REVITALISED and match-sharpened Robbie Kruse looms as the Socceroos' offensive x-factor for the World Cup playoffs against Syria.
Kruse, 28, has already notched 775 club minutes and three goals for German second-tier side Bochum this season, his best numbers since a stunning debut Bundesliga season of 2012-13.
While Kruse has unfairly become a whipping boy for a section of fans, a la Brett Holman pre-2010, injuries, limited minutes and contractual sagas have conspired against the graceful attacker.
A step back to Bundesliga 2, for the first time since his debut season in Europe, has brought games, goals and a big smile back to Kruse's face.
"I feel great," Kruse said after today's training session in Melaka.
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou has never had the luxury of Kruse in full-flight, with an anterior cruciate ligament injury cruelly robbing him of a Brazil 2014 berth.
Underdone, Kruse returned for the 2015 Asian Cup, before an ankle injury in the final left him sidelined him for six more months.
Thereafter he struggled to break into a star-studded Bayer Leverkusen side that was competing for the German Bundesliga title, before he sensationally quit Chinese club Liaoning over unpaid wages.
Postecoglou has the option of playing Kruse, who hasn't played as many consecutive club games since 2013, off the left where he plays for Bochum or in one of the two central attacking roles.
"Since I took over four years (ago) he's never come into camp with regular game-time," he said.
"At Leverkusen he was training at a high level but wasn't playing regularly. He's had injuries, but we've continued to support him and select him.
"The move to China didn't work out and that hampered his development but I've always rated Robbie highly and the one thing that was missing was regular game-time.
"Now he's getting it in a good competition. For him, that's a huge positive and he's showing when he does play regularly, what he can bring and I'm sure he'll bring that (to the Socceroos)."
Meanwhile, the bushy grass at Melaka's Hang Jebat Stadium looms as a key weapon for interim home side Syria tomorrow night.
The Qasioun Eagles are expected to sit deep and attempt to frustrate the Socceroos and play on the counter, if their recent phase of World Cup qualifying is any guide.
The buffalo grass, aka cow grass, will help Syria's attempts to slow the game down and the surface is expected to chop up, especially in the event of rain.
It is akin to Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium surface that Australia struggled with in last November's 2-2 draw against Thailand, with the inconsistency effecting Australia's passing game and rhythm.
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou said the surface would not alter their attacking approach.
"It's just another challenge and having been through the rigours of a campaign now, all the players know that whatever we face on Thursday is nothing we haven't faced before, whether that's the weather conditions, pitch conditions or opposition tactics," he said.
"I guess that's the beauty of having had that experience at least once, you can talk about these things.
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