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Replacing Mark Bresciano is top of the to-do list

Five things the post-World Cup Socceroos must get right

Replacing Mark Bresciano is top of the to-do list

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ANALYSIS: Goal Australia identifies the key challenges facing the rejuvenated green and gold in the months ahead, with key men due to retire and the Asian Cup looming large

Other than the slightly disappointing 3-0 loss to Spain, there was a strong sense of 'mission accomplished' about Australia's 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign. Written off around the globe as no-hopers before the tournament, the men in green and gold pushed Chile and the Netherlands all the way before running out of steam against the deposed champions.

But where to now for the national team? We look at the major issues head coach Ange Postecoglou and his backroom staff must work through ahead of the qualification campaign for Russia 2018.

1. Keep the squad on their toes

Postecoglou has shouted it from the rooftops since taking over and repeated the same mantra again before his team's departure from Brazil: No player is assured of their place in his starting XI or indeed the squad.

With friendlies against Qatar and Uzbekistan reportedly scheduled for October, Australia's next fixtures will be a chance for him to make a statement if any players are struggling for form or game-time early in the new season.

By the same token, if anyone who missed out on the World Cup squad, be they young or old, are catching the eye in 2014-15, they must be included.

2. Learn to attack without Tim Cahill

A game against Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 winners Spain, even in a dead rubber, should not provide a final verdict on the health of the post-Cahill landscape. But there's no denying that without their suspended talisman, Australia looked toothless in attack.

Adam Taggart will have other chances against softer targets, while Mathew Leckie is also a likely option through the middle moving forward.

Robbie Kruse will return to fitness in the new season, while Tomi Juric, who struggled for fitness and game-time at Western Sydney last term, must surely be on Postecoglou's long-term radar.

3. Identify and nurture Mark Bresciano's successor(s)

This is a pressing concern but cultured playmakers don't grow on trees. Celtic's Tom Rogic remains the most likely candidate to inherit Bresciano's mantle, but the former Central Coast Mariner needs to get his body right and find a club where he can play consistently. For such a languid, graceful but seemingly fragile number 10, the hurly burly of the Scottish Premiership does not appear to be the answer.

Oliver Bozanic and James Troisi both had opportunities in Brazil, the Luzern man impressing against the Netherlands and Atalanta's Troisi doing reasonably well in the loss to Spain. There was also an experiment with Tommy Oar playing centrally against Croatia.

Postecoglou can't afford to focus on just one to the exclusion of the others, but at the very least a first and second-choice playmaker needs to be identified and the team's attacking structure, to an extent, built around them.

4. Work hard to make the defence meaner

The foundations of a strong backline have been glimpsed in Brazil and during the lead-in to the tournament, but plenty of concerns remain. Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson have the pace to become effective international fullbacks, but must learn how to balance their attacking intent with defensive responsibilities.

Matthew Spiranovic looks likely to lead the Socceroos' backline for years to come. While late bloomer Alex Wilkinson performed admirably in difficult circumstances, his age and lack of pace is likely to count against him in the long-term.

Curtis Good and Rhys Williams loom as more likely permanent partners for 'Spira', and Trent Sainsbury can also have a strong say in the reckoning if he performs well in the Eredivisie with PEC Zwolle. Bailey Wright wasn't called upon after 'bolting' into the World Cup squad, but could yet feature down the line if he continues to play consistently in England.

5. Win the Asian Cup on home soil

This is the toughest ask and it could well come too soon for a regenerating team. But with Japan and Korea Republic struggling in easier groups at the World Cup, there's no denying Australia have a chance of claiming silverware in the Asian Football Confederation's biggest tournament.

It's no substitute for failing to win the right to host the World Cup, but a strong showing from the Socceroos in their own backyard can still generate significant public interest in the team.

They don't necessarily need to take out the big prize, but a spot in the final and a competitive performance could do the ground work necessary for new fans to get behind the team as they seek to qualify for Russia 2018.

The tournament will also be the first real test of Postecoglou's team playing under the pressure of expectation.

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