Despite World Cup disappointments, there are grounds for optimism for Australia

The World Cup for the Australian national team was both an exciting and a disappointing one. On one hand, we saw a team that could draft out a win by holding the ball and keeping a well-shaped defence. On the other hand we saw a side that couldn’t score a goal in open play and failed to perform in the final third.

The first game for Australia was one that gave the fans hope, even though they would finish the game with two goals conceded and zero points. Despite the loss it showed exactly why the Football Federation of Australia (the FFA) hired Bert Van Marwijk in the first place, a coach who can teach his team to maintain a strong defence and concede as few goals as possible. A big improvement on previous manager, Ange Postecoglou, who tried to create the same idea but could not stop the defence from making mistakes and giving the ball away.

Aaron Mooy was by far the man of the match in that game, playing a major impact in all parts of the field from winning possession to being able to pass the ball up and down pitch practically what a world-class center-defensive midfielder was supposed to do. Another player who also stood out was Australia’s number one, Matt Ryan. France started the game very strong with some clear-cut chances that would have easily been goals if any other keeper had been put in between the sticks

The Denmark game was when the team really came out of their shell and started creating a lot more chances but still struggled to score a goal from open play. The team, in general, could create chances but when the ball got inside the box the player’s legs turned into spaghetti and it looked like they had forgotten how and when to shoot. Again Mooy looked like a top-class player throughout the whole game with him rarely making any mistakes.

The final game against Peru was the low point of the ‘Socceroos’ World Cup campaign. Before the game the thinking, or at least hope, was that a win coupled with a beneficial result between France and Denmark game could see Australia through to the round of 16, the furthest they would have gone since the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

That game turned out to be a disappointment with Australia losing 2-0 to an average Peru side playing at their first World Cup since 1982. In this game, unlike the France and Denmark games, Australia sat back and waited to  counter. There is the sense that if Van Marwijk’s men had kept on playing the way they did in the first two games we could have come away with a point or three. That being said, yet again the main reason for the loss was because of players not being able to put chances away when they were handed to them on a plate, something that needs to be fixed before Qatar 2022.

The highlights of this campaign were the fact that the players could be told what to do and stick to that plan for the whole game, as shown in the France game. The fact that they could hold onto the ball without conceding was something that I don’t think any Australian fan has seen in the national team for a long time.

The other highlight was that Tim Cahill, arguably Australia’s all-time greatest player came on late into the second half against Peru to be the first Australian to play in four World Cups. Unfortunately, he didn’t find the back of the net and become only the fifth person in history to score at four World Cups but still an incredible achievement none the less.

Now that the World Cup is over we say goodbye to Bert Van Marwijk and hello the ex-Sydney FC manager Graham Arnold. The biggest worry that Australia fans have about Graham Arnold is that he will be a step back for Australia and bring back the same old tactics that Postecoglou brought in to the team by hanging back and not attacking the game. If Arnold avoids adopting that regressive philosophy and continues the work of Van Marwijk the future is bright for the Australian football.

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William Stebbing

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