Australia humbled, but World Cup must remain main focus

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JUNE 14 2017 – 10:49AM

Michael Lynch

So the second eleven of the world’s best team beats the reserves from the planet’s number 48 ranked side 4-0 in a match that had nothing riding on it – save some pride for the losers, Australia, and a huge Victorian-government subsidised pay cheque for the winners, Brazil.

Hardly unexpected, was it? Not a surprise at all if people are honest and remove the rose-tinted glasses and realise that battling spirit and Aussie grit, those fabled qualities, are no substitute when pitted against genuine class.

If La Liga champions Real Madrid faced the team that finished bottom of the Spanish second division, Mirandes, does anyone think the outcome would not be similar?

For that is roughly the comparison being made here, certainly in ranking terms, between Brazil and Australia.

The scoreline was maybe worse than might have been expected, and things were made more difficult by Bailey Wright’s shocking howler inside the first 12 seconds which gifted Diego Souza his opening goal.

And the coach, Ange Postecoglou, himself took full responsibility for a disjointed second half in which multiple substitutions removed any semblance of cohesion from his side. Australia conceded three goals in the second 45 minutes – two of them from set pieces, something all coaches hate to do at any level of the game.

But the biggest injury in this 4-0 defeat was to the Socceroos pride and the national team “brand” in an ever more competitive sporting market place.

This was a wake up call for all concerned, cocooned, as the Socceroos mostly are, by mostly playing against some handy but essentially second-rate Asian sides.

And that is basically what the Socceroos are themselves.The bulk of this squad are in their mid twenties and above. The fact that, unlike their Brazilian opponents, they are not playing at top clubs is for a very good reason. They are the best this country has, but they are not top players.

At very best they could punch above their weight and be competitive in a game against a top-10 team, but rarely would they be expected to win although they occasionally may pull off a shock result.

Australia’s level can be best judged from its last three World Cup campaigns.

It has done very well to qualify for 2006, 2010 and 2014, and it has played very well in some games during those tournaments, particularly the win over Japan and the extra-time loss to eventual champions Italy in 2006.

But that was more than 10 years ago and the reality is that, even then with a squad of players operating at much higher levels than the current one, the Socceroos have won only two games out of 10 in World Cup finals.

Better teams than Australia have suffered a similar fate against Brazil: Argentina (who beat the Selecao on Friday night in a friendly) went down 3-0 to them in a recent World Cup qualifier in Belo Horizonte. Now that was a game that really did matter.

The critics are circling Postecoglou, particularly for his new commitment to playing three at the back and operating with two holding midfielders, wing backs and a front three.

The gist of the complaints run like this: “Australia is not good enough to play this way. We haven’t got the cattle. We will get ripped to shreds. We are setting ourselves up for defeat”.

But here’s the thing. Postecoglou has actually earned the right to experiment, earned the right to run the team as he sees fit for the personnel at his disposal.

He won the Asian Cup, after all, giving Australia its greatest success in the world game. The FFA have allowed him free reign to be soccer’s philosopher king, to set out the stall by which the Socceroos should be judged.

He has lofty ambitions: he wants Australia to play with a recognisable upbeat style, on the front foot and taking the game to their opposition.

His argument is that unless this country develops a mindset like that, where it is looking to dominate games whoever it plays,  it will forever be cowed in matches.

At times it will get a real old spanking – like on Tuesday night – because it simply isn’t good enough.

But he reasons that most of the time it will unsettle opponents and put them out of their comfort zone sufficiently to get a result.

Australia could have defended in depth, played 4-5-1 and tried to hit long balls to Tim Cahill and perhaps lost 1-0 or 2-0.

But what would that have proved? The coach’s argument is that the nation will be forever mired in football mediocrity if its primary focus is to avoid defeat.

Postecoglou’s Asian Cup was a terrific success, but he will be judged on his World Cup performance.

The Confederations Cup pits the Socceroos against opposition almost as formidable as Brazil, and it will be another learning curve.

He may persist with his new structure, he may change. We haven’t long to wait to find out.

Australia does need to tighten up at the back, it needs to work harder and play with more cohesion.

But the real games that matter are yet to come – against Japan in Tokyo on August 31, and against Thailand in Australia on September 5. Australia’s World Cup destiny remains in its own hands.

If the Socceroos make it to Russia all the experiments will be vindicated.

If they don’t Postecoglou will be gone.

No-one is more aware of what is riding on those two games than him: everything leading up to it, including the Confederations Cup, is shadow play.

 

Source : The Canberra Times

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