Socceroos' courage goes unrewarded

Australia's gallant Socceroos came within a whisker of causing a major upset against one of the favourites for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and they should treat their painful defeat as a moral victory.


Trent Sainsbury and Mile Jedinak acknowledge the fans' support after tha game Source: Getty Images Europe

It is just not true that fortune favours the brave because if that were the case the Socceroos would be making world headlines after holding mighty France to a draw ... or even beating them.

A lucky strike late in the game from Paul Pogba gave Les Bleus a 2-1 win over the Socceroos in a Group C match in Kazan.

The Australians played almost a perfect tactical match to thwart the flamboyant French. Their fighting spirit and refusal to be intimidated or outplayed by technically superior opponents deserved a better outcome but it was not to be.

It was not pretty to watch from a purist's point of view but who cares, anyway?

Football is not only a sport of individual and collective brilliance as we saw in the previous day's 3-3 classic between Portugal and Spain.

It is also a battle of strong wills, an exercise in determination and a platform for proud men to show courage, team spirit and attachment to their jersey.

Bert van Marwijk's Socceroos showed these qualities in abundance and you could see what the result meant to both sets of players.

While the disappointment was writ large on the faces of the distraught Socceroos players who had given everything for the green and gold, you could see the broad relief from the French players who knew that had been in a football match they were fortunate enough to win.

Van Marwijk clearly won his battle of wits with Didier Deschamps by adopting a cautious approach that had 10 men behind the ball whenever France were in possession.

They were physical without being cynical and pragmatic without being negative.

The whole team worked their socks off to deprive their opponents of the time and space to weave their special patterns and it must be seen as a feather in their collective cap that they reduced midfielder Pogba to a peripheral figure and saw ace striker Antoine Griezmann, who scored France's first goal from a controversial penalty, replaced midway into the second half.

France penetrated Australia's defence only on rare occasions and when they did get through central defender Trent Sainsbury was there to thwart them with his impeccable positional play.
Sainsbury is developing into a top class defender and if he plays like he did against France for the rest of the tournament he will end up at some big club in Europe before we know it.

Experienced captain Mile Jedinak proved his worth in the trenches by playing a masterful role as a screener of the defence. The game was tailormade for someone like big man Jedinak, which is why van Marwijk chose him instead of the more technical but less physical Massimo Luongo. 

He also scored a temporary equaliser with a penalty four minutes after Griezmann's opener.

Another positive the Australians can take from the match is that the slender defeat could come in handy if the top two positions in the group are decided by goal difference.

The Socceroos play Denmark in Samara on June 21 and Peru in Sochi five days later.

Australia will hope that they have jolted the French into action for the remaining matches in the group.

If France beat the Danes and Peruvians by more than one goal the Australians would have a big chance of getting through to the round of 16.

No doubt the loss to France will hurt badly but suddenly the next phase of the competition is looking a distinct possibility.

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4 min read
Published 17 June 2018 at 12:21am
By Philip Micallef