Australia’s World Cup campaign is over, a 2-0 defeat to Peru consigning the Socceroos to a third successive group-stage effort.
Once again, it was a promising attacking performance from Bert van Marwijk’s side, one which was begging for a top-class striker to make the most of the many attacking chances. Instead, they went begging.
For the first match in the tournament, Australia started on the front foot, making the first attacks of note but not really troubling the Peruvian defence. The South Americans had no such troubles.
With what was essentially Peru’s first incursion into Socceroos territory, Paolo Guerrero latched onto a lofted long ball, holding play up inside the box before crossing for Andre Carrillo. After steadying himself briefly, the winger lashed a superb volley through two defenders and past the helpless Mat Ryan.
Replays showed Guerrero was awfully close to being offside in the build-up. Was he undoubtedly beyond the last defender when the ball was played? The few replays flashed up on the screen made it hard to say. Certainly it warranted at least a look from VAR. But the technology was not consulted and, for the third time in as many matches, the Socceroos went 1-0 down.
As in those previous two games, conceding the first goal led to some positive play from Bert van Marwijk’s side.
Tom Rogic, outstanding throughout the first 45, went closest to bringing the scores level with a terrific run into the box, but his weak shot was saved by Pedro Gallese. Mathew Leckie almost latched onto a cut-back from Robbie Kruse and would have scored were it not for a crucial interception from the Peruvian defence, while Trent Sainsbury headed wide from an Aaron Mooy free-kick.
The Socceroos left the field for half-time with 57 per cent possession and five shots to their name. Alas, as had been the case against Denmark, their excellent play went unrewarded, the lack of a dependable striker once again proving to be an Achilles heel.
Despite that, there was no change from van Marwijk at the start of the second half, and things soon went from bad to worse for Australia.
Christian Cueva broke down the sideline, exploiting a paddock of space left by the very tired looking Josh Risdon and Mile Jedinak. Cueva’s deflected pass led to Guerrero’s deflected shot, the latter of which looped off Mark Milligan’s challenge and past Ryan’s outstretched arms and into the net.
A two-goal deficit was enough to see Tim Cahill summoned at the expense of the ineffective Tomi Juric, and soon after Daniel Arzani also joined the fray.
Successive corners led to successive chances, but neither Cahill nor Aziz Behich could test Gallese with their volleyed efforts. Arzani too tried his luck with a volley, but his long-range attempt flew over the bar.
Behich then almost set up Cahill for World Cup goal number six, but the left-back’s delivery couldn’t find its mark. If the match’s previous events hadn’t done so already, that misdirected cross made it abundantly clear that it just wasn’t Australia’s night.
In truth, the result against Peru didn’t matter. Elsewhere in Group C, France and Denmark were content to play out a scoreless draw, sending both European nations through to the round of 16 quite comfortably.
But that’s hardly an excuse, nor were Australia half as unlucky as the partisan SBS commentators would have us believe. Admirable as their performances were, the Socceroos failed to win a game in Russia and were incapable of scoring from anywhere but the penalty spot.
The task of fixing those attacking woes now falls to Graham Arnold, who takes over from van Marwijk as national coach. Finding a regular avenue to goal, someone who can get into the right areas and capitalise on the side’s excellent build-up play, is a priority.
But that can wait. For now, Australian fans and players will dwell on a lost opportunity to make an impact at the World Cup.
Hopefully the side can do just that next time around. Only 1608 days to go until Qatar.