A below par Australia finished their World Cup adventure with a disappointing 3-0 defeat to outgoing world champions Spain. An insipid display that has been so out of keeping from their usual style of play, diminished the early promise of the Socceroos, who exit the tournament with a universally expected 0 points.
A running theme has been the defensive mistakes, an issue that has been realised in each of the 9 goals conceded at the tournament. Going into the World Cup, question marks were posed at Ange Postecoglou’s defensive selection, leaving the likes of Lucas Neill and Luke Wilkshire at home preferring a new breed of Australian defender that would lead them into the next World Cup cycle. The centre back duo of Alex Wilkinson and Matthew Spiranovic, lacked international caps and only recently experienced playing together. This along with the lack of coordination in some of their play has left one gaping area to improve upon in their preparations for the Asian Cup.
In front of the back four, Australia have looked generally solid, defending well from the front. This again was the case against Spain, containing and pressing well in the first 45 minutes before running out of steam in the second period. Spain’s opener just before half time was a killer blow but indicated the troubles the Aussies have experienced in the last few weeks. A diagonal run by David Villa from Australia’s right wasn’t tracked into the box, leaving him isolated enough to creatively flick home from 6 yards. Ryan McGowan at right back failed to either stay with Villa or pass him onto the centre backs, a lack of communication which has been evident since the Chile match, where the right back (in that case Ivan Franjic) failed to pass over his man to his fellow defenders leading for the man in yards of space; Valdivia to score the Chileans second.
In the second half of Monday’s match, further comparisons could be taken from Spain’s 2nd and 3rd goals. Fernando Torres played their offside trap well but Australia’s back four has been far from united throughout the tournament and should have been closer to the Chelsea striker. On this occasion McGowan had pushed higher than his centre backs leaving Torres unmarked and onside, while in the Netherlands clash earlier in the week, Jason Davidson at left back mistakenly stayed deep to play onside Robin van Persie to score for the Dutch. From all three encounters, it’s not been clear who the leader of the pack is. Spiranovic, as the most experienced and most technically gifted of the back four should be the vocal presence, but it seems that the backline neither comes nor stays together as a unit.
Spain’s 3rd was predominantly down to the quick movement of Juan Mata, but static defending which also cost them in the matches against Chile and Holland was also a contributing factor. Speed going back towards their own goal hasn’t been a characteristic shown in this World Cup, Alex Wilkinson was rather understandably embarrassed by Arjen Robben’s pace for Holland, while Jason Davidson who has bombed forward down the left excellently this tournament has been left flat footed on more than a couple of occasions when balls are delivered in behind him. Ryan McGowan on the right has worked admirably well in an unfamiliar position but has experienced some turmoil against some quick wingers in the last few weeks.
Focus was firmly flung on the back four, as Australia failed to do enough when they finally stole possession from the Spanish. Matthew Leckie’s lung bursting runs up field were again the Socceroos’ primary attack but without Tim Cahill to hold up the ball at the point of the forward line, the ball kept being turned over to the opposition. Postecoglou’s tactical flexibility has been a promising trend throughout the World Cup, but during this encounter he ran out of ideas in the attacking third, in some way not entirely his own fault as youngster Adam Taggart started his first competitive match for the Socceroos’ against a defence made up of Sergio Ramos and Raul Albiol. Taggart’s largely anonymous performance in the first half will give him experience for the future, much needed as Australia need a viable Plan B to replace Tim Cahill after the Asian Cup.
On paper this tournament has ended in rather predictable fashion for Australia, three defeats from three was the outcome everyone expected. The two prior performances to kick off the tournament however have given Australian fans something to cling onto as they move forward with their ideology of fast, attacking and youthful football under the tutorage of the ever improving Ange Postecoglou. The key cogs are in place for Australia to have a promising four year spell ahead of Russia 2018, but a few isolated areas such as defensive awareness and a plan B in attack still leaves the national team with room for improvement to finish off a whirlwind year.
Player ratings (/5)
Maty Ryan – 3/5 – Denied the Spaniards on a couple of occasions. Sweeped up well behind the backline.
Ryan McGowan – 2/5 – Never really convinced, error prone defensively.
Alex Wilkinson – 2/5 – Lay his body on the line but remains too static against effective strikers.
Matthew Spiranovic – 3/5 – Confident playing out from the back but lacked communication with the rest of his defence.
Jason Davidson – 2/5 – Looked out of sync with his defensive colleagues, rampaged forward well though.
Mile Jedinak – 3/5 – Solid performance but struggled in the end to catch the Spanish strikers.
Matt McKay – 2/5 – Sloppy in possession but continued to give his all.
Matthew Leckie – 3/5 – Again gave the Socceroos an out ball but lacked support in attack.
Oliver Bozanic – 2/5 – Largely ineffective and was left chasing shadows.
Tommy Oar – 2/5 – Defended from the front well but lacked composure in possession.
Adam Taggart – 2/5 – Didn’t get enough of the ball to impress but will have gained much needed international experience.
Ben Halloran – 2/5 – Continues to frustrate when brought on. Tracked Alba well in defence.
James Troisi – 3/5 – Promising when given the ball, looked to take on Juanfran down the left.
Mark Bresciano – 3/5 – A typically effective performance, revitalised an attacking purpose in his short cameo.