Fifteen months ago Ange Postecoglou took charge of an Australia side at a low ebb, and with the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ looming fast on the horizon. Yet even in that relatively short time, the scope of highs and lows have been enormous. Australia dipped to an all-time FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking low of 100 at the end of 2014, yet just a month later had achieved their greatest triumph by being crowned kings of Asia.
In late 2013, successive 6-0 defeats by Brazil and France saw the end of Holger Osieck’s reign, with Ange Postecoglou given the controls. It was not just a rare local appointment following a succession of foreign coaches, but Postecoglou, emboldened by a five-year contract, was given the imprimatur to do things his way. Only a few survivors from the Socceroos 'golden generation', which played with such vigour at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, were still making a tangible contribution. The team was in need of revitalisation and Postecoglou had a successful track record in that regard.
Australia fielded the second-oldest roster at South Africa 2010, yet only six squads in the 32-team field at Brazil 2014 were younger than the Socceroos. The rejuvenation had begun, but there be would pain along the way. Australia pushed both Chile and semi-finalists Netherlands to the edge in Brazil, before suffering a third defeat – a hefty one-sided one – against exiting world champions Spain.
Either side of the World Cup, Australia struggled to win as Postecoglou continued to mix his squad, seeking the perfect formula for success. But all the while Postecoglou was instilling the same mantra which had served him so well at club level in the A-League. This was to be a team to play with high intensity, fast tempo ball movement, high pressing and, above all, a positive attacking mindset. Postecoglou also aimed to restore pride in the national team shirt. This, though, was not borne out of raw jingoism, but rather a re-instilling of the kind of can-do attitude which saw the Socceroos claim numerous against-the-odds wins over the past few decades.
Asian delight, Russia target
Leading into last month’s AFC Asian Cup, Australia were ranked tenth in the continent, and had won just once in the 11 games following Postecoglou’s debut at the helm. There were few survivors from the squad which narrowly lost in the final against Japan four years earlier in Qatar. Indeed, only captain Mile Jedinak and talismanic goalscorer Tim Cahill retained their place from the side which lined up in Doha.
However, Australia won five of their six matches at January's Asian Cup, scoring the most goals en route to being crowned continental kings for the first time since joining the AFC in 2006. Postecoglou never wavered from belief in his methods, and was duly rewarded.
“I have spent the last 14 months working with a group of players I’ve invested a lot of faith in, because I figured that when the time comes we’d get the return,” he said. “It sounds a bit smart now at the end of it, but I really believed we could win.”
Recognition also came on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, with the Socceroos making a massive 37-place leap on the back of their Asian Cup win to be ranked fourth in Asia and 63rd overall.
Now the focus swings to Russia 2018, where Postecoglou has further ambitions. “We’ve got to push on now,” he said, even before the bright afterglow of the Asian Cup win had dimmed. "We want to go to the next World Cup and make an impact. I'm not going to put any limits on what they can achieve. This is not the end of the journey just the beginning.”