Ange Postecoglou’s reign as Socceroos coach got off on the right foot with a 1-nil victory over Costa Rica in Sydney on Tuesday night.
A number of new Socceroos looked eager to impress their new boss but it was an old hand that got Australia over the line.
Like it has so many times before, a Tim Cahill header got the Socceroos over the line to start off what he called “a new era” for the Socceroos.
Cahill came off the bench with over half an hour to play, replacing Matthew Leckie who had played well up until that point after picking up an early leg injury.
Typically, the veteran attacker climbed above the pack on a corner.
The ball took a ghastly deflection, giving Costa Rica goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton no chance as it bounced goalward.
The match-winner took Cahill into a tie for the equal lead in national goals with Damian Mori on 29.
The goal broke a 69-minute deadlock between the sides that had persisted despite a number of chances for the Socceroos.
“It’s very special. It’s always great to play for your country and I think it’s great to get the boss off to a winning start,” Cahill said.
And “the boss” was very happy to see his charges get the win.
“That was fun. I enjoyed it,” Postecoglou said.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the players. Just an enormous effort.”
Youngsters have shaky start
The coach was, however, critical of their inability to find the back of the net in the first half saying the “intent was there” but they “lacked courage”.
The best chance of the game’s early exchanges was a near own goal by Australian defender Jason Davidson.
On a number of occasions throughout the first 45 minutes there seemed to be a lack of communication between the defence and goalkeeper Matthew Ryan, who was given the nod ahead of Borussia Dortmund’s Mitch Langerak.
The worst came in the fifth minute when Davidson, under pressure from Costa Rica midfielder Celso Borges, attempted a headed back-pass, only to see it go straight past Ryan, who was coming out to get the ball.
It was cleared off the line in the nick of time by Ivan Franjic to save Australia from an embarrassing start.
But other than the occasional mix-up, Australia had the best of the opening stages.
Robbie Kruse was brilliant for the hosts, popping up on both sides of the field and making some damaging runs down the wings.
He was just unable to control a couple of difficult first touches early but created the most promising first-half passage of play for the hosts.
Two minutes before the break, Kruse flew down the right side before curling a cross perfectly to a recently hobbled Leckie.
Leckie had the goal at his mercy but the midfielder was unable to get control of his left-foot volley and he sent it wide and high into the crowd.
In another promising sign for the future direction of the Socceroos, Celtic midfielder Tom Rogic, 20, was also incredibly dangerous when he replaced Mark Bresciano in the second half.
Neill’s frustration clear
Lucas Neill, playing his first game since staving off a challenge on his captaincy, was obviously feeling the pressure.
Following criticism of his leadership and ability, Neill was solid individually and marshalled an inexperienced Australian defence around the park nicely.
But, after apparently being heckled by part of the Sydney Football Stadium’s western stand, the 35-year-old defender turned around and angrily asked; “Why the f*** are you booing?”
“People pay their money, they can do what they want,” former Australia keeper and Fox Sports commentator Mark Bosnich said.
“I don’t think you can react like that. Simple as that.”
It was a dampener on a night in which Neill broke the record for most appearances as Australian captain.