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Ange’s plan for ‘challenging year ahead’

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Planning for World Cup qualification began the morning after the Caltex Socceroos won the Asian Cup: for ambitious Ange Postecoglou it’s always about the next challenge.

It always has been since “The Boss” transitioned into coaching over 20 years ago.

As preparations ramp up for the Caltex Socceroos’ final phase of World Cup qualifiers beginning on September 1 in Perth, the former national team full back sat down with editor Aidan Ormond to discuss the challenges ahead over the next 13 months.

I know you relish a challenge and in the next 13 months, you’ll have final phase World Cup qualifiers – including two huge clashes with Japan – and the Confederations Cup in June 2017 in Russia. Thoughts?

We know it’s going to be an exciting and challenging year ahead but we’ve been planning for it for a while.

Obviously post Asian Cup everything we’ve kind of done in terms of our approach and in terms of the squad and how we are working was to prepare ourselves for what’s ahead.

But looking forward to it… with international football you get a lot of time where you play a lot of friendly games but these games have real meaning, and just excited to look forward to it.

For you, how much of it is preparation?

It’s paramount. It’s not just the time in between, it’s the time in camp and we’ve used just about every friendly game we’ve had as being some sort of preparation leading into what we know we’re going to face in the next 12 to 13 months. So it’s the time in between, it’s the time in camp and we’ve been pretty meticulous in everything we’ve done to make sure the beginning of these qualifiers the squad and the staff are ready to go. Iraq in Perth and UAE away, both will be extremely well prepared.

I see Iraq will have five lead up games and UAE are based in Spain…

Iraq’s Olympic team is over in Brazil and a lot of those players will end up playing in these qualifiers and that’s probably the biggest challenge playing against some of these nations. UAE, for example, are spending a month in Spain playing friendly games, so there’s going to be some familiarity in their group and they have time to plan things. But again that’s an advantage in one sense but as I said we’ve been working towards this for around two years, not just the last couple of months. And we don’t think we will be at a disadvantage because of that. We know they will be tough games but that’s irrespective of the opponents in these sorts of games when you’re in a World Cup qualifying campaign.

As soon as the Asian Cup finished it was about saying ‘what gaps do we have and where do we need to be stronger?’ To make sure of that, by the time we got to this stage we had a certain number [of games] into the main part of the squad because we knew that was really important. All our team selections and all of the games we played we have taken every opportunity to build up games in some of the players who we think will be key moving forward. Everything we’ve done – and even the way we play our football – has been about being ready for this stage. The reality of it is that every team in the group at the moment will think this could be their chance – and we have to make sure from the first game that we are absolutely focused on the task at hand.

And you have given a lot of players a chance to show themselves. Do you feel now that large scale testing is over and the core of the group you’re happy with? 

Yeah I think we’re comfortable in that we’ve got them [the players] the kind of games we wanted to get them over the last 12 to 18 months, and we’ve got guys into double digits in terms of international games, which is important. And guys who just got into double digits are now into the 20s with a little more experience, but it doesn’t discount if somebody is showing good form, if we want to throw them in we certainly will, provided form and fitness holds up. We’ll have a more settled sort of squad leading into these qualifiers. Having said that; the rule of thumb has always been you get disruptions with injuries, players losing form for example. And the beauty of it is, we’ve got multiple options now which, again, is part of the plan leading into this stage so we wouldn’t get caught short in any area. And I’m confident we won’t.

Tell me more about your scouting network…

Iraq are playing Perth Glory behind closed doors, but we’ve already watched them in the games they’ve played, we have live scouts and we get footage, which is not always easy. The preparation is the same no matter who we play. We make sure we get eyes on our opponents in a live sense obviously and with video. Our scanning network is really good and our coaches make sure that our players have every bit of information they need. When I moved into the role three years ago I wanted to create a world-class environment and that’s what was done. It’s absolutely world’s best practice and we kind of maintain those levels with the people that we use and in terms of the way we work. And we keep pushing that, not just me but the staff. We are constantly looking at better ways of doing things and I think the players feel comfortable – they come in expecting to be well informed and well prepared regardless of the opponent. We throw them some new stuff every now and again, it is stuff that they want and expect.

Coaching against Asian teams such as Iraq and UAE, how does that challenge you and your team?

At the end of the day it’s about us having a game plan that can overcome anything that’s thrown at us, and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last 18 months. We know how they are going to play, we know how they’re going to set up and we prepare accordingly, but if things aren’t working there are contingencies within our system to cope with that. If teams want to sit off that’s fine, if they want to come at us, we will try and take the game to them and make them sit off, if that’s their intent. And we’ve done that consistently and the players feel comfortable in the space and they know what our expectations are and what the potential impediments are to that, whether that’s the amount of time we actually get to prepare for the game, we try to control all those elements and we prepare against every opposition the same way.

Looking back on the Greece and England games, how would you rate some of the new faces coming in, such as Milos Degenek, Jamie Maclaren and Stefan Mauk?

We don’t place expectations on the players. It’s more about exposing them to the environment and seeing how they cope. And also we make sure that if they do get called up again there’s a familiarity there. We had quite a few new guys in the last two camps and they all acquitted themselves well, and for us now they know what the level of expectation is within the group in terms of the way they train, behave and present themselves. And we hope when they get called up again that they have improved in the areas they need to and feel more comfortable in that environment. In terms of expanding the pool I certainly think there’s a least at least a couple there who have added what was already there, so in that regard it was a positive.

The Greece games were fascinating. What did you get out of those two games in June?

We got what we expected in the first game. With the travel aspect Greece looked a little weary and we didn’t let them get any firm footing in the game. And we dominated from start to finish, we scored late. And then the second game they came out and had the better energy. They got on top of us, they had good energy and good rhythm and that’s why I wanted to play them. The one thing about European opposition, particularly a country like Greece, is that if they get exposed in any areas they are pretty quick to change and find different areas to try and exploit you. For us, it wasn’t about winning both games. That’s why we changed the team in the second game and we added some loads to some of the guys that we probably shouldn’t have – but that was all part of the process. Both games were worthwhile exercises.

© 2016 Socceroos | This article was written by Aidan Ormond  and first appeared on the Socceroos website on 9 August 2016.

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