Preparing for a World Cup without the celebrated and much-loved coach who got them there has been tough, but Australia have been lucky to acquire the services of a man who managed in the 2010 World Cup final.
The 65-year-old Dutchman, who led the Netherlands to the final of the World Cup in South Africa eight years ago, ensured Saudi Arabia qualified for their fifth World Cup and first since Germany 2006 in September last year.
However, a dispute over a contract extension and a long-standing issue over Van Marwijk’s choice not to live in the Kingdom, led to him resigning days later.
The 52-year-old Postecoglou cut an emotional figure when he announced his resignation two months later in November – just a week after guiding Australia to this summer’s World Cup in Russia, a fourth-straight finals appearance.
The Greek-born boss revealed his four-year tenure in charge of the Socceroos had taken its toll on him “both personally and professionally”. Van Marwijk’s appointment as Postecoglou’s replacement earlier this year, exclusively for the World Cup, completed the managerial merry-go-round.
Even though Postecoglou has gone, his assistant Ante Milicic has remained in place. And the former Aussie striker says Van Marwijk’s transition into the job has been seamless.
“For Bert to come in, we were very lucky to get someone with a lot of experience and in such a short space of time with what was available,” Milicic told reporters at the official draw for the 2019 Asian Cup in Dubai on Friday.
“He’s played against us twice with Saudi and there’s a lot of respect for what he did in 2010. He took a Dutch team to the final of the World Cup. That’s a tournament we’re going to and he’s brought in some excellent staff with him.
“Collectively they’ve come in, it’s very clear how they want to move forward over this short period and I must say in such a short space of time the way they’ve got their message across in March was excellent and we’ll build on that from May when we go to Turkey for our pre-World Cup base camp.
“It’s not been ideal preparation; it never is when a coach departs so soon after he’s qualified us for the World Cup. But at the same time Bert and his staff have come in at a good time because what he gets is players in that March window who are so hungry to go to the World Cup.
“The new ideas have come in and with Australian players, you always know with their attitude and mentality, they’ve bought into it straight away and our preparation camp before Russia looks good and everyone’s excited. First of all, to get into the squad and then make an impact in Russia.”
After being pitted against European powerhouses Spain and the Dutch, as well as South American giants Chile in the ‘Group of Death’ in Brazil four years ago, the Socceroos again find themselves with tough opponents in Russia – taking on France, Denmark and Peru.
But Milicic is confident the Australian players will have grown from that 2014 experience, with players earning more caps and the squad set to be boosted by a few returning players and talented stars making their World Cup bows.
“The players are so motivated and you must remember this group has grown,” added Milicic.
“A lot of the players were there in the last World Cup in Brazil. But now in Russia they’ve got an extra 20-30 caps under their belt.
“There were also a couple of them who missed out last time and really kicked on the last few years. You look at (Tom) Rogic, (Aaron) Mooy, while (Trent) Sainsbury and (Robbie) Kruse got injured so we’ve got a lot of players really hungry to do well at World Cup level.”
Milicic has been Aussie assistant since 2014 and the 44-year-old is keenly aware that their entire World Cup campaign likely rests on a crunch opening clash with the flamboyant French.
“The World Cup’s a difficult one because the first game is France and if you look at their squad, they’re a team some might pick to win the tournament so we’ve got a strong focus on that first game,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to getting a good result against France and then moving on to Denmark and Peru. We believe we can get out of the group and all our focus is on that first game, it’s an important one and where we need to get a result so it lays the platform for us to move on.”
Our Asian Cup 2019 group draw has been confirmed.— TIM CAHILL (@Tim_Cahill) 4 May 2018
Jordan 🇯🇴 pic.twitter.com/S3gDDhjYWD
The World Cup admittedly takes precedence ahead of next year’s Asian Cup. But that is also a massive tournament, with the Socceroos coming to the UAE as defending champions, having won their first continental title three years ago on home soil.
And although the World Cup is the biggest football spectacle on the planet, Milicic insists the Asian Cup is just as important for the boys in green and gold.
“The World Cup is massively important in laying a platform for the Asian Cup,” added the man who left his post as Western Sydney Wanderers assistant to take up his position as Postecoglou’s assistant months before their 2014 AFC Champions League triumph over Al Hilal.
“The World Cup will play a big part, that’s first on the agenda. But make no mistake about it, this is an important tournament we’ve got coming up six months later.”
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