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Socceroos v Saudi Arabia analysis: Australian World Cup qualifier

June 9, 2017 12:38 AM
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Socceroos v Saudi Arabia analysis: Australian World Cup qualifier

“First-half we weren’t at the races but in the second-half we changed it. Ange probably faced his biggest half-time talk ... and he changed it. (Aziz) Behich coming on made a big difference and it was a spanking goal by (Tom) Rogic.

“In the end it looked comfortable but it’s still very tight, especially with Japan to come.”

The Falcons present a very different challenge to what the likes of Brazil, Chile, Germany and Cameroon will; and the Socceroos are a side that traditionally lifts for those more ‘illustrious’ opponents.

After the game, Ange Postecoglou called the display, and second-half revival, progress, with a reminder that so many of the heartbeat of this team are in the formative years of their international careers.

That, however, is the reality Australia needs to deal with before facing the world No.1, World Cup winners and South American champions in the coming weeks.

None of those sides will look to cede possession and the challenges will be different, but the brutal truth is that when the Socceroos were asked to dictate the terms of the game, they struggled to despite the build-up to the game being focused on the wealth of riches available in the middle of the park.

“We’re not travelling too badly ... we’re yet to lose,” Postecoglou said afterwards when confronted with questions about the lax first-half.

“All our opponents have lost two games but its as if we’re the ones who are struggling.”

First, the mitigating circumstances. Ryan McGowan had been on a plane longer than he’d been in the country before he was a late replacement for Bailey Wright.

But despite having Mile Jedinak parked in the middle of the field, with a trio behind him marking just Mohammed Al Sahlawi, Australia was exposed twice, and nearly on a few other occasions.

The defensive structure is a major work in progress; while Mat Leckie, for example, needs to take on big defensive responsibilities, there were times in the first-half he was almost in line with McGowan - taking space the defender should have been in.

If Australia cannot cope with Yehya Alshehri, what will Alexis Sanchez or Philippe Coutinho do operating between the lines?

Goalkeeper Mat Ryan explained afterwards: “I think the more we play the more we get used to it. I think the better we’re going to get.

“In saying that, I don’t think its down to the formation its down to the will, we’ve got to be better at those clutch moments where they’re making those runs in behind - we’ve got to match them and be better than them and quicker than them and not allow them to get in behind like that... we’ll learn from that and be better hopefully.”

There were times in the first-half where Australia had two ‘No.6s’ - Jedinak and Aaron Mooy - in vast midfield expanses thanks to the Saudis sitting off, but they were still coming very deep to collect the ball.

With the well organised Saudi defence blocking out channels to get to the likes of Tom Rogic, and Jackson Irvine, it led to a ponderous, scratchy half of football.

Mooy, who revelled with his club side Huddersfield, was very deep for his country and was not influencing proceedings, while Jedinak was culpable of not just giving the ball away, but seeing men in white surge past him towards his defenders.

Strangely, this all happened after Australia was gifted a goal to settle their nerves.

“The disappointing thing was it got a bit scrappy (before their first goal) ... we turned the ball (over) a number of times,” Postecoglou admitted. “It brings them into the game and they can hurt you.

“For us it was about getting into the game again and making sure we were dictating the tempo and making sure it wasn’t a game of turnovers.”

It also didn’t help that neither Milos Degenek or McGowan, either side of Trent Sainsbury, weren’t eager to take on those passing responsibilities in the first-half that would have seen Australia push Saudi Arabia further and further back, as happened in the second-half.

Aziz Behich’s introduction was a positive one for the hosts - he brought an energy and directness, while Leckie, who got through a mountain of work and showed his quality with the cross for Tomi Juric’s second, also took up more advanced positions in the second-half.

Brisbane Roar boss John Aloisi explained on Fox Sports: “Behich and Leckie played like wingers.

“There’s one time when Behich was at the back post nearly scoring... Saudi started defending deeper and wider and that’s why we got on the ball more easily in midfield.”

Robbie Slater added: “Mooy, Jedinak, Rogic looked better and the extra centre back pushed into midfield. We just kept pushing them deeper and deeper ... there’s still a lot to work on. The first half just didn’t happen. This game could have been out of reach (for us) at half time”.

Aloisi said: “The key to the second-half was Mooy and Rogic getting on the ball a lot more”.

He continued: “If Tomi Rogic gets on the ball in these areas he’ll either slip someone through or get a shot on target .. he can change the game and he and Mooy are our two greatest threats”.

Australia’s looming opponents like to get as much of a stranglehold as the Socceroos do; it won’t be a qualm if Australia doesn’t hog possession like they do in Asia. But when they get it, much more composure is needed - because you don’t always get time to settle, or gifts like Saudi Arabia gave on Thursday night.

Tomi Juric is looking more comfortable in his skin at this level, and while the two well taken finishes were much needed, the physical FC Luzern frontman showed his ability to mix it in a crowded box and hold the ball up for his colleagues.

As much of a gaffe as the first goal was for the Saudis, it still required a very tidy finish from the former A-League marksman, and don’t tell him the second was generous defending!

“It looks like there’s a lot space, but I peeled off ... there’s not much you can do (as a defender with a striker) standing behind the defender.”

Robbie Kruse’s pace was a threat for the Saudis when he came on; a reminder of the key role he still has with the national side.

According to Postecoglou, Juric is the prototype of the current Socceroo - one fans want up to speed at international level... now!

“I understand the anxiety to get them to a certain space but it takes time.

“We know his capability, he scored two goals, but he worked hard, held the ball up - he is one of a number where the best is ahead of them.”


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