Australia begin their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a journey into the unknown – a trip to Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday.
Ange Postecoglou’s whirlwind tenure as head coach has already seen him lead the Socceroos at a World Cup, before an Asian Cup triumph on home soil in January.
But it is qualifying the Socceroos for a major tournament that Postecoglou is desperate to achieve.
The first test presents an unknown challenge for the reigning Asian champions.
Playing a footballing minnow in Bishkek is the first hurdle, but Australia are eager to avoid complacency against the 177th-ranked nation.
Defender Trent Sainsbury, playmaker Massimo Luongo and attacker Robbie Kruse are unavailable due to injury, meaning there will be at least three changes to the side that won the Asian Cup final in January.
Alex Wilkinson – in season and in form with K. League club Jeonbuk Motors – appears to be in front of Bailey Wright to partner Matthew Spiranovic at centre-back.
James Troisi is expected to get the nod in the number 10 role, alongside skipper Mile Jedinak and Mark Milligan in midfield, while either Nathan Burns or Tommy Oar should have one of the wide roles with Mathew Leckie.
It will be a familiar duo at either end of the pitch with Tim Cahill to spearhead the attack and the in-form Mathew Ryan to start in goal.
The full-back roles are probably the position causing the most selection headaches for Postecoglou.
He may stick with the trusted Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson, or opt for Adelaide United’s Tarek Elrich and Bursaspor’s Aziz Behich at right and left-back respectively.
The latter two have played consistently for their clubs throughout the recent season.
The Socceroos got a good look at what is likely to confront them on Tuesday after Kyrgyzstan opened their World Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-1 win away to Bangladesh last week.
Anton Zemlianukhin – who scored a brace in that match – was their standout player.
The Kyrgyzstan skipper is central defender Azamat Baymatov, who will be tasked with leading a defence that is sure to come under pressure.
This shapes as an opportunity for the Socceroos to lay down a firm marker in the second round of qualifying.
Postecoglou will demand more than just a victory, sure to want a dominant performance and goals in Bishkek.
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