar opposition, in the midst of sudden-death matches. No matter how tempting it may seem to move on to someone else swiftly, it would be a disservice to the game to not see the campaign through with Postecoglou.
He is the best man for the job right now. Change would only unsettle the side further, regardless of any internal politics which may have led to the team being in this position.
Frustrations will almost certainly persist -- Postecoglou is not going to completely change his methods now -- but what is most important is that the Socceroos qualify for the World Cup. The game in Australia demands the attention and income that can only be generated by the biggest stage of all.
With 45 shots at Thailand's goal on Tuesday evening, the Socceroos showed they can dominate a less physical opponent, even with their current travails, which will give them hope both home and away -- at a neutral venue -- against Syria.
Therefore, there's no reason to suggest they won't progress into an inter-confederation playoff to face the fourth-placed CONCACAF side -- likely to be the United States, Honduras or Panama. From there, a fully-fit Australia side with skipper Mile Jedinak returning and Aaron Mooy in top form, can match North and Central America's best.
Postecoglou, for his part, must also take heed from this experience. It is incumbent on a national team manager to genuinely assess the approach for each game. This includes taking on feedback -- harsh though it is at the moment -- and having some flexibility to react to the situation. Remaining at odds with anyone who dares question his philosophy will only play against the Socceroos' best interests.
Now is the time for reuniting, not fighting. Lacklustre performances have left Australia in an unenviable position and in need of soul searching. Postecoglou and the Socceroos must now stand shoulder-to-shoulder to show they truly deserve a place alongside the world's best.
Rob Brooks writes about Australian football and the A-League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @RobNJBrooks