Socceroos lose 1-0 to Jordan in Asian Cup after lacking pace, width and a functioning system
Australia was too often caught on the counter in the first half against Jordan. (AP: Hassan Ammar)
The Socceroos’ 1-0 loss to Jordan has stripped any pretence of Asian Cup favouritism from the defending champions, putting the spotlight on a team lacking pace, width, vision and a functioning system.
Despite 77 per cent possession, Australia succumbed to a 1-0 loss to a brave, counter-attacking Jordan side that repeatedly looked ready to score more and lived up to its team moniker, The Chivalrous.
The injury news leading up to the tournament cast doubt on Australia’s ability to get it done in the UAE, with Mat Leckie, Andrew Nabbout and Martin Boyle’s knocks adding to the long-term pain of losing Aaron Mooy and Daniel Arzani.
Blaming all of Australia’s woes on injuries reeks of excuse-making, but the number of absences for Australia appears to be crippling. Let’s look at what each member of the Socceroos’ growing sick list brings to the table:
In Leckie, you have both finishing ability and actual, genuine pace now missing from the side. Boyle’s injury on the cusp of the tournament could not have been worse timed, and his wide play and eye for goal is being keenly felt.
Mooy is the playmaker fans now want Tom Rogic to be, but isn’t. If Mooy were finding the spaces with his passes (and ability from distance) that could unleash young prospect Arzani, we could have been spinning a different yarn today.
Perhaps all of this accounts for good old fashioned ifs, buts, and maybes. But it still highlights everything that is missing from the Socceroos’ play, and that is a system that fits the players at our disposal.
Jordan players were on top of the world after their hard-earned shock win over the Socceroos. (AP: Hassan Ammar)
In a playing style that seemed to characterise the twilight of Ange Postecoglou’s reign as coach, Australia appeared ponderous against Jordan, often passing sideways instead of forward, and relying on the full-backs for width.
With slow approach play and a predictable outlet out wide, Australia was ripe for the plucking when Jordan counter-attacked at pace.
That a team ranked 109 in FIFA’s world rankings could look so effective against a back-tracking Socceroos outfit speaks volumes. Those in Australian football circles have long talked of creating an Australian football identity with our style of play. But where has that left us?
With Joshua Risdon (left) needed to provide width further up field, Graham Arnold’s side was exposed on the counter. (AP: Hassan Ammar)
The world game has moved on from the possession-for-possession’s-sake style of football that Barcelona mastered and the likes of Arsenal got taken apart for.
Australia has none of the players to come anywhere close to matching either of those sides. Our good intentions are only paving the way to footballing limbo.
The teams pulling off this style of play are more often than not club sides with players who share a deep understanding with each other, and they’re often bankrolled to the millions for good measure.
To rub an extra pinch of salt into the wound, international teams with relatively limited resources like Jordan are happy to play pragmatic stuff, absorb pressure, and focus on their players’ speed on the counter attack to trouble possession-obsessed opposition.
So how to combat this? Even with the injuries, there are tweaks that can be made to ensure progression from our group — if it helps assuage any fears, thanks to an expanded tournament you can finish third in your Asian Cup group and still potentially qualify for the knockouts.
For starters, Australia must stop relying on its full-backs for width. Aziz Behich is a fighter on the left and puts in a shift, while Rhyan Grant looked assured when he came on for Joshua Risdon. But it should be forwards, not defenders, taking up advanced positions.
Which is why Australia could really do with someone like Nabbout back from his injury complaint. A wide forward who plays better hugging the opposition flank than as a central striker, his position would allow the likes of Maclaren, Rogic, Awer Mabil and potentially Leckie to get into the box when the ball travels from out wide.
All the while, the full-backs would be under no pressure to push forward, leaving huge swathes of space behind them from which to be countered.
Rogic needs a fulcrum, but who’s putting their hand up?
The one flaw in the system that remains unaddressed, however, is who the playmaker of this team is in Mooy’s absence.
The likes of Jackson Irvine (pictured) will need to really step up to give Tom Rogic the licence to threaten. (AP: Hassan Ammar)
Rogic can be loosely described as a playmaker in name, but his strength will always lie in his skills and danger from just outside the penalty area. He should be the one given the opportunities to score, not the one dishing them out.
Which is why it was a truly inopportune time for Massimo Luongo to have a poor showing against Jordan. With Luongo unable to consistently get the ball to feet for his advanced teammates, Rogic had to drop deeper and deeper to get any of the ball, by which time he was required to seek out one of his full-backs, rather than a shot at goal.
One of Luongo or Jackson Irvine will have to step up in a big way this tournament. The Jordan result has realigned Australia’s immediate aims in this tournament, with the mission now to firstly escape our group, and then to advance as far as possible into the knockout stages, rather than hope to win it outright.
To do that, it will require a deeper playmaker to become a metronome with their passing, taking the heat off Rogic so that he can dictate terms further up field.
It remains to be seen if coach Graham Arnold can conjure that out of this team, or if another Asian Cup nightmare awaits.