Five talking points from Japan vs Socceroos World Cup Qualifier

Michael Fowler Roar Pro

By , 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.

    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.