Postecoglou's Socceroos gamble backfires

ANALYSIS: Australia's stuttering campaign to reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup is slipping out of their hands and is now in the lap of the gods.


Ange Postecoglou watches proceedings in Tehran Source: Anadolu

After yet another hugely disappointing performance against Iraq in neutral Tehran, the Socceroos should thank their lucky stars for emerging with a point from a 1-1 draw that left their World Cup campaign hanging by a thread.

As things stand with four rounds to go, Saudi Arabia and Japan lead Group B with 13 points each. Australia are third with 10, one ahead of United Arab Emirates. 

Two teams go through automatically while the third best team will have to successfully negotiate two home-and-away playoffs to reach the finals.

The big event in Russia seemed a million miles away as Ange Postecoglou's disjointed team struggled to overcome feisty opponents on a terrible pitch and in a brand new formation.

For the first time the coach went with only three at the back in a move designed to reduce the risk of his team being caught out when it loses possession, particularly high up the field.

He hoped that three defenders would give him a better balance and the insurance of an extra man when the opposition counter-attack because the Socceroos have been caught napping a few times in recent matches due to the fact that both fullbacks were too far up, leaving the two central defenders exposed.

Well, the pattern did not work in Tehran because the Iraqis went through Australia's five-man midfield almost at will for most of the match despite Aaron Mooy's industry in the middle of the park.

The Iraqis could have had three goals before the Socceroos opened the scoring just before halftime with a header from Mathew Leckie.

Iraq's equaliser came as no surprise and how the Australians survived a barrage from the home side that desperately needed a win to stay in the race for Russia is a mystery.

Australia's midfield collapsed in the second half and it is a sign of how poorly the team performed that goalkeeper Mitch Langerak stole the show with two jaw-dropping saves that he had no right to make.
Postecoglou ought to be commended for trying things in his efforts to find the right formula that would take his team to the World Cup.

He is a staunch believer in 4-3-3 which earned the Socceroos the 2015 AFC Asian Cup but he has dabbled with 4-4-2 and now a sort of 3-2-3-2 but the sad fact remains that Postecoglou, despite his positivity, is limited in the quality personnel required for the team to make a mark on the world game.

He was dead right when he said the team has gone backwards since it won the Asian Cup just over two years ago.

Very few of his men are playing regularly at an acceptable standard and those who are are not delivering for their country. 

The Socceroos are no well oiled machine at the moment.

This glaring weakness showed in consecutive lacklustre displays against Saudi Arabia, Japan, Thailand and Iraq. All matches finished in uninspiring draws but the Socceroos could so easily have lost them all.

It remains to be seen if Postecoglou will persist with the 'three at the back' formation against the UAE in Sydney on Tuesday and give it another chance to flourish.

It is the first of three must-win home games for the Socceroos in the next few months.

The Socceroos will have no excuses if they fail to beat the UAE, who lost 2-0 to Japan in Al Ain a few hours after the stalemate in Tehran.  

Postecoglou and his men have an opportunity to get things right in familiar surroundings, get their campaign back on track with a strong performance and hope that other results go their way.

Let's get this straight. The situation for the Socceroos is not precarious and there is enough time left for recovery.

But one thing is beyond any doubt: if they keep playing like this and do not lift their game considerably they will not make the World Cup.

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4 min read
Published 24 March 2017 at 7:54am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS