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The good, the bad, the unknown - Socceroos unconvincing in 2017's first international window

Goal.com logo Goal.com 29-03-2017

In the end, a draw away and a win at home was a decent return for Australia from March's World Cup qualifiers but few would have rated Tuesday night's victory as one of the Socceroos' best.

Judging international windows after just one game is a bit like reviewing a match at half-time - every conclusion can be turned on its head - and in some ways the concerns following the Socceroos 1-1 draw with Iraq were assuaged thanks to the 2-0 win over United Arab Emirates in Sydney.

Australia remain unbeaten in Group B of Asia's third round of qualifying for Russia 2018 - the only team in that situation - and with two of their last three games at home the Socceroos are still in a decent position to reach their fourth consecutive World Cup.

But beyond the result, concerns remain about coach Ange Postecoglou's new formation, the progress of individual Socceroos and the players' collective ability to carry out their manager's plans.

After yet another scratchy performance, Goal has identified the good, the bad and the unknown from the first international window of 2017.

The Good

Irvine's breakthrough

Getting a gig in the Socceroos' midfield has been tough for at least 12 months.

The emergence of Aaron Mooy at international level has seen Postecoglou try a number of different set-ups to combine the Huddersfield Town playmaker with fellow midfield schemers Tom Rogic and Massimo Luongo.

Irvine delighted with first Socceroos goal

With captain Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan also regulars in the starting XI, there have been few opportunities for other midfielders to impress but Jackson Irvine took his chance this month and - apart from the new formation - was the revelation of the window.

Having been around the squad for a while, the 24-year-old earned his first starts for the Socceroos over the past fortnight and was lively against both Iraq and the UAE, with the Burton Albion midfielder heading home the opener in Sydney.

James Troisi, Australia

While Irvine - and similarly impressive James Troisi - may struggle to retain starting berths when Mooy (suspended) and Rogic (injured) return, their strong performances at Allianz Stadium underlined the midfield depth at Postecoglou's disposal.

Australia's aerial onslaught

Irvine also reminded Socceroos fans of the aerial superiority Australia holds in Asia.

Postecoglou had clearly identified the near post as the focus for his team's dead-ball delivery this month, with all three goals coming from similar plays.

Leckie 'very happy' with Socceroos goal

In fact, the Socceroos could have had a handful more goals from similar corners over the two games.

The ability to score from set-pieces can be critical in international football, especially when up against superior opposition, and the Socceroos are certainly well-stocked in that regard.

Maximising strengths, minimising weaknesses

Postecoglou's unconventional 3-2-4-1 formation should be applauded for the way it attempts to take advantage of Australia's glut of midfield options, while overcoming a lack of goal-scoring wingers and good full-backs.

Milligan likes Ange's 'effective' new formation

Not only does the system help the Socceroos press their opponents, it should also give Mooy and Rogic the best chance to influence matches whether by setting up or scoring goals as they will be the closest to the central striker.

Mathew Leckie, Australia

Suddenly, the focus is off Mathew Leckie - who ironically scored in both matches this month - and Robbie Kruse to provide regular goals, which is something they have traditionally struggled with.

Plus, Postecoglou has effectively solved the problem of a dearth of top quality full-backs by doing away with the position altogether.

The Bad

Pressure on back three

In both qualifiers, the positional awareness of the Socceroos' defensive trio was left wanting as the Iraqis and Emiratis found space either outside or in between the central defenders.

While Trent Sainsbury was singled out for praise by Postecoglou on Tuesday night, Milos Degenek and Bailey Wright clearly struggled with the variety of jobs they are required to perform as part of a back three.

Ali Mabkhout, United Arab Emirates

Not only must the wide centre-backs in a back three essentially cover what would be two separate positions in a back four but they also need to be heavily involved in build-up play.

Plus in the 3-2-4-1, the absence of genuine wing-backs exposes the back three even further.

Langerak rues 'two points dropped' against Iraq

It seems Postecoglou's ideal back three would be Sainsbury, Milligan and Matthew Spiranovic but with the latter injured it is doubtful the Socceroos have the defensive depth to thrive with a back three against the likes of Saudi Arabia and Japan, let alone against higher-quality opposition.

Postecoglou has claimed the new system will put the Socceroos in the best position to not only qualify for Russia 2018 but hurt opponents if they get there, but the idea of Australia's back three coming up against a Germany or Brazil is - frankly - terrifying.

Lack of polish

During the 2015 Asian Cup and the earlier Russia 2018 qualifiers, the Socceroos were generally more fluid and sharper in possession.

While Allianz Stadium's pitch was again the subject of media scrutiny for the UAE's visit, Omar Abdulrahman and Co. didn't seem to have as much trouble playing on the infamous turf as the hosts.

Formations come and formations go but a lack of execution will ruin them all.

The Socceroos let the UAE back into the contest in Sydney by a raft of turnovers in the first half and if Australia are to overcome either Saudi Arabia or Japan in their next two qualifiers, Postecoglou must find a way to eliminate those errors.

That lack of polish extends to the Socceroos' goal-scoring issues, with only one of their past eight goals coming from open play.

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Postecoglou's Jekyll-and-Hyde comments

Australia's boss took aim at his critics following the win over the UAE by claiming his formation would be labelled the work of "a genius" if he was a foreign coach, while he argued the only "perfect" system is the one that produces hot water at home.

VIDEO: Postecoglou lashes out at formation critics

This is the same coach, who last year called on Australian journalists and fans to scrutinise players and coaches more to improve football in this country.

Whether insisting game-time at club level is vital to Socceroos selection and then starting Sainsbury and Brad Smith this week, or hailing Australia's improved depth but relying on a core group of around 15 players, there seems to be two sides to every Postecoglou argument.

As he has said this week, Postecoglou was effectively employed to move away from the pragmatism-at-all-costs era of Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck but that doesn't mean his methods or execution should be above criticism.

The Unknown

It is hard to know how much can be taken from the win over the Emiratis.

The UAE were also under pressure heading into this fixture - coach Mahdi Ali resigned afterwards - and this is a nation that has never previously beaten Australia at senior level nor scored a goal against the Socceroos.

Australia's Russia 2018 destiny will be decided in the upcoming matches against Saudi Arabia and Japan but the question remains whether this Socceroos generation is really any good.

Australia struggled to cope with Iraq - Postecoglou

Postecoglou bemoaned a lack of progress from his 2015 Asian Cup squad in the lead-up to the games against Iraq and the UAE and it's hard to fault that line of thinking.

With numerous players having gone through periods without regular game-time at their clubs, there are few current Socceroos that have unequivocally proven themselves at international level.

The majority of the issues inherent in this discussion have nothing to do with Postecoglou.

But just over a year before the next World Cup - and with qualification far from certain - we are no closer to knowing if Australia could produce better results in Russia than they did at Brazil 2014.

More: Australia 2-0 United Arab Emirates: Socceroos back on track | Iraq 1 Australia 1: Socceroos stumble again in qualifying | Japan, Saudi Arabia stay ahead of Socceroos | Ange: Australia struggled to cope with Iraq

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