Is it a case of back to the drawing board for van Marwijk?

Just when Bert van Marwijk hoped to have all but a few pieces of his World Cup puzzle in place, he suddenly finds himself forced into a rapid reappraisal just six days out from the Socceroos’ curtain-raiser with France in Kazan.

Socceroos Bert van Marwijk

Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk Source: Getty Images

The solidity and cohesion which secured a 4-0 win over the Czech Republic the previous week was replaced by sloppiness and indecision in their final tune-up against Hungary, the 2-1 victory scarcely disguising the deficiencies that now crave addressing.

Time has always been van Marwijk’s enemy, and he has just a few training runs left to find solutions to the burning issues which surfaced in Budapest.

His first order of business is likely to be a midfield reshuffle which could conceivably see both Massimo Luongo and Tom Rogic supplanted by Mile Jedinak - a surprise starting omission against Hungary - and Jackson Irvine.

Luongo was oddly ineffectual alongside a similarly under par Aaron Mooy in their deep lying roles, and while van Marwijk is an admirer of the Queens Park Rangers man, the shadow of skipper Jedinak looms large.

Rogic, who gave way to Irvine in the 64th minute, is struggling to impose himself at a critical time, with little to no end product from a player on whom many have pinned so much hope and expectation.

Irvine, unheralded and under-rated, combined cleverly with fellow substitute Daniel Arzani to have a hand in both Australia’s goals, and is a serious option in an advanced midfield role ahead of his one-time Celtic teammate.

It’s not a scenario that would have seemed rational just a week or so ago. But it is now.

And that brings us to Arzani - who showed in 17 minutes as a replacement for Robbie Kruse how the audacity of youth in tandem with abundant talent can be a huge weapon if deployed wisely in Russia.

Taking the gushing praise in his stride, the 19-year-old is the one Socceroo who commands a sense of anticipation when he is on the ball.

His goal - while aided and abetted by fumbling Hungary keeper Denes Dibusz - will only stoke a furnace of self belief already raging within the youngest player selected for Russia 2018. 

Other problem areas are up top and at the back.

At the pointy end, the experiment of deploying Andrew Nabbout as a number nine - seemingly vindicated after his thunderous finish against the Czechs - went awry in Budapest.

And with his replacement Tomi Juric himself replaced by Tim Cahill in the 80th minute, satisfaction was nowhere to be found.

Nabbout was largely anonymous, Juric looked underdone and ineffectual after his knee injury, while Cahill had little time to make an impact.

Jamie Maclaren remains a fourth striking option for van Marwijk but doesn’t appear to readily fit into his 4-2-3-1 formation.

At the other end, Josh Risdon looked jittery at right back, possibly opening the door to Milos Degenek against France, while Mark Milligan was uncharacteristically careless at times alongside Trent Sainsbury, whose own goal mix-up with substitute keeper Brad Jones was reflective of a broader malaise.

Van Marwijk could recall Matt Jurman to partner Sainsbury, but will likely stick with Milligan.

As he and closest confidant Mark van Bommel count down the days to the big kick-off there is much in-depth contemplation to be had over how best to get the motor revving again.

One thing is certain, several players who 24 hours ago thought their spots against Les Bleus were safe may have to think again.

But all is far from lost for van Marwijk, with France - depicted by many as an irresistible force primed to deconstruct Australia - don’t appear to exactly be the finished article either.

Their 1-1 draw on home soil against unfancied USA overnight wasn’t quite what coach Didier Deschamps and a bumper crowd in Lyon had in mind.

And it served as a reminder that however pedestrian Australia were on the Danube, the French are also fallible.

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4 min read
Published 10 June 2018 at 8:53pm
By Dave Lewis in Kazan
Source: SBS The World Game