The Roar
The Roar

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The Socceroos find their moment of belief and the feeling they now belong

The FFA need a new coach to replace Ange Postecoglou. (Image: AAP/Joe Castro)
Expert
14th June, 2014
29
1360 Reads

Understandably nervous to begin with and then characteristically relishing the fight back, this was the type of performance from the Socceroos that sends a message to the world that Australia is back, and ready to climb the credibility ladder.

And what’s even better, they want to do it with an Australian-raised manager, encouraging his team to take the initiative to more storied opponents.

Not that fans around the world would have guessed that from early exchanges.

A right mess in the opening quarter of the match, undoubtedly struggling to handle such a huge occasion, it looked like the Roos would fold and might cop the type of embarrassing scoreline that put paid to Holger Osieck last year.

Retreating to the 18-yard box, on the back foot, hesitant, no-one taking ownership, unable to sustain possession, the opening exchanges had all the hallmarks of a new team with limited experience trying to get familiar with its surrounds.

As much could be told about the mindset of the respective teams at the national anthems, the Chileans pumped and passioned as the young Socceroos looked very anxious, not quite sure if they belonged at this level.

Ange Postecoglou has spoken much over the past month about having belief and showing no fear, but the reality is his team is so fresh, and still feeling its way on the international stage.

To be thrown into the deep end that is a World Cup opening match was always likely to be a sink or swim moment, and early on they were undoubtedly gasping for air.

Trying to channel the Chileans wide was a noble concept, but the mindset of the Roos was one of uncertainty. They didn’t know whether to commit or sit off, and paid dearly.

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The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia preyed on Australia’s back-foot defending, and pulled the shape all over the place. It looked ominous.

During the warm-up game in Salvador last week against Croatia I tweeted that the Roos could do with a goal to boost their confidence.

It sounded like an obvious statement, but for a team so fresh, building from almost nothing, it needed a moment to make them believe they belonged in this elite company.

While defensively they were much better against Croatia than against South Africa, that moment didn’t come.

Here, 20 odd minutes in, down 2-0, they were still looking for that moment.

Jason Davidson, who had been the only bright light in the opening exchanges, misplaced a square ball to Matthew Spiranovic, who was in his own box, and it looked like he might get dispossessed and Chile might punish them and go three-up.

Australia held its breath.

But Spiranovic was alive, and his composure helped the Roos out of a tight mess.

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The ball was moved upfield down the left, and then, through Mark Bresciano, switched out to the right where Mat Leckie and Ivan Franjic were in space.

Nothing came of the build up, but in that moment the Socceroos started to believe they could play, and find space in the opposition half, exactly how they’d planned.

Franjic had had an unhappy opening 20 minutes, but made a key contribution a short time later, stepping up to cut-out a Chilean counter, and then reacting by running off his stricken opponent and joining Leckie high.

Leckie, as he did throughout, made the right choice in feeding Franjic, who spotted that Tim Cahill had isolated Gary Medel inside the box, and promptly delivered a gem.

It was the type of fearlessness that had been spoken of in the lead up.

The belief started to flow. Bresciano was getting on the ball, Cahill proving a menace among the Chilean back three, Davidson dominating his flank, Leckie carrying the ball and the back two of Spiranovic and Alex Wilkinson started to settle.

The impatient outlet balls that typified the opening quarter of the game were suddenly replaced by the Roos putting their foot on the ball, and hitting Leckie, Bresciano, Davidson and Franjic in space.

Aurelio Vidmar, one of the Roos assistant coaches, confirmed the half time message was about looking for that extra short pass in midfield before looking for the forward ball, and it was the perfect message.

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In the second half Australia showed good tactical control, organised in defence, prompting Leckie forward on the right, switch out to Davidson on the left.

But for a save sharp down to his left by Claudio Bravo to deny Bresciano, or a little more combination around the box, the Socceroos might have found an equaliser.

There’s no doubt Chile were rocking, and there for the taking, but the Roos lacked the requisite front third creativity to make enough openings.

With Cahill immersed in a verbal and physical tug-of-war, it was left to the outstanding Leckie to try and unpick the defence with some inspirational ball-carries.

Unfortunately,  Tommy Oar didn’t have his greatest night, and nor did Ben Halloran or James Troisi make enough of an impact late.

But they are young and their time will come.

The hope is the belief garnered from the Cuiaba fight-back will embolden them for the next couple of games, as daunting as they are.

The Dutch will pose a completely different challenge to Chile.

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As we saw so thrillingly against the defending champions Spain before the Roos match, the Dutch play the most ruthless and rapid reaction game, with Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie the perfect front three for such a plan.

Daley Blind’s ability to find space on the left and pick an accurate long pass in behind the central defence has to be watched, as does van Persie’s one-touch finishing.

Rather than have space up high, there will be little for the Roos. Instead, they’ll need to be more compact, and keep the ball better.

The Dutch will press and prey on any loose stuff, shifting the ball forward quickly. Any error will be punished.

The Roos’ defence has to stay alive, especially when in possession. Controlling the counter, which Sergio Ramos and Gerard Piqué weren’t able to do, will be key.

Another huge test awaits, and with Franjic likely to miss, the likes of Ryan McGowan, Mile Jedinak, Mark Milligan and Oar will need to step up, while the performers against Chile have to re-produce.

The Socceroos must look at Cuiaba only as the start, but at least the reaction to going behind 2-0 will give them the belief they can achieve more and continue to improve.