SMP Images - Geoff Jones

Socceroos down Oman 3-0

THREE games, three wins, and the Socceroos are potentially one game away from a place in the next round of the World Cup qualifying campaign. It might even come next month in Muscat against last night's opponents, Oman. Either way, with three games remaining Australia are in the driving seat.

Holger Osieck claims his side's efforts aren't always appreciated, and a disappointing crowd of 24,000 in the cavernous ANZ Stadium suggests he may have a point. Truth is, expectations around the national team have escalated enormously on the back of successful World Cup appearances. The public, and the media, may be hard markers in the eyes of the players and their coach, but the fact is the Socceroos are now ranked 19th in the world, and aspire to go even higher. Ambition brings pressure. It's just the way it is.

In the process of gaining respect, and even adulation, the Socceroos are doing the most important thing - gaining results. Lucky against Thailand, professional against Saudi Arabia, and now composed against Oman. Three different performances, but the same outcome. Josh Kennedy's purple patch of eight goals in five games has laid the platform - the sharpening of his predatory instincts exemplified by his decision to follow in Luke Wilkshire's effort and be in the right place to ram home the rebound after goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi had spilled the shot. Brett Holman's coming of age has also been a factor - on another night he would, and should, have scored a hat-trick, but he had to settle for one. Mile Jedinak's half-volley gave the scoreline a polished look.

In the context - no Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell, Brett Emerton or Mark Schwarzer - this was an impressively focused display. At times it was effervescent, especially in the first half when the marauding of Rhys Williams down the right offered a productive outlet. But the focus was also emphasised by keeper Adam Federici. One shot, a belting free kick from Ahmed Al Mahaijri, and one magnificent save. That's concentration for you.

The Socceroos aren't the finished product - and the next phase of qualifiers is sure to be more of a challenge. But they are a team heading in the right direction. There's confidence, and purpose, and, significantly, and change of culture. Big names are no longer guaranteed to be the first names on the teamsheet. It's not about hype, it's about reality. Beating a tricky opponent like Oman warrants respect, that's for sure.


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