Preparation – ✮✮✮
Australia’s preparation didn’t initially take off as they’d hoped. Their farewell match in Sydney left the home support flat after an erratic 1-1 draw against an under strength South Africa. Postecoglou’s possession-based tactics were fully on show but finding the right balance in central defence continued to be a worrying sideshow.
Once the squad was cut to 27, then down to 23 while they were in their Brazilian training camp, a narrow victory behind closed doors against local side Parana was followed by a positive performance in a 1-0 defeat to Croatia. Things were starting to click defensively, Ange Postecoglou settled on the centre back pairing of Spiranovic and Wilkinson, and finally utilised Mark Bresciano in an influential central position.
Managerial Performance – ✮✮✮✮✮
Postecoglou has proved over the last month that his range of capabilities and flexible approach can be utilised against some of football’s best teams. In each of Australia’s group matches he changed the approach of his side without swaying from their usual 4231 formation.
Against Chile, he was able to target the space in behind the opposing full backs, countering quickly and using high balls into the box against a small central defence. Against Holland, he pushed the wingers on to put pressure on the Dutch’s defensive dalliances, stopping any immediate attacks at source.
A more confident possession based game plan against Spain in the end wasn’t as successful but illustrated the manager’s flexibility. Postecoglou’s talents were on show on the world stage which gained rave reviews from his fellow coaches, however he was ultimately let down by the lack in technical quality in his squad.
World Cup Team Performance – ✮✮✮
In each of Australia’s three performances there were positive and negative aspects on show. Defensive lapses that were evident in a disastrous first 15 minutes against Chile were again exposed against the Netherlands and Spain, where true attacking guile was too much for the Aussies to handle. In possession however Australia saw a major improvement on the Osieck days of yesteryear. Seeing an alternative to route one balls lumped aimlessly up field was a refreshing change but crucially their main threat remained through the aerial ability of Tim Cahill. The key to Australia’s new brand of football was the heart and willingness of Postecoglou’s boys to join the attack, a promising philosophy that the travelling Socceroo faithful were encouraged by despite three successive defeats.
Defence – ✮✮✮
Postecoglou has finally settled on his back five, a crucial stepping stone to go into the next World Cup cycle. Mat Ryan in goal is a promising talent that inspires confidence to those in front of him but will be kicking himself after fumbling in Memphis Depay’s winner against the Dutch.
The partnership between Wilkinson and Spiranovic looks Australia’s best option for now but leadership issues need to be clarified if this is to be a long term solution. Full backs wise, Australia excel. Jason Davidson continues to impress bombing down the left and he was able to contain Chile’s Alexi Sanchez brilliantly defensively. Ivan Franjic’s promise was blighted by injury early on, while his replacement Ryan McGowan performed adequately while out of position.
Midfield – ✮✮✮✮
In the centre, Australia pressed the ball well but rarely kept possession long enough before transferring play with direct cross field passes. Captain Mile Jedinak remains a thorn in any opposition attack, in which he continues to niggle with build-up halting tackles. Mike Milligan struggled for fitness and didn’t take his previous form into this World Cup. His replacement for the final two matches, Matt McKay worked admirably and pressed successfully during his appearances. Further forward Bresciano was a star performer but will likely retire this summer. Oliver Bozanic looks set to build from his shadow and showed some odd glimmers of hope in some surging forward bursts, in particular in the second half against Holland.
Attack – ✮✮✮✮
Tim Cahill remains a class act in attack, superbly encapsulated in his second goal of the group, widely tipped for goal of the tournament. The over reliance on his immense experience and strong holdup play was clearly demonstrated when he was missing through suspension against Spain. Young Adam Taggart did little to support his claim to dislodge Cahill, but will build on his fleeting minutes at the World Cup as he moves to Fulham this summer.
In behind the lone forward, Matthew Leckie, Tommy Oar and Ben Halloran all looked lively and full of ideas from the flank while running at their full backs. This will be one area that’s up for grabs going into the Asian Cup, with Bundesliga star Robbie Kruse set to return from his long term injury.
Player of the Tournament: Matthew Leckie
A lot of pressure was put on Matthew Leckie after the young winger-cum-support striker developed well in Germany over the past season. His work rate and forward runs were a constant threat to opposing defenders, and but for some greater composure in front of goal he could have got himself on the score sheet. He was at times moved into the lone striker role but slotted in better on the right where he faced the opposition goal.
A muscular frame, along with his quick heels, already gives Leckie a biological advantage over his rivals, and it will have had his name jotted down by admiring scouts eyeing a promising future for the youngster. A pre-World Cup transfer to FC Ingolstadt was already tied up denying Leckie a more lucrative and aspiring move after the tournament. Either way he’ll be one to watch next season.
Tournament Verdict – ✮✮✮✮
Overall, Australian fans have developed a certain degree of pride and hope for the future despite three straight defeats. The negative tactics have gone, while a breath of fresh air brought to the squad by Postecoglou in the last half year has also bred confidence through the group. Their star is rising, increasing the pressure to replicate some of their stellar performances in their homecoming Asian Cup campaign in January. Next time, however, they’ll seek victory in every match they play.