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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 31 January 2015
SPORT 28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 31 JANUARY 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM The Socceroos have been underestimated The Socceroos may have been ranked 100th in the world, but after booking themselves a spot in the Asian Cup final, they have proved the doubters wrong, writes Kate Cohen Ange Postecoglou's disdain was visible when the topic of Australia's ranking as the 100th best side in the world was raised earlier in the Asian Cup: "I'm sure there's some bloke at FIFA who does the rankings who has a headache right now trying to work out how a team ranked as low as we are can play that type of football, but that's life." But as the Socceroos beat the United Arab Emirates 2-0 to reach the final in Sydney on Saturday, they moved one step closer to once again proving they are a force on the international stage. "It has never been an issue for me what the external view is of us. I still think people underestimate us," Postecoglou said. "Whether people think we're favourites or they still think we're ranked 300 in the world, it doesn't make any difference to me." Postecoglou has been cag- ey yet consistently on point since taking on the top job just over a year ago. Anyone familiar with his former sides and how they play will recognise that Postecoglou is a manager who demands a high tempo and attacking brand of football. During the Asian Cup, he has delivered on his promise of implementing a style of play that would re-engage the fans dissatisfied during the less exhilarating days of Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck. That is not to say signs of the ‘new Socceroos’ weren't evident before the tournament began three weeks ago - starts against Ecuador, South Africa and the Netherlands stand out, as well as the final 70 minutes against Chile at the World Cup - but The Socceroos head out for their semi-final clash with United Arab Emirates. Australia had fallen into triple digit rankings due to poor results. The FIFA number crunchers don't take into consideration improved understanding of a new system or the regeneration of an ageing squad when working out the rankings, which meant, somehow, the Socceroos were deemed to be the 10th best side in Asia heading into the tournament. Ranked 20 spots ahead of the Socceroos, semi-final opponents UAE could not bridge the gulf in class. Defender Trent Sainsbury scored in the third minute, giving Australia the perfect start and their lead was doubled 10 minutes later via the most unlikely of sources - Jason Davidson. The two early goals proved to be crucial. UAE had themselves scored early in their quarter final against Japan and withstood a barrage of attacks to scrape through in a penalty shootout. They had also had experience of frustrating Australia, having held onto a 0-0 draw when the two sides met in October. While UAE posed threats of their own - Omar Abdulrahman, Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil looked dangerous in attack - Australia looked relatively assured as they ground out the win in front of a sell-out crowd in Newcastle. "It wasn't our best performance," said winger Robbie Kruse, "but sometimes in semi-finals you don't play your best football. Some- times you have to grind out a victory and we did that. We're happy to be there and we have the chance to create history on Saturday night." That dream final is against South Korea in Sydney and is a chance to turn things around after their match earlier in the Asian Cup. There, South Korea edged Australia 1-0 in the final Group A match in Brisbane, but it was a game where the Socceroos dominated possession and territory for large spells of the match - proving once again they are living up to Postecoglou's mantra of playing an exciting, proactive style of play. Noticeably in that encounter, Australia started without star striker Tim Cahill. Cahill, who is Australia's re- cord goal scorer, is crucial to the way the Socceroos play and is always a threat in the box. One of the worries going into the tournament was where, outside of Cahill, the goals would come from and while there have been 10 goal scorers for Australia, Cahill is undoubtedly the most likely to score. While, by not starting Cahill in the group game against South Korea, Postecoglou may have dented his side's chances in that match, as the final approaches, Cahill has been managed throughout the tournament. Coming off early against Kuwait, Oman, China and the UAE and coming off the bench against South Korea has ensured the 35-yearold Cahill is not fatigued come the all-important final. Postecoglou's consistent messages throughout the tournament have been vindicated and the Socceroos are just one step away from lifting the first piece of major international silverware in the team's history. Not only that, by playing an attacking and dominating style of play, the Socceroos have shown they have moved another step closer towards reestablishing themselves as a dangerous team on the international stage. Number 100 in the world they most certainly are not. * Kate Cohen is a Sydneybased freelance football writer. In 2014 she was voted by football fans across Australia as the Digital Football Writer of the Year. See her website katecohensoccer.com and follow her @KateCohenKCS.
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