After last week's hullabaloo about Tim Cahill's international call-up, and his tetchy defense of a decision he shouldn't need to justify, it was surprising to see the Australian national team kick off its first October friendly without its all-time leading scorer in the starting lineup.
The Socceroos played United Arab Emirates to a 0-0 draw in Abu Dhabi on Friday, October 10 - and Tim Cahill contributed about 15 minutes to the cause, subbing in to the game in the 77th minute. Has Australia's head coach Ange Postecoglou suddenly converted to the Petke school of tactical thinking?
Not quite. In his post-match comments, Postecoglou explained the decision to keep Cahill on the bench in just about every way possible: it was in part "to protect him a little bit"; also because the rest of the team must "learn to cope without him"; and in some way connected to a "minor" hamstring problem.
The latter reason would appear the most plausible. Cahill has scored seven of the 11 goals netted by the Socceroos since Postecoglou took over. It is true injury could strike at any time, and the squad will have to figure out how to get goals without its
only best international striker at some point, but the immediate priority is to optimize the existing player pool for Asian Cup in January.
Finding a regular strike partner for Cahill (who is definitively a forward in Australia's set-up) is more important at the moment than figuring out how to cope when he's not around. Still, if Cahill has a knock, it surely makes little difference to the New York Red Bulls whether he is in Harrison or Dubai.
The match report suggests Cahill did make an impact in the limited time he was permitted: he missed a header, then set up teammate Trent Sainsbury to miss another. Postecoglou admitted the team had lacked punch up front until the last 10 minutes.
Australia will conclude its mini-tour of the Middle East with a match against Qatar in Doha on October 14. If Cahill is still on the bench for that game, it might be fair to wonder just how minor a hamstring strain he is carrying.
Costa Rica came dangerously close to throwing victory away against Oman in Sohar, after cruising to a 4-1 lead by the 50th minute. Oman got the score back to 4-3 by the 59th minute, but Los Ticos held on for the win. As the score suggests, the defending wasn't great from either team.
Roy Miller started for Costa Rica, playing as a center back alongside Oscar Duarte. He was substituted in the 81st minute for Johnny Acosta. The man who might have been expected to start instead of Miller - Michael Umana - was denied a visa for entry to Oman (Umana plays in Iran these days, which may or may not have been factor in the decision).
Los Ticos travel to play South Korea in Seoul next, for a friendly scheduled for October 14.