MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s 4-0 home loss to Brazil could be regarded as both the perfect preparation for the Confederations Cup and a stinging reality check for a side desperate to take a seat at the top table of international soccer.
Dismantled in Melbourne by a team shorn of talisman Neymar and a host of other first-choice players, Ange Postecoglou’s men head to Russia bracing for further stiff tests against Germany, Cameroon and Chile at the June 17-July 2 tournament.
The squad of 23 will board the plane with doubts about their technical and physical measure against the world’s top nations, but they can have no uncertainty about their place in the global pecking order.
Postecoglou blamed himself for the second-half surrender at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, having triggered a raft of substitutions before a three-goal blitz by the Selecao.
In reality, it was only the acrobatics of number two goalkeeper Mitch Langerak and a raft of spurned chances by the visitors that spared them a greater humiliation.
”You never like getting defeated and you don’t like a heavy defeat, particularly at home,“ Postecoglou told reporters. ”That always has an effect. It doesn’t have to have a negative effect, though.
”From our perspective it’s about preparing for that game (against Germany) in about a week’s time... It’ll be good to get over there and knuckle down in preparation for that game.
“We’ll be ready for that.”
The margin of defeat was the greatest Australia have suffered since consecutive 6-0 away losses to France and Brazil in 2013, which triggered former coach Holger Osieck’s dismissal.
Postecoglou took over and in a little more than a year was feted a hero for engineering an Asian Cup triumph on home soil in 2015, while fashioning a more enterprising unit than the stodgier outfit overseen by German Osieck.
Local fans are accustomed to Australia being a big fish in Asia’s small pond, however, and Postecoglou has long aspired to build a side that can compete at the World Cup rather than just make up the numbers.
A year out from soccer’s showpiece, having circumnavigated the globe to scout overseas talent and blooded a raft of new players, the 51-year-old’s project is far from completion.
Last week’s 3-2 home win over Saudi Arabia boosted the side’s hopes of qualifying for a fourth successive World Cup but it was another unconvincing display from a team that has laboured against Asian opponents they once dominated.
The core of the Asian Cup-winning team remains in place, partly because the younger generation has failed to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, who cut their teeth in Europe’s top leagues.
Tim Cahill remains both an indispensable part of Postecoglou’s plans and a symbol of Australia’s inability to produce a goal-scoring successor to the 37-year-old veteran.
Postecoglou has tried to wring goals out of a new 3-2-4-1 formation but no amount of tactical acumen could make up for the gulf in class between the sides on Tuesday.
Another humbling experience against Germany looms in Sochi on Monday and Postecoglou’s critics will be out in force should that occur.
But the football lessons in Russia could ultimately prove invaluable ahead of the next World Cup qualifier away to Japan in August.
Australia are third in Group B of Asian qualifying, but only one point adrift of leaders Japan, and their match-up could prove decisive in the finals race.
Postecoglou’s hope of building a team that can challenge the world’s best remains a pipe dream but ensuring they return to Russia next year will at least keep the ambition alive.
Editing by John O'Brien