Participation in Brazil will be Australia’s third consecutive time qualifying for the World Cup, but not much is expected of a side that is undergoing major transformations.
With a new coach and senior players dropping out of contention due to age, the tournament is almost an acid test to gauge the abilities of the up-and-coming youngsters that will be charged with the national side’s future.
A cruel group alongside Spain, Netherlands and Chile means that most will expect them to leave South America without a point to their name. However, the lack of expectations could relieve some pressure and actually work in Australia’s favour.
With Australia no longer able to rely on stellar names such as Mark Viduka or Harry Kewell, the squad is a blend of players from the domestic A-League and the far reaches of European and Asian football.
A 27-man contingent will travel to Brazil, with a fair few of the group only having experienced small amounts of international football.
Goalkeepers: Mathew Ryan (Club Brugge), Mitchell Langerak (Borussia Dortmund), Eugene Galeković (Adelaide United), Mark Birighitti (Newcastle Jets)
Defenders: Ivan Franjic (Brisbane Roar), Jason Davidson (Heracles Almelo), Matthew Špiranović (Western Sydney Wanderers), Bailey Wright (Preston North End), Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow), Alex Wilkinson (Jeonbuk Motors), Ryan McGowan (Shandong Luneng)
Midfielders: Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace), Mark Milligan (Melbourne Victory), James Holland (Austria Vienna), Massimo Luongo (Swindon Town), Oliver Bozanic (Luzern), Matt McKay (Brisbane Roar), Mark Bresciano (Al-Gharafa), Tom Rogić (Melbourne Victory), Dario Vidošić (Sion), Tommy Oar (FC Utrecht), James Troisi (Melbourne Victory), Ben Halloran (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
Attackers: Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls), Josh Kennedy (Nagoya Grampus), Adam Taggart (Newcastle Jets), Mathew Leckie (FSV Frankfurt)
With youth and the future the key focus in the current psyche of the Australian national side, veteran and former captain Lucas Neill was left out of the contingent. Brett Holman and Archie Thompson also received the same treatment.
However, the biggest loss for the squad is the injured Robbie Kruse, who has been progressing nicely in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen. The 25-year-old’s unavailability robs Australia of arguably their main goal threat unfortunately.
Middlesbrough defender Rhys Williams is also not available due to an ailment, with another sure-fire starting XI member crossed off the list.
Following a rather underwhelming World Cup qualifying campaign, Holger Osieck was replaced by Ange Postecoglou in the search for progress and improvement. The final straw was back-to-back 6-0 friendly defeats to France and Brazil.
The former Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory boss knows the players well from his time in the A-League and has an excellent reputation in his homeland.
Postecoglou’s teams have traditionally looked to play exciting and attacking football, and his track record of success at club level meant that he was the fans’ choice to replace Osieck.
A tactically brave and confident manager, Postecoglou will give his players confidence going into what will be an ardent test of their abilities.
Formation / tactics
Postecoglou urges care with possession of the football and has also stressed the importance of looking to play – even from deep areas.
Playing from the back is something that has been evident in Australia’s recent friendlies and is certainly admirable. However, apart from centre-half Matthew Špiranović, none of the defenders look overly comfortable on the ball and this could lead to catastrophe.
Postecoglou’s past sides have always got men forward, looked to attack and tried to play a brand of football more synonymous with the teams that Australia will come up against in Brazil.
This offensive mindset could well be Australia’s gift or curse, as the obvious difference in technical ability between their likely starting XI and the sides they come up against will be significant.
Postecoglou will field a back four and most likely opt for a 4-5-1 formation with Tim Cahill as the furthest man forward.
A compact midfield will contain both enforcers and potential playmakers, while their wingers are likely to spend their time on the back foot rather than being able to support the lone striker.
In talented shot-stopper Mathew Ryan and Borussia Dortmund’s Mitch Langerak, Australia have two excellent goalkeepers. Whichever one is selected will not be a spectator and is likely to be busy.
There will be no shortage of effort or application from the Australian side, with their collective team spirit an important facet in their chances of causing an upset or two.
Australia are not short of pace on the wings either and using these agile widemen on the counter-attack will also be a feature of their play. Set pieces will be an area they will look to exploit in the search for goals.
Mile Jedinak – Australia are a very proud sporting nation and despite the obvious quality of their opposition and transitional status as a national side, nothing short of 100 per cent effort will be accepted.
Although Cahill is arguably their best player, Mile Jedinak will epitomise that never-say-die attitude, with the hardworking midfielder a key man in Crystal Palace avoiding Premier League relegation in 2013-14.
The 29-year-old will need to translate this drive and determination from club level to the very biggest stage, and if he can lead by example Australia may not be the soft touch that many expect them to be.
One to watch
Ben Halloran – The 21-year-old was something of a surprise addition to the squad given that he has only won his first national cap recently, but this slightly unknown talent has the ability to catch opponents on the hop.
The sprightly winger moved to German second-tier side Fortuna Dusseldorf last summer and had a promising debut campaign in Europe.
Against South Africa in a recent friendly, the former Brisbane Roar man showed ambition and trickery to beat opponents and pose a threat in the final third.
Along with creative midfielder Tom Rogić, Halloran will be Australia’s best bet of fashioning chances for Cahill to take.
Australia have been given arguably the toughest test of any team in the competition and as such will surely be eliminated in the group stages.
However, even if they lose all three games, Postecoglou will hope to recapture the imaginations of a slightly disenchanted fanbase with abrasive, positive and gutsy performances.
They will target their clash with Chile as a game they can potentially get something from, while a long-term goal will be to build for 2018.