If you want to annoy an Australian, call him English. Yet the World Cup may be proving that many Australians are in fact taking on a very English trait, that of accepting gallant defeat. The English have made it an art form and now it wold appear that the old adage ‘it matters not who won or lost but how you played the game,’ is being taken up by Australian football fans. Which is strange because Australia is a nation that hates to lose. Even merging on the roads is a competition that each Aussie driver wants to win.
Heading into the current World Cup in Brazil, no one gave Australia a chance. They had struggled through the qualifying games, were thumped by Brazil and France and had sacked their coach. It was by no means the ideal preparation and then they were drawn in a group with the two finalists from the 2010 World Cup, and Chile.
This writer for one thought it was going to be a humiliating tournament for the Socceroos. He has been pleasantly surprised.
Despite what many have said and written Australia did not play well against Chile. They had a period of the game where they did, but at the highest level you cannot make the errors that they did and expect to win. They created openings but the quality of the final ball into the penalty area was simply not good enough for them to seriously hope to win the match after giving away two cheap goals.
The game against the Netherlands last night however was a different proposition. Last night’s game and the second half of the Chile game showed the calibre of Ange Postecoglou as a coach. Last night Postecoglou had his tactics absolutely spot on against the Netherlands and his charges followed those instructions too a tee. They hassled and harried the Dutch. They frustrated them and at times that frustration looked like it was about to boil over, but credit to the referee he kept it under control. The pace and work rate of the players to close down space and limit passing options was like a five-a-side game. So good was it the Dutch resorted to a long ball game and Matthew Spiranovic managed to keep van Persie in check.
Australia went behind and there can be no doubt that Tim Cahill’s wonder volley a minute after conceding would have lifted the spirits of the team and given them a belief; sometimes that is all it takes one moment of sheer magic. This was undoubtedly that, and it will be a goal replayed and remembered for many years to come, and the number of people who claim they were there and saw it live will grow with time. Sadly a subsequent yellow card means it is likely to be Cahill’s last ever World Cup goal, but what a goal!
The Socceroos then took the lead thanks to a penalty, but the team’s naiveté saw them quickly surrender that lead. Not long after they had squandered a great chance to claim it back, they ended up conceding a third and after that there really was only ever going to be one winner. The third it has to be said coming, as good a strike as it was, from poor goalkeeping; Most ‘keepers at this world cup – with maybe the exception of the Russian – would have saved this shot. Mat Ryan at the moment simply does not have enough games at this level under his belt and was slow to get down to Memphis Depay’s shot. In fact he has not looked commanding at any stage, and has gone too ground a little too quickly.
Credit must go to all of the players for the gutsy display they put on, but credit must also go firmly with the Coach. Ange Postecoglou has show the style of football he likes his teams to play and has garnered success with that style with South Melbourne in the old NSL and Brisbane Roar in the Hyundai A League, but at this World Cup he has shown just what an astute coach he is. Some wondered how he would cope with a group of players thrown together, rather than having them day in day out at a club, but he has shown that he has managed to get the players to buy into his tactics and beliefs. There is no doubting he is up to coaching at International level and that this could well be the stepping stone to far greater things.
As well as Australia played against one of the best teams in the World they sadly still lost. They may will be heading home following Chile’s victory over Spain but they gave the Dutch an almighty scare and now many believe they may even upset the defending World Champions Spain who look like matching France in 2002 by being the second defending Champion to head home at the Group stage without winning a game.
Australian fans may well be smiling in defeat, something their English counterparts have done for years, but they will no doubt now be looking at the Asian Cup with a great deal more hope than when the team left for Brazil. If Postecoglou can eliminate some of the simple errors which at this level cost you games, the Soccceroos may well be challenging for the trophy at the start of 2015.