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Socceroos claim late victory

A late Matthew Leckie goal ensures the Socceroos victory over Greece.

For once, Tim Cahill wasn’t the hero on home soil as Mathew Leckie grabbed a rare international goal to keep Australia on track in the two-match series against the birth nation of coach Ange Postecoglou.

The last-gasp 1-0 victory over Greece on a rain-sodden Sydney pitch means the Socceroos prepare for the concluding game in Melbourne on Tuesday night with a spring in their step.

It also raised hopes FC Ingolstadt’s Leckie might one day turn into the kind of forward that Australia so desperately need.

Winning strike: Australia's Mathew Leckie shoots past Greece's Marios Oikonomou to score a late goal at ANZ Stadium.

Winning strike: Australia’s Mathew Leckie shoots past Greece’s Marios Oikonomou to score a late goal at ANZ Stadium. Photo: Rick Rycroft

Leckie’s strike, with his weaker right foot from the edge of the box in added time, probably wouldn’t have come if Cahill’s header into the net four minutes earlier hadn’t been ruled out by the assistant referee’s flag.

Just six months from his 37th birthday, Cahill produced an exuberant, jersey-waving celebration for more than 10 seconds before realising that the goal wouldn’t count.

Like the game against England the previous weekend, Australia dominated possession and edged the midfield exchanges, without producing the killer blow in the final third.

Rejoicing: Mathew Leckie pumps his fist after scoring the winning goal.

Rejoicing: Mathew Leckie pumps his fist after scoring the winning goal. Photo: Rob Griffith

Neither Cahill, nor Leckie, played in the 2-1 defeat at the Stadium of Light, but both came on as second-half substitutes as the Australians huffed and puffed on a sub-standard ANZ Stadium surface.

After debutant Jamie Maclaren had started up front in the England match with Tomi Juric coming on a substitute, Apostolos Giannou and Nathan Burns led the line against Greece, with support from Robbie Kruse, the Bayer Leverkusen attacker who appeared in both games.

When you include the career statistics of Leckie, the goal-to-game ratio of Australia’s six young forwards is disturbingly poor. In 113 internationals, including recent World Cup qualifiers against AFC minnows like Bangladesh and Tajikistan, they’ve scored just 12 times.

Mentor and protege: Tim Cahill and Mathew Leckie.

Mentor and protege: Tim Cahill and Mathew Leckie. Photo: Mark Kolbe

Compare that to Cahill’s record tally of 47 goals in 90 games and it is easy to see why the usually understated Postecoglou still speaks of the ex-Everton attacker with such effusive praise. He still desperately needs him.

Of course, Maclaren (no goals in one match), Giannou (none in two) and even Juric (two in 16) are just starting their Socceroo careers. But Burns (three in 21), Leckie (three in 31 and Kruse four in 42) have been part of the setup for several years. They are in their mid to late 20s and should be in the scoring prime of their careers.

Sadly, fans’ memories of this trio fluffing chances and hanging their heads in disappointment on the pitch are much stronger than actual goal celebrations when it comes to international matches.

In just under three years in charge, Postecoglou has deservedly won multiple plaudits. He’s shown vision in building depth by identifying and nurturing young players and developed an attacking style that has seen Australia change from a largely counter-attacking side to one that presses and dominates possession.

Unlike his predecessors, Postecoglou hasn’t been deterred by the Socceroos’ lack of superstars in top European leagues, nor hesitated to pick players directly from the A-League, as long as they can fit in and adapt to his system.

But the lack of a true goal scorer is difficult to get around, even with his embarrassment of attacking midfield riches, with the likes of Rogic, Mooy, and Luongo at the coach’s disposal. Indeed, it is the one thing that could stop this current crop surpassing the achievements of the now 40-something golden generation of Germany 2006.

For Tuesday night’s match in Melbourne, how Postecoglou would love to be able to call on a forward like the city’s favourite son, Mark Viduka, who was captain in Germany.

Viduka’s goal return was also modest — 11 in 43 internationals — but he was such a handful up front that he almost always created many chances for others. Cahill may not have scored his late brace against Japan in Kaiserslautern in the 2006 World Cup if the V-Bomber hadn’t been creating havoc in the box for the first 80 minutes of the match.

Even the recently retired Josh Kennedy — another Victorian who came on as a sub against the Japanese a decade ago — would be a useful guy to bring off the bench in the current World Cup qualifying campaign. Although he’s not a true Postecoglou kind of player, Kennedy did score 17 goals in 36 internationals between 2006-14.

Next week will mark the two-year countdown to the 2018 World Cup.

Cahill may not exactly be setting the world on fire with Hangzhou Greentown in the Chinese Super League, but he needs to be on the plane to Russia – assuming that Australia qualify — even if it means him using a zimmer frame to walk from the departure lounge at Kingsford Smith International Airport.

Their lack of quality strikers means that without Cahill, Australia are no more than an average team, despite the wonders that Postecoglou continues to work behind the scenes.

But, with “Timmy” covering over the cracks left by the shortcomings of his fellow forwards, they can achieve something special, as the 2015 Asian Cup triumph on home soil proved.

  • Former Herald journalist Jason Dasey is Singapore-based Senior Editor of global football website: www.espnfc.com