Socceroos given a wake-up call courtesy of Korea
SOCCEROOS fans got a glimpse of life without Tim Cahill in the 1-0 defeat to South Korea on Saturday night, and for some it might not have been pretty viewing.
Ange Postecoglou's team created numerous chances, but was not good enough to take one, a disappointing result after scoring eight goals in its previous two Asian Cup games against Kuwait and Oman.
In some ways this was a bit of a reality check for the Socceroos and fans who believed the team had turned a corner with those two big wins.
The game against South Korea was always going to be tougher than the first two, and so it proved.
Once the goal was scored the Koreans sat back and defended what they had and were always going to be tough to break down.
The fact that didn't happen was something of a concern, and Postecoglou admitted as much after the game.
Cahill will obviously start against the Chinese for Thursday's quarter-final in Brisbane and that is good news for Australia.
What is not good news is the lack of cutting edge against a side which set up a good defensive pattern.
China coach Alain Perrin will no doubt have watched Saturday's game and will set up his side in a similar way.
The Socceroos will have to find a way to break the Chinese down, something they couldn't do for long spells against South Korea.
It was only in the final 15 minutes after Robbie Kruse and Cahill came on, that chances started to come and Postecoglou would have been aware of that.
Mathew Leckie should return and his pace will be crucial on Thursday.
Moving the ball quicker will also be key, as will be the return of captain and midfield lynchpin Mile Jedinak from an ankle injury.
It will also be interesting to see just how the Socceroos cope without Matt Spiranovic, whose yellow card against the Koreans means he will be suspended for the quarter-final.
Postecoglou says Alex Wilkinson has been training for that eventuality and expects him to slot in well.
It will be another test of the Socceroos' depth, but you should expect that during a tournament of this stature.
The pitch at Suncorp Stadium will also be key to the Socceroos' progression.
Postecoglou was not happy about the standard of the surface in Brisbane and he has every right to question it.
It seems Asian Cup officials are trying to do something about it by returfing both penalty areas.
Let's hope it's better and the Socceroos can get back to winning ways against China.
A victory will set up a possible semi-final clash with Japan which is obviously not ideal. But Postecoglou will know more than most that you have to beat all teams put in front of you to win a tournament.