Oliver Bozanic and Tim Cahill take a stroll along the waterfront in Vitoria. Photo: AFP
It's not what they'll do with the ball but what they'll do without it which will define the Socceroos' World Cup campaign.
This is the undeniable truth of a draw which has presented Australia with three opponents who perhaps keep the ball better than any others in world football. Ange Postecoglou's core philosophy might be all about possession, but in this tournament, at this early stage of his tenure, the coach might well have to concern himself with the less exciting half of the game as he builds a strategy for the long-term. And if the signs from the World Cup warm-up against South Africa were not necessarily worrying, there was enough to suggest the Socceroos will need to learn quickly if they hope to better protect a goal which is likely to be under siege in Brazil.
Structure, of course, is the fulcrum, but fitness and decision-making are equally important. What we saw against the Bafana Bafana was a team in the early stages of adjusting to a system which demands a high level of physical and mental application. We're about to find out whether this group of players is good enough to deliver on both counts.
First and foremost, Postecoglou has made a watershed tactical change to his predecessors, and it is one which we should largely applaud. Instead of having two screening midfielders, the Socceroos will now have one. Whether you call it a 4-1-1-3-1, or a 4-1-2-3, or a 4-1-4-1 depends on how anal you want to be. The fact is we're going to have a true box-to-box midfielder for the first time in recent memory.
It's an attacking move, and one which could liberate Mark Milligan in particular, but it does place huge responsibility on the midfielder who is required to sit.
That player will be Mile Jedinak, who was missing with injury against South Africa. Jedinak will need to receive the ball, protect it, and deliver it, more often than anyone else, which effectively makes him Australia's most important player at the World Cup. The truth is Jedinak has yet to convince as a genuine international-class player, but hopefully a breakthrough season in England, and the privilege of the captaincy, will see him rise to the biggest occasion of his career.
Postecoglou's other major adjustment is to push his fullbacks up the pitch as he looks to press high. He does not even seem to mind if they go at the same time. Again, it is a refreshingly bold approach, but again it places high demands on those expected to execute the game plan. Ivan Franjic was caught up the park when South Africa scored, while on the other side Reneilwe Letsholoyane perhaps should have scored when Jason Davidson was drawn inside and Tommy Oar failed to track his run.
The space in behind the fullbacks, and that in front of Jedinak, are the danger zones for the Socceroos, and one which teams of the quality of Spain, Chile and the Netherlands can ruthlessly exploit.
The challenge for the players is to spend the next 12 days getting get fitter than they've ever been, and to make smarter decisions in the broken play which inevitably comes with Postecoglou's more fluid approach. Conceding a string of free kicks in dangerous areas against South Africa is one thing, conceding them with the likes of Jorge Valdivia, Wesley Sneijder or Andres Iniesta over a dead ball is another issue altogether.
You sense Postecoglou will be mindful of such details, but while he'll have heard all the chattering about whether he is too optimistic, too adventurous, even too reckless, he's not going to change his fundamental approach one bit.
Being proactive, being strong, being self-confident, are precisely the reasons why Postecoglou has been employed, and this makes a welcome relief from the sterile, timid, era of Pim Verbeek and Holger Osieck. No one wants the Socceroos to park the bus in Brazil, nor should they.
The challenge for the coach and the players is to deliver a level of performance which bodes well for the future while feeding on scraps of possession. Eventually, as the Postecoglou mantra takes hold, we can expect the Socceroos to get their fair share of the ball. But that's a luxury they won't have in Brazil. In the meantime the defensive structure is going to come under the toughest possible examination.
Delay. Pressure. Cover. Balance. They are the problems you need to solve if you want to survive without the ball. How well the Socceroos perform these fundamentals will decide whether the World Cup will be encouraging, or excruciating. Back to basics maybe, but let's hope they get them right.