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nightmare at hands of plucky
Before kick-off a nation Down Under dared to believe, dared to hope for a miracle Group C finish. The mission appeared straightforward – beat Peru, France defeat Denmark and progress to the last 16, matching the
feat of the golden generation 12 years ago. Hard, but not completely impossible, it seemed. But nothing is ever simple when it comes to the Socceroos.
Australia’s problems up front, and lack of depth across the squad, were laid bare in the heat and humidity of the Fisht Stadium. The green and gold have struggled to score goals and create attacking chances since the likes of Harry Kewell, Mark Bresciano, John Aloisi, Brett Emerton and Mark Viduka hung up their boots. For too long they have relied on the superhuman efforts of Tim Cahill and his heading power to get them out of jail. That Hail Mary ploy was fully exposed in Sochi.
The Socceroos are simply not good enough to defeat the best teams in the world. While they may be big dogs in the Asian confederation and the current regional champions, the extreme limitations of Asian football have been furthered emphasised in this tournament. Blunt it may be, but that is the truth.
Yes, luck was against them in their matches against France and Denmark. On another day Australia may have sneaked a draw with the French or edged the Danes.
But luck was also on their side at other times. What are the odds of a Australia’s inability to score from open play remains a huge concern. If anything, this tournament has reinforced an issue that has been gnawing at the fabric of their football for more than four years. The lack of dynamic, game-changing players, those with “individual brilliance”, as Ned Zelic put it, is more acute than ever. An allied problem is the dearth of strikers who can take their chances when the ball falls their way.
You see this every week in the A-League, where the best attackers are not from Sydney or Melbourne but from Brazil, Scotland, Spain, Serbia and Poland. What Bert van Marwijk would have given for a Damian Mori or a John Kosmina in Russia.
The lack of creative players and centre-forwards means winning games against top opponents will remain a tough challenge for the green and gold. This World Cup has demonstrated that when they are organised and compact, Australia can be tough to beat and hard to break down. They can frustrate and match some of the best sides around. They work hard, have an enviable spirit and are always courageous. But the lack of a killer touch is always going to be telling.
Hence the hysteria over the limited use of Daniel Arzani and Cahill in Russia, the only two real game-changing options in the World Cup squad. One too young, the other too old, they were both introduced in the second half against Peru. But it was too much to ask of a 19-year-old and a 38-year-old to somehow engineer three goals in fewer than 38 minutes and a rescue a nation’s hopes.
“Everybody saw the
Tedy Bruschi Youth jersey
way we played and performed at the World Cup, we got a lot of compliments,” Van Marwijk said after the game. “But you don’t win games with compliments … you need individual qualities to decide games.
Therein lies the challenge, not only for Graham Arnold, who now takes the job from the Dutchman, but for those at Football Federation Australia. The usual struggles at youth level, in failing to compete in Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups, as well as the Olympics, have been replaced more recently by failing to even qualify for these tournaments. They have fallen well behind in player development, not only to the Europeans and the South Americans, but now to the rest of Asia as well.
In Australia lip service is paid to the production line, to the way young players are brought into the professional ranks. The closure of the AIS football programme last year hinders it even more. Until Australia fixes its development structure and places greater importance on the grassroots game, they will continue to struggle at World Cups. Changing the head coach will do little to solve a problem with roots that
Thomas Vanek Youth jersey
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