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World Cup domination, yet defeat: Ange and his young Socceroos will learn from the errors

Robin van Persie is one of several stars lining up in the third-place playoff. (Image via SBS)
Expert
18th June, 2014
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4240 Reads

But for a few defensive errors that brought about their undoing, this was an Australian performance on the World Cup stage to be proud of, encapsulating almost everything we want from the national team.

The performance was full of tactical maturity, brains and the type of spirit the side has invariably had running through its veins.

Taking it to the Dutch from the outset, stepping up and getting in the face of a team that had smashed the world champions in the opening game, it was the Roos and their manager Ange Postecoglou who dominated their more fancied opponents.

Louis van Gaal, one of the great managers, had to summon every ounce of his knowledge and luck to overcome this valiant and vibrant young Australian team.

It was only when his central defender Bruno Martins Indi went down injured just before half time that Van Gaal adjusted and was able to wrestle a level of control back from Postecoglou.

In truth, it was likely Van Gaal would have reacted at the half-time break anyway, and the great tacticians do that.

Not that he had underestimated the Roos and their manager Postecogkou heading in.

Indeed, Van Gaal made no secret in the official pre-match press conference of his admiration for Postecoglou. No doubt he had done his scouting of the Roos’ first game and was impressed.

Van Gaal knew the Roos would have a plan, he just didn’t known exactly what that plan was. So he had to learn on the run, and adjust accordingly. He sensed there’d be a sting, warning the Dutch press the Roos wouldn’t necessarily sit back.

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How right he was.

Postecoglou set the team up beautifully in the first half, pushing up high and putting pressure on the Dutch three-man defence, not allowing them to come out and forcing them to go long and turn over the ball.

With Tommy Oar doing shuttles between Daryl Janmaat and Stefan de Vrij,  Tim Cahill pressing between De Vrij and Ronnie Vlaar and Mathew Leckie sprinting to close down Martin Indi, this was the most disciplined of high pressing game-plans.

The idea was to stop the Dutch playing out.

While everyone was in awe of the Netherlands after their own tactical masterclass against Spain, Postecoglou and his technical team were busy identifying the weakness in the Dutch game.

Obviously their strengths are up front, but with only one of the back five playing outside Holland, this was clearly identified by the Roos’ brains trust as an opportunity.

Moreso, the three centre backs are traditional big stoppers and not known for their ability on the ball, and the idea was to pressure them quickly and stop them from getting it to Daley Blind on the left and into the front three.

Blind had been identified, rightly, as a key to the Dutch transition. That much was clear even before the victory over Spain.

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To that end, Ryan McGowan, filling in for the injured Ivan Franjic at right back, played high up on Blind. The avenue was blocked.

And the Roos used the high defensive block as a springboard in attack, making an imprint in possession and keeping it well, with Leckie looking dangerous again in attack.

Unlike the opener against Chile, it was the Socceroos who completely dominated the opening 20 minutes. Indeed, it took the Netherlands 17 minutes to get it into the feet of Arjen Robben in the top third.

A few minutes later a momentary lapse by Alex Wilkinson on half-way saw Arjen Robben turn into space and hone in on Matt Spiranovic, before firing across him and Mat Ryan.

It was a devastating blow for the Roos. Yet, in customary sprit, they bounced back immediately.

And some contribution it was from Tim Cahill, who scored one of the great World Cup goals, taking a ball from McGowan from over his shoulder and volleying it, first time, with the left foot into the roof of the Dutch net.

It was the type of one-touch finish that you’d expect from Dutch greats Marco van Basten and Robin van Persie, and added another chapter to Cahill’s great national team career.

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While Chile’s defeat of Spain gave Australia no chance of further games in the 2014 World Cup, and sealed his almost certain final contribution in a World Cup, it remains to be seen what comes of Cahill’s national team career given the Asian Cup isn’t far away.

When he eventually hangs his boots up, there’s little doubt his finishing and will to win will be missed. The reality is that the Roos still haven’t found a goal from open play in Brazil from anyone bar Cahill.

But the Socceroos eventually have to move on, and we got a little cameo of life after Cahill in the second half, once he was replaced.

While his goals and quality will take a bit of time to replace, it will come, and soon someone like Leckie will be gobbling up the type of chance laid to him on a plate by Matt McKay and Oar just before the Dutch pinched their winner.

It’s all part of the learning experience for such a young squad, and there’s little doubt the likes of Jason Davidson and Ryan will learn from their key second half errors, just as Wilkinson will learn from his in the first period.

Ultimately, it was only these lapses that cost the Roos.

With Van Gaal going from a 3-4-1-2 to a 4-2-3-1 with the Martins Indi injury, the second half was a new game, but not a game the Roos weren’t in.

Robben peeled out to the right, Memphis Depay came in high on the left, and the two wingbacks, Blind and Janmaat, dropped back to more traditional fullback roles.

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Depay was the real clutch player and the Dutch invariably switched the ball out to him to try an isolate him against McGowan, who Van Gaal obviously felt was a weakness.

It was no surprise he was involved in the build up that led to the Dutch equaliser so soon after Mile Jedinak had tucked away a penalty won by impressive substitute Oliver Bozanic.

Indeed, shortly after a tame Leckie chested effort, it was Depay who again found a mass of space in transition between the Roos’ midfield and defence, and struck from deep past a disappointing Ryan effort for the winner.

The Roos injected the pace of Ben Halloran and Adam Taggart late, but weren’t able to penetrate a Dutch rearguard that had by then stabilised.

The damage had been done in gifting the Dutch three preventable goals.

Yet, in the process, the Socceroos have made the world take notice, and made Australian football fans proud.

Written off by many as nothing more than an opportunity for Robben and Van Persie to have a Golden Boot shoot-out, there’s little doubt the Roos have built much credibility and belief out if the two performances so far.

The rise will continue from here. It was sensational, for example, to see the likes of Leckie and Davidson back up their efforts against Chile, and Bozanic make an impact in the second half.

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Moreover, it was remarkable to see, in such a short time, how much of an impact Postecoglou has made, and exciting to think of what lies ahead under his watch.

In the circumstances, this was undoubtedly one of the most readable Socceroos chapters, even if it didn’t have the happiest of endings.