Australia was the worthy winner of this year’s Asian Cup after it triumphed on home soil against South Korea on Saturday night.
There were doubts before the Asian Cup because Ange Postecoglou’s team underperformed in the pre-tournament friendlies but Australia played well throughout the tournament.
Although other nations had players with greater technique or flair, Postecoglou regularly stuck to his principles and the Socceroos played with skill and attacking intent. When his high-possession game wasn’t working though Postecoglou’s side were able to work hard or be pragmatic to win matches.
The Socceroos outclassed Kuwait and Oman in the group stage but then they lost 1-0 to South Korea in the final Group A match. It didn’t matter because Australia had a couple of solid wins against China and United Arab Emirates in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.
Australia nearly blew it in the Asian Cup Final after Son Heung-Min cancelled out Massimo Luongo’s first-half goal but James Troisi was the hero, scoring the winner in extra-time in what proved to be a hard-fought encounter.
Many players stood-out in this Australian team. The dependence on veterans like Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill was not particularly heavy and the new generation of Socceroos emerged in the Asian Cup.
Mat Ryan was a bit shaky at last year’s World Cup in Brazil but he was very reliable at the Asian Cup, making some fine saves and he also charged out of his box at the right time. The 22-year-old is proving to be an ideal sweeper-keeper and a quality replacement for Mark Schwarzer.
Under Holger Osieck Australia had an ageing defence but Postecoglou has relied on younger defenders since his appointment in 2013 and now he is seeing the benefits.
Ivan Franjic, who played under Postecoglou at Brisbane Roar, and Matthew Spiranovic were fine performers in the tournament at right-back and centre-back respectively.
Trent Sainsbury also played well at centre-back but his performances will be remembered more because of his first goal for Australia against UAE and also because his sublime through-ball allowed Luongo to turn and score the opening goal in the final.
Jason Davidson replaced Aziz Behich at left-back in the latter stages of the Asian Cup and his performances were very impressive. He created Cahill’s second goal against China and he scored the second goal against UAE. Under Osieck he looked jittery and nervous but the son of Socceroos great Alan looks very confident on the ball these days.
The midfield was not constant but everyone was able to perform their roles when an opportunity arose. Mile Jedinak was the anchor in midfield, Matt McKay and Mark Milligan were energetic box-to-box midfielders and Luongo surprised everyone by becoming the Player of the Tournament.
Luongo had great stamina, great ball-winning ability and superb ball control and demonstrated that he should be playing at a much-more prestigious club than Swindon Town in England’s third division.
Cahill still provided moments of brilliance and scored vital goals for Australia but the attack showed that it was not too dependent on him over the course of tournament.
Robbie Kruse scored an excellent goal against Oman and he showed some decent dribbling skills. If he passed more or shot earlier, he could have been more dangerous.
Mathew Leckie failed to score a goal but he impressed people with his pace and energy. With better positioning and ball control, he could really tear defence apart.
Tomi Juric usually came off the bench but he sealed the 4-0 win against Oman and set-up the winning goal for Troisi in the Final.
Troisi himself also scored against Kuwait and performed well as a sub throughout the tournament. After flopping in Italy, Troisi was given a chance to shine at Melbourne Victory by Postecoglou and now he is taking his chances for Australia.
Although the players performed admirably, Postecoglou deserves praise for his coaching. Instead of playing ultra-defensive or relying on long-balls, he has encouraged his players to play a short-passing game.
He has also forced the retirements of former Socceroos stars but he has discovered young Australian talent playing around the world and Socceroos fans now have a new generation of heroes to cheer on.
Thanks to Postecoglou and these emerging stars, Australia showed that it deserved to win the 2015 Asian Cup.