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Bresciano: We knew our time was up

The senior Socceroo has admitted the older players knew major changes were needed under Holger Oseick and has hailed the progress made so far by Ange Postecoglou

Feature interview
By Iain Strachan

From a high point of their narrow loss in the final of the 2011 Asian Cup and 2-1 friendly win over Germany in March that year, the story of the Socceroos under Holger Osieck was one of mounting unease masked, only just, by passable results.

Australian football supporters wanted a brave new approach after the conservatism of Pim Verbeek's reign and despite the players largely remaining unchanged from the 2010 World Cup, there was hope the men in green and gold might be moving in a more adventurous direction early in Osieck's tenure.

Fast forward to June 2013 and a late goal from Josh Kennedy, a veteran of the 2006 squad, was needed to beat Iraq and book a place in Brazil after the qualification campaign had threatened to fall apart.

A hard-fought 1-1 draw away to Japan steadied the ship ahead of the decisive game in Sydney and ultimately proved to be the last meaningful contribution from many of the old guard. Lucas Neill, without a club at the time, was particularly impressive during a run of three games in 15 days.

After that Neill, as well as several of his contemporaries, had nothing left to give. Osieck took kids and fringe players to the East Asian Cup the following month, meaning the next outing for what appeared to be his likely World Cup starting XI came in a friendly against Brazil in September, to be followed by a clash with France in Paris a month later.

Two horrifying 6-0 defeats in succession finally forced Football Federation Australia's hand, as the governing body sacked the German and replaced him with Ange Postecoglou, the progressive, charismatic orchestrator of Brisbane Roar's rise to A-League glory.

The new man promised change and was true to his word, as one after the other the creaking members of the dwindling golden generation fell by the wayside, either stepping aside gracefully (Mark Schwarzer, Brett Emerton) or opting to retire after reading the writing on the wall (Brett Holman, Harry Kewell).

Some didn't go quietly, but Postecoglou would not be swayed by their determination, as he omitted Lucas Neill, Sasa Ognenovski and, eventually, Luke Wilkshire from his World Cup squad.

When the dust settled there were only two survivors picked among the final 23 for Brazil 2014 - indispensable goal-machine Tim Cahill and peerless playmaker Mark Bresciano.

Cahill had justified his selection by continuing to play - and score - at a respectable standard in Major League Soccer.

Bresciano's inclusion was a far more interesting exception. Banned from playing in Qatar - a competition Postecoglou views with something approaching disdain - for several months due to transfer irregularities, not to mention nursing a chronic back problem since an operation in 2010, the 34-year-old hardly met his coach's criteria of 'demonstrating form and fitness' in the lead-up to the tournament.

Nevertheless, chosen he was, before being nursed back to health in time to impress in Australia's opening 3-1 loss to Chile.

He also started the 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Netherlands, two results that saw the Socceroos defy the world media's gloomy pre-tournament predictions of utter humiliation.

Two such competitive displays would have been unthinkable as the team trudged off the Parc des Princes nine months ago, having conceded 12 goals and failed to score once in two games against a similar calibre of opposition.

Speaking to Goal Australia in a candid interview before the team's departure for Brazil, Bresciano was honest enough to admit the squad had a sense of something having gone badly wrong as Osieck's reign began to fall apart.

"Yeah, there was," he said when asked if the players had a collective realisation change was needed.

"Why? We weren't playing the football that we used to play or that we were capable of playing.

"Some of the results weren't going our way. And that's when you start asking questions."

Rumours abounded of lacklustre training sessions and questionable man-management with Osieck at the helm, allegations Bresciano did nothing to dispel when quizzed on the change in approach under Postecoglou.

"Me personally, I could have told you the team the first day at training," he said.

"Not by him (Osieck) telling you, but just through his actions. Or through certain things he did at training.

"Something (a change) had to be made and obviously the people in charge decided to change the coach. And now the coach who's in charge has decided to change a lot of players."

Orchestrating such a shift in age demographics was not a straight forward process, with Neill and Wilkshire in particular breaking ranks to seemingly accuse their would-be successors of lacking the spirit and quality to justify their inclusion.

As a consequence, Bresciano has found himself as joint vice-captain, along with Cahill, of a squad full of less than familiar faces, but there was no pining for a bygone era from the consummate professional.

"Of course I miss them," he said of his former friends and colleagues.

"Lucas, Schwarzy, Brett Holman, Sach (Sasa Ognenvoski) was a part of it as well for a while.

"But you come here and you're here for a job. It's not to catch up with mates. We're here and we're focused on what we have to do regardless of who's here. Our main focus at the moment is just to make sure we're in the best physical and mental condition."

Having largely shied away from the press spotlight courted by Neill and revelled in by the likes of natural media performers Cahill and Schwarzer, Bresciano nevertheless thinks deeply about his responsibilities as a senior national team player and was both flattered and relieved to have survived Postecoglou's cull.

"Obviously it's always a great honour to represent your country," he said.

"And knowing what the national team's going through at the moment with the transition, bringing in the young boys - and you've been selected as one of the older boys to try and lead these young boys. It's a good feeling, knowing that the coach still believes in you.

"You have been selected because you're still capable of bringing something to the park.

"It's given energy back to the team. I think it's something that we were lacking these last give six months to a year."

The final test of the new-look Socceroos in Brazil will take place when Australia play a humbled Spain in Curitiba on Monday, but that is just the end of the beginning for a team who can look ahead to the 2015 Asian Cup and 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with renewed optimism.

And while Bresciano may only manage a cameo at the Arena da Baixada, the midfielder can always be proud of his role in guiding his young colleagues on the path to what could become their own golden generation.