June 14, 2014 – 11:17AM
SENIOR SPORTS REPORTER WITH THE AGE
Cuiaba: A Tim Cahill header late in the first half got Australia back into the game, and a barnstorming second half almost, but not quite, produced an equaliser as the Socceroos were left to rue a dreadful first 15 minutes when they conceded two goals to a rampant Chile which, in the end, proved decisive.
The South Americans made sure of the three points which give them a platform to progress to the knockout phase with a goal to substitute Jean Beausejour in stoppage time, giving the South Americans a 3-1 victory in this opening Group B fixture.
Nightmare start: Alexis Sanchez puts Chile in front. Photo: AP
Just like four years ago in Durban, when Germany tore the Socceroos apart in the opening game, Australia’s World Cup seemed to be over in Cuiaba almost before it had begun, shredded in a pile of broken dreams as a dominant Chile stamped their authority on the game and raced to a 2-0 lead inside the first quarter of an hour.
The South Americans played with verve and wonderful technical ability, at pace and with fluency as they took control of the game from the outset.
In contrast the Australians looked ponderous and out of their depth as they chased shadows and struggled to get any time on the ball while Chile ran and dribbled, passed and moved in the manner prescribed by their Argentine coach, Jorge Sampaoli.
Dream goal: Tim Cahill heads in for Australia. Photo: Getty Images
The hordes of red shirted Chilean fans had sung their national anthem with gusto and within 14 minutes of the kick off were singing their song of triumph – Vamos, Vamos Chilenos – as if victory was a foregone conclusion.
It certainly seemed that way as their talented forwards, led by the classy Alexis Sanchez, the Barcelona wide man, ran riot, seemingly finding space at will as their midfielders pressed forward, giving Australia little time to play out from the back or formulate attacking moves.
Chile made the breakthrough they had been promising since the first whistle in the 12th minute, and Sanchez was the man who started the move and finished it.
Tim Cahill had a goal disallowed. Photo: Getty Images
He linked up on the right with Charles Aranguiz, who did remarkably well to keep the ball in play and prevent Australian goalkeeper Mat Ryan from getting it before he flighted a cross towards the penalty area. Eduardo Vargas got enough on the ball to direct a downward header to Sanchez, who controlled before coolly shooting past Ryan.
Two minutes later the Chileans were celebrating again with even bigger smiles as they doubled their lead. Again Sanchez was the key element, spinning off his marker beautifully to open up space before slotting a pass to Jorge Valdivia.
The Brazil based playmaker surely couldn’t believe how much space he had been given on the edge of the penalty area and he had all the time to look up and pitch a lofted drive past Ryan and under the bar.
Mark Bresciano and Arturo Vidal battle for the ball. Photo: AP
At that point Chile looked Black Caviar odds to romp home against a disjointed and outclassed Australia, who were chasing their tail and struggling to put together any moves of significance.
But the Socceroos somehow steadied their listing ship, regained composure and began to find a way back into the game. Still, Valdivia, Sanchez and Mauricio Isla were combining cleverly, and Arturo Vidal shot just wide, and a third Chilean goal seemed more likely.
But a Tommy Oar long shot, and a driving run and shot over from Matthew Leckie showed their was some life in the Socceroos as they began to get some thrust in the opposition half.
And then, as has been so often the case, the talisman that is Tim Cahill struck in the 35th minute to rock the Chileans and bring fresh hope to the outsiders.
Ivan Franjic, who, like the rest of the defence had endured a torrid opening half hour, got forward and won the ball wide on the right in a crunching tackle before flighting a well weighted cross to the centre. Cahill outjumped Chilean centre back Gary Medel to direct a thumping header past Claudio Bravo and put the Australians back in the game.
It was his fourth World Cup goal, but more than that it put the Australian in rarefied company as a player who has scored in three consecutive World Cups an achievement that simply adds to his lustre with the Australian football public who have cleaved him to their hearts since that memorable day in Kaiserslautern eight years ago when he struck twice to bring Australia victory over Japan.
Cahill almost delivered a repeat shortly after the restart with a glancing header wide as he claimed his shirt was being tugged by defender Gonzalo Jara.
And then the former Everton man did have the ball in the back of the net once again when he headed home Leckie’s cross only for the ”goal” to be ruled out for a fractional offside call.
Mark Bresciano then came agonisingly close to levelling with a wonderful first-time volley from Jason Davidson’s cross. His shot seemed to be creeping in but Bravo got down low enough to parry it out and the Australian midfielder could only slam the rebound into the side netting.
It was now Australia that was looking threatening every time it got the ball forward on the flanks looking for the head of Cahill, and Chile who looked like a bundle of nerves, incapable of clearing properly or finding the fluid one touch football which had illiminted the early stages of this game.
Bresciano drove forward to link with Cahill and the hard working Leckie, with his pace and direct runs, kept threatening the Chilean defence with his aggressive forays. Now it was Australia doing all the pressing, the Socceroos winning all the loose balls and 50-50 contests and looking the team most likely in a complete role reversal of the first half hour.
But the Chileans were dangerous on the break, no more so than when Eduardo Vargas skipped clear inside the penalty area and rolled a shot that looked for all the world as if it were going in – until the unconsidered figure of Alex Wilkinson, Australia’s centre half, somehow got back to hook it clear just before it crossed the line.
Australia looked the stronger team as they drove forward in search of the equaliser. Leckie’s powerful run took him half the length of the field but, spent by the time he arrived in the penalty area, his shot lacked the power to trouble Bravo. But the move was typical in what had been an enormous performance by the German based forward, whose workrate and energy did so much to spark his team as they recovered from their dreadful start.
Cahill headed over again as Postecoglou emptied his bench, replacing Bresciano with Melbourne Victory’s James Troisi, defender Ryan McGowan already having come on for the injured Franjic. Australia still looked likely right to the last – until one final Chilean break produced a rebound which Beausejour drove home.
They might have been beaten, but there was plenty to admire in the display of this inexperienced side that augurs well for the future _ if not in Brazil, then certainly in the Asian Cup early next year on home soil.
Source : The Sydney Morning Herald