Australia beat Thailand, but still no closer to World Cup qualification

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By Evan Morgan Grahame, Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Unlike the Melbourne troposphere, Ange Postecoglou was under heavy pressure.

    As frigid rain pelted the Victorian capital, the national manager was no doubt feeling the heat; his team needed a big win over Thailand to be assured of automatic qualification.

    Saudi Arabia were playing in Jeddah at 3am (AEDT), and to leave his team’s chances hanging by a narrow win or – heaven forbid – a draw, would make for a sleepless night.

    A win over Thailand by less than two goals would mean any kind of Saudi victory over an already qualified Japan would ensure a third-placed playoff for Australia.

    The first half was 45 minutes of torture, as Australian attacks were brought billowing up the pitch, sweeping toward a footballing crescendo, every angel trumpet and demon trombone building to a divine acme, only to stop jarringly at the point of climax.

    Twice Australia hit the post. A shot was cleared off the line. Another was deflected away by a flying Thai limb, dangling fortuitously in exactly the right parcel of air at exactly the right millisecond.

    The shot count, at halftime, read 14-3 in Australia’s favour. The possession, 74 to 26 per cent, in Australia’s favour.

    The home team, bayed on by a sopping, shivering crowd, had complete control of the game. But thanks to bad finishing and bad luck, they couldn’t score.

    The Socceroos, in a distinctly attack-minded line-up, complete with six personnel changes, were much more fluent – albeit against highly inferior opposition – than they had been in Saitama. Tim Cahill, stationed just behind Tomi Juric and in front of Tom Rogic, and Mark Milligan, moved from the defence into a role that lingered between the back three and the midfield, functioned as key linking players.

    The isolation Robbie Kruse suffered against Japan was not present, and Rogic, aided by Cahill’s link-up play and Aaron Mooy’s intelligent distribution, was blazingly prominent. The passing errors that plagued the defence against Japan were but sour memories, with Milligan’s recessed presence offering a vital pressure release.

    It was, on the part of coach Postecoglou, an expertly theorised and sensibly implemented tactical reshuffle.

    And yet it bore no fruit, even as the game edged out towards the hour mark, by which time Australia had survived a Thai penalty appeal that should really have been given. Australia’s previous high in World Cup qualifying, as far as shots registered in a match goes, was eclipsed before Cahill was substituted for Kruse in the 56th minute.

    The demeanour of the game had not changed; Australia were still passing their way up to the Thai penalty area at will, only to find themselves stifled or thwarted at the critical shooting moment.

    Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool, the second-choice Thai keeper, was repelling every shot that wasn’t blocked by a teammate or hit waywardly. Chanathip Songkrasin, Thailand’s best player, was a quicksilver threat on every counter attack. The squeals of Thai supporters pierced through the rumbling groans of the Australia faithful; the atmosphere was tense.

    Alex Gersbach was substituted, replaced by James Troisi, an act emblematic of Australia’s desperation. That desperation was further frayed when Rogic hit the post again, somehow.

    Then Mooy whipped in a swooping cross, which was met by Juric charging in like a battering ram. His glanced header shattered the wretched parity, and Australia took the lead. The roars of relief reverberated around the nation. Jamie Maclaren was brought on to consolidate things further; more goals were still needed. Postecoglou was, at that point, fielding more natural attackers than he was any other type of player.

    A header from Trent Sainsbury was cleared off the line, and Rogic forced another fine save from Hathairattanakool. Mat Ryan tempered the situation by gifting the Thai attackers the ball straight from a short goal-kick, an utterly inexplicable error that fortunately went unpunished.

    The next minute, an agonising game of pinball occurred in the Thai goalmouth, with Socceroos flying in to try and force the ball over the line, to no avail. This was strikingly open football, with the shortcomings of the Thai team dovetailing with Australia’s reckless thirst for another goal.

    That recklessness was then brutally punished. With nine minutes to go, the Thais sauntered up the left flank, with Australia beleaguered and panting in pursuit. Milligan was, suddenly, outnumbered, victim of a Thai overlap. Perapat Notechaiya, free in the box, crossed for Pokkhao Anan, who struck a shot onto the underside of Ryan’s crossbar and in. It was unstoppable. A single moment of lurching over-extension was exposed, and suddenly the outlook was as bleak as the Melbourne skyline.

    Australia pushed forward again, with simply a win now top of the agenda, never mind the scoreline. A series of corners, won by Mooy, tallied up, and from the final one Mathew Leckie speared the ball home through a mass of bodies. Australia took the lead again, and AAMI Park sighed again.

    There was still, though, the feeling that a victory by a single goal margin would not be satisfactory.

    Australia poured forward, with Troisi, Mooy and Juric all shooting powerfully from distance. Both teams’ passing was ragged, the players stumbling through fatigue. Milligan was stained in mud. Leckie could barely pass the ball. The referee blew the final whistle, the Roos 2-1 winners.

    This was not the emphatic scoreline Australia needed, and the Saudis – playing a few hours later – now knew that any kind of win would send them through to the World Cup automatically.

    Luck was not on Australia’s side, as on another night any of the Socceroos’ 45 – yes, that’s forty-five – shots might have made it 4 or 5-0. Postecoglou and his team, who should never really have been in a position of such precariousness, were forced to wait until the wee hours of Wednesday morning to find out their qualification fate.

    Ed: Saudi Arabia’s 1-0 win over Japan this morning means both teams automatically qualified, while the Socceroos continue on to a two-leg, home-and-away qualifying route through Asia and North or Central America.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.

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    The Crowd Says (160)

    • September 6th 2017 @ 7:46am
      Drew said | September 6th 2017 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      I really want the Socceroos to be in the world cup but I am seriously starting to doubt if we deserve to play. Two consequetive qualifications and we now seem to just assume we should qualify.

    • September 6th 2017 @ 7:47am
      Sir Alfie said | September 6th 2017 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      I can’t decide which team is the biggest culprit of lacking basic skills. The Socceroos or the Wallabies?

    • Roar Rookie

      September 6th 2017 @ 8:04am
      Stevo said | September 6th 2017 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Thanks Evan. Overall we got what we deserved from the qualifying campaign. Next Syria and then maybe USA. I hope it is the USA – it would be a huge couple of games assuming we knock over Syria.

      • Roar Guru

        September 6th 2017 @ 10:36pm
        Cousin Claudio said | September 6th 2017 @ 10:36pm | ! Report

        USA would be a big drawcard and would fill the MCG or ANZ if it was the final qualifying game.

        One of the good things about not qualifying directly is the couple of extra playoff games and a couple more million for football.

        • September 7th 2017 @ 10:53am
          clipper said | September 7th 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

          Although don’t think the powers to be would be happy if USA didn’t qualify

    • September 6th 2017 @ 8:12am
      cantab said | September 6th 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

      Where does Syria play their home games?

      • Editor

        September 6th 2017 @ 8:28am
        Daniel Jeffrey said | September 6th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

        They’ve played their home games in Malaysia during this qualifying campaign.

        • September 6th 2017 @ 9:54am
          cantab said | September 6th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report


    • September 6th 2017 @ 8:13am
      Gavin R said | September 6th 2017 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      I’m still confident we will be there. USA certainly is the least attractive possibility at the moment but what a contest that could be.

      As for Ange, I dont know what else we could have done. I know the critics got louder over night but do we just lack quality up front? Composure? It was an incredibly dominating performance. Though I do have my criticisms of previous performance and inability to offer plan b and c. I am more than happy to stick with him until the world cup is over. He’s earned that in my opinion.

      • September 6th 2017 @ 8:45am
        pauli said | September 6th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        Yes I’m also with JA on that.

        I would love nothing more than to knock Trumpland out of World Cup qualifying but that’s somewhat unrealistic.

        Perspective though. For now, we are still alive which is a lot better than being eliminated. I’m sure the UAE and Uzbekistan would rather be where we are than where they are now.

        And it’s worth remembering that only one nation has been at every World Cup since 1930 – Brazil. And they haven’t always qualified with ease. Nations with far stronger football traditions than ours miss out from time to time – the Netherlands, who finished 3rd in 2014 and have been runners-up 3 times – may well miss out on Russia. Nobody has a divine right to be there. When you play a sport that is genuinely global this is to be expected.

    • September 6th 2017 @ 8:35am
      Tom said | September 6th 2017 @ 8:35am | ! Report

      The buck stops with Angie, the substitution of taking our wingbacks off caused Thailand to score and that was the end of our direct qualification. At one nil and 20 minutes to go you keep it tight in the back and change non performing attackers,one of whom was Tim. That was the only change needed because we were creating plenty . You consolidate and build from 1-0 and score a second and third and not concede. Angie underestimated the Thais and made a tactical blunder with his disturbance of our defence. When he claims that we did well by only losing one game he fails to address draws where we lost 2 points.
      Regrettably now a new coach with a tactical nous should be appointed to win the sudden death games. Ange’s stubborness is his own worst enemy. This game had to be won with goals scored and none conceded. He failed.

      • September 6th 2017 @ 9:45am
        Fadida said | September 6th 2017 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        Agree totally Tom

      • September 6th 2017 @ 10:50am
        chris said | September 6th 2017 @ 10:50am | ! Report

        and yet on any other night we could have won that game 7-1.
        Sometimes you do need a little luck to go your way.

      • September 6th 2017 @ 11:41am
        hogdriller said | September 6th 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

        Agree Tom, Post game Ange did mention over the past 10 games we only lost once, and couldn’t understand the criticism……..of course he failed to also mention out of those 10 games, we drew 4 wwhich as we know is a loss of 8 (possible) points, but as they say, ‘thats football’.
        But what gets me is that since Ange changed to his ‘back 3’ system, we have concede 6 goals and scored only 8.
        Those 6 goals may not have been conceded if he had not changed and we wouldn’t be in the position we are in now.

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