For many Socceroos fans, Ange Postecoglou’s squad announcement for the friendly with Ecuador this week will have had a cathartic quality to it.
As they scrolled down the list, Lucas Neill’s absent name provided them with an overdue respite, a small victory in the face of four years of a turgid qualifying process that bordered on the embarrassing at various points.
Rightly or wrongly, Neill became the symbol of everything wrong with the national team set-up under former coach Holger Osieck, as he and a number of fellow graduates of the 2006 World Cup looked set to lead the country for a third consecutive time this year in Brazil.
Postecoglou’s appointment in October was no coincidence in this regard; Football Federation Australia knew what they were getting by appointing a man who has a track record of overhauling ageing squads and isolating previously influential dressing room personalities.
Indeed, his unprecedented success with the Brisbane Roar was built on such an approach, with the former South Melbourne manager culling the likes of Craig Moore upon his arrival (ironically, Moore was another member of the Socceroos class of 2006).
Despite picking Neill for Australia’s 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica, it appears that Postecoglou has now reverted to type and laid the foundations for a new generation of internationals to carry the country forward.
Administrators, journalists and fans have now had their prayers answered by the football Gods, who have been kind enough to bestow upon them a collection of fresh faced and hungry individuals to represent Australia in Brazil.
The logic behind this decision seems to be that a walloping at the hands of Chile, the Netherlands and Spain was on the cards if an ageing group of veterans were again selected; wallopings of that ilk, it would appear, are more acceptable when inflicted on a group of players with little expectation.
Ultimately, the timing of Postecoglou’s appointment leaves him in an incredibly difficult position logistically and tactically as a manager.
Football Federation Australia, in bowing to public outcry following the twin 6-0 defeats at the hands of Brazil and France, has made a knee-jerk appointment. It is also, a huge gamble.
For all of his many faults, Holger Osieck had spent four years preparing for a tournament alongside a group of experienced footballers who would have had the chances to correct their mistakes in the lead-up to the tournament.
Postecoglou’s rhetoric about rewarding in-form, Europe based players is a clear message to previous incumbents that their time in a Socceroos jersey is up. A clearer line in the sand could not be drawn between himself and Osieck.
The fact remains - however popular his decisions have been - that Postecoglou has limited time to work with a collection of players who suffer from a lack of experience, confidence and cohesion that could result in a very difficult World Cup campaign.
Whilst it is widely acknowledged that Brazil will be the stage upon which Australia bloods a new generation of footballers, it is unlikely that Alexis Sanchez, Arjen Robben and Cesc Fabregas will be in a forgiving mood if they are presented with Matthew Spiranovic and Ivan Franjic as opponents.
It would be pointless however to focus on the gulf in class between those individuals – a gulf that would have been evident even with an older squad – but the fact remains that experience is a huge advantage at major tournaments.
Experience is the reason why Craig Moore and Harry Kewell were able to keep their composure in slotting home crucial goals against Croatia in 2006; aside from Tim Cahill, will anyone else boast that level of calm in Brazil? Will players buckle under sever pressure if they concede two quick goals against Chile? (A distinct possibility given the quality of their attacking unit)
Postecoglou really is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, thanks in no small part to the timing of Football Federation Australia’s decision.
His dilemma is that he needs far more time than he has been afforded to integrate players into a system, bring cohesion to that system, fine-tune any problems encountered and finally settle on an approach and line-up that gives both his coaching staff and his players the confidence they will need ahead of their opening match on June 13.
In that respect, his training camp in Vitoria will set the tone and probably represent his best chance of achieving in the space of a week what in reality should have been a four-year process.
Adding another fascinating layer to this story is the fact that Postecoglou will need to overcome his own personal demons after enduring a disastrous spell in charge of Australia’s Young Socceroos almost a decade ago.
Does he have the confidence and self-belief to succeed where he once – to a certain extent – failed? And perhaps more crucially, will his players share that belief when they take to the pitch against Chile?