Five talking points from Japan vs Socceroos World Cup Qualifier

Michael Fowler Roar Pro

By Michael Fowler, Michael Fowler is a Roar Pro

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    Australia slumped to a disappointing defeat against Japan in Tokyo last night, an abject Socceroos performance resulting in a 2-0 loss.

    Formation
    Well, we may as well start by getting the elephant in the room out of the way. Ange Postecoglou surprised nobody in remaining loyal to his three-man backline, and once again more questions were raised than answers.

    The merit of this formation is a) width at all times, stretching the opposition defence and b) having more numbers in and around the box. Rather than taking advantage of this with quick passing, Australia seemed intent on bulldozing their way through, particularly in the first half. Any move out to the wings was equally stifled by a slow or loose touch.

    The alarming thing to note is that to a man, the Socceroos’ three centre-backs acquitted themselves well. Trent Sainsbury produced a couple of crucial tackles, while Mark Milligan was his usual courageous self. The defence was simply left exposed on far too many occasions. One almost felt some sympathy for the Australian backline in the last 15 minutes, as midfield turnovers produced 3 or 4 heart-in-mouth Japanese counterattacks.

    Will the formation change for the game against Thailand? Evidence from last night suggests yes, Ange’s stubbornness suggests no.

    Ange Postecoglou Football Australia Socceroos 2017

    (AAP Image/Matt Roberts)

    Wingback Woes
    The name on most Australian supporters’ lips at half-time would undoubtedly have been that of one of Australia’s three Premier League players: Brad Smith. Who else were you thinking?

    The Bournemouth outcast experienced a game to forget from start to finish. He was caught on his heels after a promising Robbie Kruse cross in the first-half, was beaten far too easily by opposite number 19 Hiroki Sakai and lost the ball on too many occasions.

    There was sense of inevitability when Smith was caught going in the wrong direction for Japan’s opener, attempting to play the offside trap as Asano drifted into the box unmarked.

    It’s not the first time Japan has benefitted from a wandering Australian left-back; memories of David Carney’s walkabout in the 2011 Asian Cup Final rang shudderingly strong.

    On the other wing, Matthew Leckie was one of the Socceroos’ better performers however one still senses that one of our main attacking weapons is wasted in a wing-back role.

    Leckie started the Bundesliga season with two goals for Hertha Berlin, yet was restricted to a couple of wasted crosses and one deflected effort against the post last night.

    It was a telling moment when Leckie produced a crucial second-half interception in the Socceroos box as customary defender Smith continued to flail.

    Can the left-back put this behind him? He has until Tuesday, if he gets another chance.

    Brad Smith Australia Football Socceroos 2017

    (AAP Image/Matt Roberts)

    Japan: The Best in Asia?
    The overriding emotion at full-time was not one of injustice. Begrudgingly, it simply felt like Japan were the better team on the night.

    Despite enjoying 59 per cent of the ball, the Socceroos mustered just five shots as opposed to Japan’s 18.

    The best chance of the night for Australia came from a wicked deflection off an otherwise tame Matthew Leckie shot, the ball dribbling against the outside of the post.

    The contrast in strength in depth was evident even before the game: household names like Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda and Shinji Okazaki made up the Japanese bench.

    When the little known 21 year-old Yosuke Ideguchi – who plies his trade with Gamba Osaka in the J-League – finished the game with a brilliant strike in the 82nd minute, the gulf in untried talent between Australia and Japan surfaced once more.

    Prior to the game, cheeky Japanese fans distributed shirts lauding themselves as “King of Asia – Nippon: Forever In Our Shadow”.

    Last night’s result is the seventh successive clash in which Australia have failed to beat Japan, drawing three and now losing four.

    Our reigning title as Asian Cup champions aside, perhaps those fans aren’t so cheeky after all.

    Takuma Asano Japan Football 2017

    (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)

    And with Aaron?
    “Ange has truly lost it now…” was my – and likely many other fans’ – reaction to a starting line-up lacking our wunderkind Aaron Mooy.

    It was quickly confirmed that the Huddersfield man was ruled out due to illness, leaving presumably Jackson Irvine or James Troisi to take his spot in midfield.

    The reality is, even with Mooy setting the pace of the game from midfield, Australia would probably still have suffered a similar fate.

    The Socceroos would undoubtedly have benefited from Mooy’s delivery from set-pieces, a corner directed straight at the first defender by Luongo immediately after the introduction of Tim Cahill’s golden head a particularly dour moment.

    Yet Australia’s problems developed more out wide rather than in the centre, with Massimo Luongo and the albeit lacklustre Tom Rogic still offering glimpses of class.

    A more impactful absence was that of Tomi Juric, only deemed fit enough for the final half an hour.

    He provided a physicality and awareness that was otherwise lacking from the tiresome performance of Robbie Kruse, and Ange will surely be banking on the return of Juric – along with Mooy – to sharpen Australia’s attack against Thailand.

    Aaron Mooy Football Australia Socceroos 2017

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    Costlier than it seems? We shall see…
    When Japan made it 2-0 in the final minutes, an Australian comeback even prior to then appeared doubtful. Just how important will that second goal prove to be?

    Heading into the last qualifiers, Australia are tied on points with Saudi Arabia and two goals behind on goal difference.

    If Saudi Arabia draw or lose against Japan, and the Socceroos win, we’re through. Should the Gulf team defeat the already-qualified Japan, however, Australia will need to win by a margin two goals greater than Saudi Arabia. If they win 1-0, we need a 3-0 victory. 2-0 and we need 4.

    Just imagine if Australia goes into half-time deadlocked with Thailand on Tuesday. Even the most ardent of supporters will get toey.

    Let’s not forget that the Socceroos only managed to scrap to a 2-2 draw in Thailand last year; one of just two points that the Thais have amassed. We need a win before we start talking about goal difference.

    We’re Australians; we never make things easy for ourselves. Bloody hell, we don’t want them easy for ourselves. Now it’s time to see the gumption Ange has instilled into his group over the last four years.

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    The Crowd Says (27)

    • September 1st 2017 @ 9:14am
      Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | September 1st 2017 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      Thank you Michael, for an interesting match report and it was very much the way I saw the game. One thing which was glaringly apparent was the lack of leadership in the front third. It was only when an aging Cahill came on in the second half we looked like we had a sense of go forward attitude in the front third.

      Kruse is not a leader by any stretch of the imagination and he really lacks the ability to attack the ball with real gusto. Rogic was very lame in support as well—did anyone see Rogic on the field last night?

      Anyways it was good to see Spira come back into the team and what a pity he did not have that extra game before hand to settle in properly in the back three. I didn’t think the back three played that poorly only for that bad mistake by Smith, which gave the Samurai Blue the confidence to pile on the pressure causing our boys to drop their heads because of it, which in turn caused the unacceptable amount of times we turned over the ball in the midfield.

      Now to Tuesday against the Thais, and we need a good win, a clean sheet and a good goal average to advance to the World cup in Russia. I’m sure our boys can pull it off.

      • September 1st 2017 @ 8:35pm
        LuckyEddie said | September 1st 2017 @ 8:35pm | ! Report

        Kruse lacks the ability to stay upright.

      • September 1st 2017 @ 8:47pm
        pacman said | September 1st 2017 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

        Hello Caltex. Your quote: “…I didn’t think the back three played that poorly only for that bad mistake by Smith…” seems a little off the mark. Smith was not one of the back three! Does not make him less culpable for the first goal but, in all honesty, was not a member of the back three equally culpable?

        • September 2nd 2017 @ 7:50am
          Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | September 2nd 2017 @ 7:50am | ! Report

          No you are right, Smith, is not a back three player. However, at that point in time we had a back line of four players and it was Smith’s man who got away. The Japanese player made a well timed late run who was Smith’s man to mark, got inside of Smith while Smith was guilty of ball watching. Surly it was up to Smith to go with the attacker and close him down.

    • September 1st 2017 @ 9:59am
      Lachie Abbott said | September 1st 2017 @ 9:59am | ! Report

      Even though Robbie Kruse played alright (not Man-of-the-Match level however), the absence of Juric as our centre forward was huge. Kruse hustled pretty well, but it seemed any sort of cross into the area was pointless as Kruse wasn’t there to finish and was more likely doing the crossing. When Tomi came on the pitch, we probably had our best chance of the game. Don’t get me started on Brad Smith, just play Gersbach please Ange. Our back three actually played pretty well, however, I’m still fairly confident that with its lack of numbers, it cannot deal with any real sort of pressure or attacking threat.

    • September 1st 2017 @ 10:37am
      Waz said | September 1st 2017 @ 10:37am | ! Report

      “The alarming thing to note is that to a man, the Socceroos’ three centre-backs acquitted themselves well” …..

      the back 3 in a ‘Back 3’ invariably do play well, it’s the lack of cohesion between the defensive unit that causes problems. It’s like defending stood on a trap-door, at any moment you can have a problem. It’s been a very poor experiment by Ange

      • September 1st 2017 @ 11:16am
        Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | September 1st 2017 @ 11:16am | ! Report

        The back three were a back five when the first goal was scored against us. and the second goal we had 3 midfield players surrounding the goal scorer. The defending by Irvine and Luongo, was poor, but that was a great goal and it was going to go in no matter what.

        The problem we had was we had no answer to their 4-1-4-1, which allowed them to pressed us all over the park. And to add our front third were defending appallingly bad—allowing them time and space to move the ball around up field at will.

        • September 1st 2017 @ 11:39am
          Waz said | September 1st 2017 @ 11:39am | ! Report

          Agreed. I was responding to the direct comment about the back 3 having a good game – in this formation it doesnt matter that they do so much, it’s the cohesion between the defensive unit that is often the problem. A back 3 is meant to give you 5 at the back when you need it, an overload in transition from defence to attack, permanent width, and an overload in attack when you get there. The actual formation itself is irrelevant but the multiple different roles certain players have to perform causes the problems – but the back 3 always seem to play well as they’ve actually got the easy bit.

          • Roar Pro

            September 1st 2017 @ 9:16pm
            Michael Fowler said | September 1st 2017 @ 9:16pm | ! Report

            Waz, I’m not sure if I’d agree that the back 3 do invariably play well, but you are right that their roles are somewhat clearer and more easily executable than other players in that formation. At the end of the day, such a system needs hours on the training park rehearsing organisation and rotations so that every player knows his role. It also requires a high level of skill in keeping the ball in tight situations. Without wanting to sound overly pessimistic, I’m not sure if the Socceroos have either of those at the moment – especially not the first. I completely understand what Ange is trying to do, he wants to introduce a new type of football to our country and show that we can step out from the usual… but especially in international football, results have to come!

        • September 2nd 2017 @ 12:53pm
          j,binnie said | September 2nd 2017 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

          Caltex – In a photo used to head up Simon Hill’s article on Fox it shows a wide angle view of the Socceroos back third at the time the first goal was scored. In actual fact there were 10 Socceroos in that back third and 6 Japanese players. The goal was actually “engineered” on the Japanese left side and the exquisite pass that set up the scorer was only equaled by the timed run made by that individual.
          Whether Smith was in fact “ball watching”, “being lazy”, or just plain “poor defending” it has to be said that the timed run was world class football and it should be remembered that at this level of football it is doubtful if a defender, when poorly positioned, will ever catch a forward who has embarked on such a well timed run.
          As further observation on that “still” photograph there is only one of the 6 Japanees players that could be described as being “tightly marked”, the other 5 have all “lost ” their markers and are in fact offering good options to their ball playing mate. This is not good defending in any book, a good defender will always attempt to be “goalside” of an attacker and should be near enough as to present a challenge to whosoever is playing the ball. Cheers jb.

          • September 2nd 2017 @ 2:57pm
            Caltex TEN & SBS support Australian Football said | September 2nd 2017 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

            “ball watching”, “being lazy”, or just plain “poor defending”

            JB, yep all of the above. Did you see the SBS video I have posted to address my point to ‘Pacman’ it clearly illustrates Smith’s failure to deal with the run by the Japanese player. I wish it was in slow motion—a perfect pass and a brilliant run—all the same it could have been dealt with by a better defender watching his man?

          • Roar Rookie

            September 2nd 2017 @ 3:21pm
            Grobbelaar said | September 2nd 2017 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

            All true re the defending, but let us also give the Japanese some credit, it was a beautifully weighted cross, lovely curl into the hot spot and perfectly timed run by the goal scorer.

    • September 1st 2017 @ 10:56am
      hauzenscher said | September 1st 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

      Reading the reaction of the Japanese media this morning, they were all confused to the stubborn tactics by Ange throughout the game. No change in tactics, pass the ball out from Ryan and pass your way out of trouble in the congested Japanese midfield.

      It was clear the front three of Osako, Asano and Inui were going to harass Ryan and the back three all night.

      • September 1st 2017 @ 11:46am
        Waz said | September 1st 2017 @ 11:46am | ! Report

        Part of the point of playing a back 3 is that you want the opponents forward line to harass you, you want them to press. You’re supposed to use the back 6 players (1+3+2) to play through the press with the overload (a spare man) it creates, you then move the ball forward quickly where the wing backs join the attack creating an overload there. The failure is Ange’s inability to make his formation strategy work

    • Roar Rookie

      September 1st 2017 @ 12:36pm
      Real Mister Football said | September 1st 2017 @ 12:36pm | ! Report

      Who voted for Kruse being man of the match last night?……you should give that $1,000 back Kruse. Purely out of complete embarrassment!

      • September 1st 2017 @ 1:30pm
        Albo said | September 1st 2017 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

        Robbie Kruse 55 matches for Australia in an attacking role , has scored 4 goals !
        Matt Leckie 45 matches for Australia in an attacking role , has scored 5 goals !
        And still we persist ! Says it all really.

        • Roar Pro

          September 1st 2017 @ 9:17pm
          Michael Fowler said | September 1st 2017 @ 9:17pm | ! Report

          Some pretty scary stats… Unfortunately the problem is it doesn’t seem like there are a ton of alternatives knocking on the door at the moment.

    • September 1st 2017 @ 1:48pm
      halilhodzic said | September 1st 2017 @ 1:48pm | ! Report

      Thank you very much Milos Degenek for having a loud mouth!

      Japan playing for their manager and country. Hard running, 100% focus and determination.

      Which side looked over rawed and clueless in their managers formation?

      Arigato for the motivation!

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