Sloppy Socceroos are playing with fire

ANALYSIS: The road to Russia 2018 has become a lot rockier for Australia after their toothless display against Thailand.


Mathew Leckie rues a missed opportunity Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

A lucky 2-2 draw with the Thais at a heaving Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok left the Socceroos in third position - at the halfway mark of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup - but only on goal difference.

Saudi Arabia and Japan lead Group B with 10 points each, one point ahead of the Socceroos and the United Arab Emirates who beat Iraq 2-0.

And yet it could - make that should - have been much worse for the sloppy Socceroos.

Thailand confirmed earlier suggestions that they would offer more than token resistance to Ange Postecoglou's Australians.

They came back from a tentative start and slowly got on top of the Socceroos, who played woefully and aimlessly in midfield after a positive start.

It was expected that the Thais' titanic efforts would take their toll in the latter stages of the game, but it was the physically superior Aussies who were hanging on for a draw in the end not the other way round.

The midfield did not function properly at all after a bright opening, the main weakness being a penchant to give the ball away too many times in dangerous areas and general sloppiness with passing.

Thailand were gallant and vibrant and were unlucky not to win, but they also were made to look like Barcelona by the inept visitors.

With that little master Chanthip Songkrasin, the man they call 'Messi J', stealing the show with a sumptuous display in midfield that overshadowed Tom Rogic's performance, it was little wonder that the raucous crowd, that cheered every tackle and every move forward, gave their brave heroes a standing ovation at the end of the game.

Postecoglou has done wonders with the Australian side since taking over three years ago but he is now hampered by problems that have come to the fore and which are causing deep concern.

Firstly, Australia are not very good at dealing with counter-attacks. These flaws emerged in the first phase of qualifying but it did not matter in the end because Australia went through easily.

In this second phase, the quality of the competition became much tougher and Thailand showed on many occasions the vulnerability of Australia's rather slow defence.

The Thais got behind Australia's defenders too many times and exploited the spaces afforded them by the two fullbacks who did not always track back quickly enough when the attack broke down.

Secondly, Postecoglou's best player Rogic is a delight to watch when he is on song, as he was in the first half of the Bangkok game.

He is in the best form of his career. The problem with Rogic is he is not a 90-minute player. He does not have a big enough engine to go the full distance.

And when guys like influential Aaron Mooy have a poor game and captain Mile Jedinak, hardly the best passer of the ball, struggling o cope with the game's pace you can understand why the Socceroos failed to impose themselves on the Thais in the most important part of the field.

Up front Tomi Juric and Tim Cahill were conspicuous by their absence. Mathew Leckie and particularly Robbie Kruse were disappointing, while Jamie Maclaren is probably not ready for international football just yet and it was left to unflappable Jedinak to save Australia's blushes with two penalties, one of them rewarded rather generously.

Thirdly, the Socceroos still struggle to score goals if Cahill is not there to come to their rescue.

The Socceroos' last three goals have come from penalties. That's two consecutive matches where they have not scoredin general play.

Goalkeeper Mat Ryan was scathing of Australia's careless performance.

"The most disappointed thing was the cheap turning over of too much ball," Ryan said.

"We have not been too convincing in the last three games (against Saudi, Japan and Thailand). First and foremost we have to compete. At the end of the day up for grabs is a position in the World Cup.

"The way we're playing is not good enough.

"But there is no need to panic. We are still in a good position."

His former Central Coast Mariners team-mate Trent Sainsbury had no doubt that the Socceroos got out of jail at the Rajamangala.

"It was a difficult game and the Thais played really well but we did not perform anywhere near our best and that was the main factor of the night ... the simple errors killed us," Sainsbury said.

"To be honest we were lucky to come away with a point tonight."

So it is not true, after all, that fortune always favours the brave because the bold Thais were not rewarded with a famous victory.

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5 min read
Published 16 November 2016 at 4:17am
By Philip Micallef in Bangkok
Source: SBS