Room for improvement for the Socceroos’ defence as Asian opposition ramps up

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    Australians have every reason to be delighted with the progress of Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos as they navigated their first phase of qualifiers with a style reminiscent of some of the play we saw under Guus Hiddink.

    But as we move into the next phase of qualifiers, Postecoglou’s focus will be on ensuring we have a defence ready to control opponents in transition.

    For all the Roos’ swagger over the past two matches against Tajikistan and Jordan – and it was a sight to behold seeing the likes of Aaron Mooy, Robbie Kruse and Tom Rogic together in full flight – the quality of opposition will go up a level in the next phase, where only the top two from each group go directly to Russia.

    Take the United Arab Emirates, for example, who could potentially be the third-ranked team in a group also likely to contain either Japan or the Uli Stielike-managed South Korea.

    Omar Abdulrahman joined up front by Ali Mabkhout and Ahmed Khalil is a potent attacking trio, as we saw at last year’s Asian Cup.

    The third-placed teams in each of the two groups are forced into a play-off for the right to face the fourth-placed CONCACAF (South American) side for a spot in Russia – a precarious position Postecoglou will be keen to avoid.

    But finishing in the top two won’t be a walk in the park.

    With Chinese and Qatari football on the improve, and Saudi Arabia now coached by former Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk, who took the Oranje to the 2010 World Cup final, we’re starting to see a little more consistency and depth across the continent.

    Saudi Arabia, for example, has a proud World Cup qualification history, having made four straight from USA 1994 to Germany 2006, but has missed the past two as the likes of Australia, Iran, Japan and South Korea have dominated.

    The fact they’ve got van Marwijk, who was criticised for playing a largely physical and reactionary brand of football despite getting the Dutch to final, tells you about their ambition to crack back into the ‘big four’.

    Then there is the ambition of the likes of Syria, Thailand and Iraq, who are doing it with home-grown coaches Fajr Ibrahim, Kiatisuk Senamuang and Abdul Ghani Shahad respectively.

    That Oman, Jordan, Kuwait and North Korea all missed out on the top 12 tells you of the growing quality as money pours into the development of Asian football and nations start to become smarter and make better managerial appointments.

    To that end, the Socceroos need to be switched on defensively against whomever they play, and with such an emphasis on controlling opponents through position and offensive speed, their ability to manage opponents in transition will be a big factor in the next phase.

    Postecoglou spoke about this post-game on Tuesday night, saying how delighted he was that the Roos were able to stop Jordan’s counter to Hamza Al-Dardour by getting his defence in contact with defensive midfielder Mark Milligan.

    He spoke about the “good distance” between them, meaning he doesn’t want to see defenders isolated in transition. He wants two or three defenders within touching distance as teams try to counter, and he wants them to work together to win it back quickly.

    Until Kruse calmed the nerves against Jordan by setting up Tim Cahill for the opener, I was nervous about the ability of Bailey Wright to do the job described above.

    This is the type of defending which requires defenders to stay completely switched on and calm, and there were signs in Adelaide last week, against Tajikistan, where Wright was a little over-aggressive one-on-one.

    Even on Tuesday, while much was made of the bad tackle on Kruse in the second half, Wright was also at fault for a poor coat-hanger effort.

    Postecoglou can’t afford his central defenders to lose their composure and give away free kicks, which the likes of Abdulrahman would relish.

    At the moment, with Matthew Spiranovic missing the past two matches due to injury, it seems Wright has the front-running for the left centre-back spot, largely on the basis he is a left-footer and specialist there.

    They seem harder to find than right centre-backs, where Postecoglou has the choice between Trent Sainsbury, Alex Wilkinson and Spiranovic.

    He seems loath to use either Sainsbury or Wilkinson at left centre-back.

    At the successful Asian Cup it was Sainsbury on the right and Spiranovic on the left. At the World Cup it was Wilkinson right and Spiranovic left.

    My feeling is that Wright is filling in at the moment while we await the return of Spiranovic, but it would be worth seeing the Wilkinson-Sainsbury partnership.

    Elsewhere, I was delighted to see Brad Smith take his opportunities at left back over the past week and he looks the best long-term option of the many we have seen so far under Postecoglou.

    Right back remains a headache, and while Ryan McGowan did a good job against Tajikistan, Josh Risdon looked less convincing against Jordan.

    If Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy keep up their recent form, playing England in May will provide a much sterner test for the Socceroos’ rearguard, and it will be interesting to see who Postecoglou picks at left centre back and right back.

    Come September, when the next phase of qualifiers begins, the hope is he’s found the personnel he is confident can offer something in attack, but also have the smarts to control opponents when we don’t have the ball.

    Tony Tannous
    Tony Tannous

    Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA

    The Socceroos' hopes of qualifying from the group stage at the World Cup are hanging by a thread after a 1-1 draw against Denmark. See how the match unfolded with our Australia vs Denmark match report, highlights and result.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • Roar Guru

      March 31st 2016 @ 10:59am
      Kaks said | March 31st 2016 @ 10:59am | ! Report

      We did pretty well defensively against all these teams in the Asian Cup. We also have Spiranovic to come back who is a great partner with Sainsbury.

      We only conceded 3 goals in the asian cup, 2 of those goals were against South Korea on separate occasions. We even went up against the UAE who had Abdulrahman and we nullified him.

    • Roar Guru

      March 31st 2016 @ 11:59am
      James Anderson said | March 31st 2016 @ 11:59am | ! Report

      Bailey Wright certainly is a no-nonsense defender, but not a bad option to have. Playing in the lower leagues of England has helped him develop that aggression, and whilst it might look like a hindrance, we saw elements of his composure in playing out from defence. He is only young, too, and with so many games already up his sleeve I can only see him getting better.

    • March 31st 2016 @ 12:38pm
      eric said | March 31st 2016 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

      hoping curtis good comes good….he is a bright prospect and left footed

    • March 31st 2016 @ 4:55pm
      Crowdpleaser said | March 31st 2016 @ 4:55pm | ! Report

      CONCACAF is the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football and not South America. While I would hate for it to come to this for the Socceroo’s it is a slightly less precarious position we need to avoid than facing one a South American team.

      • April 1st 2016 @ 12:47am
        JR Salazar said | April 1st 2016 @ 12:47am | ! Report

        Can you imagine the USA and Australia having to be in the playoff? As I am from the USA, this would be a titanic home-and-away.

        • April 1st 2016 @ 1:42pm
          Sleemo said | April 1st 2016 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

          Haha it would be a great occasion, unfortunately though FIFA do their very best to have a qualifying system in place that virtually assures the US qualify automatically (think of TV rights, sponsorships etc); by virtue of their likely opponents in the Hex, the chances of the USA finishing as low as fourth are pretty slim.

    • March 31st 2016 @ 5:37pm
      BES said | March 31st 2016 @ 5:37pm | ! Report

      I agree McGowan looks a better prospect at RB than Risdon at this stage. So when does Jack Hingert get a run there??

    • Roar Rookie

      March 31st 2016 @ 5:44pm
      The Phantom Commissioner said | March 31st 2016 @ 5:44pm | ! Report

      I don’t see anything defensively that should keep any Socceroos fans up at night. As with most positions we have good depth at CB it seems Ange is still playing around with combos in that position. Full back is constantly brought up as a problem area but there’s not many sides around the world where it isnt, it’s probably the toughest position in world football in the modern age. There’s plenty of promise with the two that played against Jordan, the next three friendlies are the perfect opportunity to give them more minutes in the side. Those who didn’t rate them might just have to deal with it as we don’t really have anyone who are heads and shoulders better atm.

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