Socceroos stay alive but same problems persist

Glass half-empty or glass half-full? That’s the question for Socceroos fans, who will again be presented with more questions than answers after the 1-1 draw with Cameroon in Saint Petersburg.


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The result means Australia can still qualify for the next stage of the Confederations Cup, which is a positive. But it wasn’t wholly convincing from a team that has come under fire for some ordinary recent displays. They needed a resolute response. 

Having 53 per cent of the ball may indicate Australia had the better of the occasion – but so much of that was made up of slow, austere ball rotation without much forward penetration through the middle. Possession was freely accumulated but not purposefully accentuated. 

There were moments it almost worked and late in the game, when the African champions’ fitness gave way, the Asian champions begin to look capable. But the Socceroos would have been served better by a more aggressive approach earlier on: this was billed a must-win match, after all.

By contrast, Cameroon were an energetic, powerful side that – albeit lacking major stars – looked dangerous every time they attacked. They bounded forward at will, instinctively getting numbers forward and applied real pressure. They were only really undone by themselves, specifically their failure to convert. 

Ultimately, that allowed Australia off the hook and made the scoreline respectable. But Brazil and Germany weren’t so wasteful in previous weeks; nor will Chile be so generous in the final group match. 

Those hoping to some sort of decisive insight into why Ange Postecoglou insists on the three-man defence were again left without a clear answer. 

The 3-4-2-1 formation – which sets two wing-backs either side of a “box” midfield – requires a level of tactical discipline and concentration that Australia’s current generation may not yet have. There really is no room for lapses.

It may ultimately prove an inspirational tactical choice – one day – but the adjustment period is proving long and frustrating. Confusion over roles and who does what (and where) seems to permeate not only the defence but the wing-backs and midfield, too.

One suspects the inevitable assault in the final group game will probably determine whether the defensive shape will be persisted with ahead of the final two World Cup qualifiers.

The line-up changes by Postecoglou – bringing in Alex Gersbach for Aziz Behich and Robbie Kruse for Massimo Luongo – were perhaps necessary. Behich couldn’t make any forward traction against Germany, locked into a conservative role that didn’t benefit him or the team.

Gersbach had no such complaints, attacking continually and although his execution is not flawless, he is only 20, this is only this was only his third international match and he was originally considered a reserve for the squad until Brad Smith was injured.

Although still a youngster in so many ways, he remains the probable long-term solution at left-back. Behich will be wishing he could have that Germany game over and Smith - despite his superior CV - ought to be wary of Gersbach’s brilliant rise.

The first half actually started well enough for Australia but Cameroon eventually wrested control and executed on the brink of half-time. Talk about a coach’s nightmare: the content of your team-talk must change, the players mood has been disrupted and your tactical approach needs adjusting. 

Full credit to Andre-Frank Zambo Anguiss, who took his chance extremely well. But Mat Ryan won’t like the look of being chipped, nor will Milos Degenek like seeing how easily the Cameroonian glided past him. 

And it should have been 2-0 shortly after, only for Vincent Aboubakar botched his attempt in front of an open goal.

Yet for once, luck was on Australia’s side. Minutes after Aboubakar’s miss, Gersbach was hauled down in the box and tournament skipper Mark Milligan dispatched the penalty. Might it be the goal that saves the tournament?

And so while the Socceroos still have hope, qualification to the next stage is probably secondary to what Australian fans really want to see on Sunday night – 11 green shirts fearlessly taking it up to one of the world’s best.

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4 min read
Published 23 June 2017 at 3:50am
By Sebastian Hassett