Australia begins World Cup campaign with no points, but no shame

June 14, 2014 – 10:59AM

Michael Cockerill

Football Writer

No points, but no shame. Australia did well enough in sticky Cuiaba to force Chile out of their rhythm, which is more than many had expected. The World Cup might not have come too soon for the next generation after all.

After 10 minutes, things were looking decent. After 14 minutes, it seemed we might have a disaster on our hands. Two goals in two minutes threatened a rout, the second from Jorge Valdivia especially disheartening. A posse of Socceroos were drawn to the run of Eduardo Vargas off the ball, leaving Valdivia with an open invitation. In terms of defending at this level, it was about as bad as it gets.

Relieved Chile players gather after their win.

Relieved Chile players gather after their win. Photo: AP

The body language, at that point, was ominous. Even Tim Cahill had a slight stoop. Chile were passing their way through, and around, the

press. Mark Bresciano struggled to cover the metres, while out wide Tommy Oar and Matthew Leckie were leaving their fullbacks exposed. After 18 minutes, the South Americans had gorged themselves on a whopping 73 percent of possession.

Perhaps, right there, Chile thought they had it won. Who knows? But slowly, and surely, the pendulum started to swing. The man who provided the catalyst was Leckie. Eugenio Mena had been enjoying his time and space, but Leckie backed himself with his pace. A run here, a turn there, and he started to get into the space behind. Mena morphed from wing back to fullback as Leckie’s cut-and-thrust sparked the Socceroos into life. A coming of age for a player yet to rise above the second level of European football? Close.

And then, as is so often the case, it was left to Cahill to provide the hope. A ball superbly won by Ivan Franjic on the right was matched by an even better delivery from the Brisbane Roar fullback, and Cahill, as always, rose majestically to punch his header into the net. A goal for the third World Cup in a row for our all-time leading scorer, and you sense he enjoyed this moment, with this team, as much as his first.

Australia's Alex Wilkinson stops the ball from crossing the line.

World Cup 2014: Socceroos v Chile highlights

Australia’s Alex Wilkinson stops the ball from crossing the linePhoto: Reuters

Chile were beginning to feel the hot breath of pressure. As the second half evolved, the Socceroos visibly relaxed. Ange Postecoglou likes a passing game, but he has no problem being pragmatic. The crosses came in for Cahill from the right and the left, and another ended up in the goal only to be chalked off, correctly, for offside.

Bresciano, by now finding space and time, swept another cross towards the goal only to be denied on the line by keeper Claudio Bravo. Was that panic in the eyes of the Chilean stars? Anxiety, at the very least.

In the technical area, Jorge Sampaoli fidgeted, gyrated, and sweated. At one stage, late in the contest, it seemed he might put a tackle on Ben Halloran, so keen was he to stop the tide. And a tide it was.

Australia's Tim Cahill acknowledges the fans after their loss to Chile.

Australia’s Tim Cahill acknowledges the fans after their loss to Chile. Photo: Reuters

Chileans were hankering for the final whistle. Australia didn’t want it to end. But end it did, with Chile grabbing a third to put a gloss on a scoreline which shouldn’t betray the strength of the Socceroos’ recovery. The fitness, the mobility, the speed, the purpose and – most of all – the belief of the team provided plenty of encouragement.

The loss of Franjic, who bumped the same knee which forced him off in the warm-up game against South Africa, is a worry. There is also the role of Bresciano to consider. On this evidence, at this level, it might be best to preserve him until the sting has gone out of the game.

Afterwards, Postecoglou was proud of the performance, and rightly so. But importantly, the coach will also focus on the areas needed for improvement. The Dutch and the Spanish will offer little respite, but on this evidence the Socceroos won’t be embarrassed. Which is a relief.

Source : The Sydney Morming Herald

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