Following their 2-1 defeat to France, Australians may be railing against the Video Assistant Referee today. But the reality is that their weaknesses in attack cost them the opportunity of grabbing a point on Matchday One in Group C.
The right decision
Much of the focus in the aftermath of Australia’s loss to a lacklustre France was on the historic decision to overturn a refereeing decision and award the French a penalty based on VAR evidence. Josh Risdon’s sliding challenge on Antione Griezmann in the 58th minute was ignored by referee Andres Cunha until VAR intervened and made a call that had Australians fuming.
The technology has been widely criticised by A-League fans since its introduction in the 2017-18 season, and this decision will not soften negative attitudes towards it. In truth, it looked the right decision as Risdon’s challenge was clumsy, and his raised leg appeared to be aiming to trip the attacker, though Griezmann’s fall was somewhat dramatic.
The Atletico Madrid striker slotted home the penalty much to the despair of the Aussie fans who had travelled in their numbers, and the thousands on social media who voiced their displeasure. Bradford City midfielder, Ryan McGowan, failed to make the squad for Russia but had his say on the incident with a succinct ‘f*** VAR’ post on Twitter.
Lucky to be on level terms
If Australia considered themselves unlucky to be behind, they were extremely lucky to be on level terms just four minutes later. Samuel Umtiti’s bizarre handball gave Mile Jedinak the opportunity from the spot and he made no mistake. This was back to where Australia wanted to be, holding off the French with some determined defending and holding their shape.
They looked reasonably comfortable until Paul Pogba’s surge through the middle and toe-poked finish came back off the bar and crept over the line with just 10 minutes remaining. Given the respective strength of the two lineups, Australia were unlucky not to have held on for a point.
The Socceroos knew their limitations and head coach Bert van Marwijk played according to them. Trent Sainsbury and Mark Milligan were excellent in central defence, while Aaron Mooy played a key role in midfield, taking the ball out of defence and breaking up play when the French were in possession.
Little going forward
Further forward, however, there was little threat. Much of the creativity is expected to come from Tom Rogic but the Celtic midfielder drifted around in an advanced central position, rarely able to take possession and get into the attacking areas where he excels for his club.
Andrew Nabbout was isolated up front and made very little impact and, bizarrely, when time was running out and a goal was needed, van Marwijk brought on 19-year-old Daniel Arzani.
Arzani may well be one of Australia’s most exciting young talents, but this seemed to be the exact kind of moment for which Tim Cahill was selected. It was always assumed that the 38-year-old had been brought into the squad as an impact player who would enter the fray in Australia’s time of need. As it turns out, Cahill will have to wait a bit longer to see if he can join Cristiano Ronaldo, Pele, Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose as one of the select few players to have scored at four World Cups.
The Socceroos cannot hold back as they did against France when they face Denmark on Thursday, the Danes having defeated Peru. They have to see this as a must-win match as anything else would leave them on the brink of elimination.
A time to take risks
The Aussies struggled through the qualification group, reaching Russia only after playoff victories over Syria and Honduras. Head coach Ange Postecoglou then resigned rather than take the team to Russia after enduring much criticism for his insistence on adopting an attacking approach and his inflexibility when a different approach might have seemed wiser.
Van Marwijk is more pragmatic than Postecoglou as he demonstrated with the game plan to nullify France. The Dutchman must now take more risks in order to earn a victory against Denmark and leave it all to play for when the final game against Peru comes around on June 26th.