The Socceroos have finally ended their losing streak – which had extended to five games – with a 3-2 win over Saudi Arabia at Fulham’s Craven Cottage on Tuesday morning (AEST), but the manner of the victory was hardly convincing.
Though they seemed to be well in control of the game after early goals from Tim Cahill (who else?) and Mile Jedinak, Australia never managed to kill off the Saudis completely, despite enjoying the vast majority of possession.
The Green Falcons enjoyed a vibrant spell in the second period in which they brought the score back to 2-1, before Australian debutant Bailey Wright looked to have sealed the win with a tap-in goal. Saudi Arabia would score again, however, and the Socceroos were forced to survive a nervous final few minutes.
There were certainly some positive signs, though, and no matter what coach Ange Postecoglou says about performances mattering more than results at this stage, he must be content on some level that he wasn’t the man to lead Australia to an historic sixth straight loss.
Here are five things we learnt from the friendly international.
Massimo Luongo has a big future with the Socceroos
The star performer for the Socceroos was undoubtedly midfielder Luongo, who took over playmaking duties in his first ever start for the national team, and pulled off a mature, impressive display. While his teammates struggled to make the most of a high possession rate, the Swindon Town man always looked to have plenty of time on the ball, and he distributed with precision and a dash of creativity. The 21-year-old appears to be the heir to Mark Bresciano in the Australian team.
Joshua Brillante is down on confidence
Normally one of the most noteworthy features of Brillante’s game is his self-belief and swagger, but some of that was missing against Saudi Arabia. Though he was not poor by any means, the 21-year-old had a quiet game by his standards, with his performance marked by a few positional errors which allowed the opposition to slip by him. This subdued display may have something to do with the tough debut match Brillante played in Serie A last weekend for new club side Fiorentina, in which he was subbed off after just 35 minutes. It may take some time before the youngster has his confidence back.
Australia needs strikers who can score goals
Both Matthew Leckie and Tommy Oar have won plaudits for their vibrant attacking play under Postecoglou, but sooner or later one of them needs to start finding the back of the net or risk being dropped. Cahill cannot be relied on to score the vast majority of Australia’s goals forever. Having two goal-shy forwards is a luxury that the Socceroos cannot afford, even if they are giving opposition defenders trouble with their pace and dribbling abilities. At the end of the day, it is goals that win you football matches.
The Asian Cup won’t be a walk in the park
This match will serve as a warning against complacency at the Asian Cup in 2015. The Socceroos are already being touted as a real chance to win that tournament on home soil, but even against a team they were expected to dominate, many frailties were apparent. The way the Saudis came back into this one and got on top of the Aussies for periods in the second half shows that any lapse in concentration will be punished by Asian opposition. Though there are reasons to be optimistic about the national team at present, the players need to be careful not to get ahead of themselves.
The defence still needs tinkering with
Postecoglou hasn’t had it easy when trying to settle on a backline, due to numerous injuries to those contending for a starting role. At Craven Cottage, probable first-choice right-back Ivan Franjic was out, so Chris Herd came in and did a solid job. Jason Davidson appears to have the position of left-back locked in for now, and he was fit and able to continue on from his fine World Cup showings. In the centre, Bailey Wright, who has long been in the picture, finally earned a start alongside Alex Wilkinson, who had to be replaced by Trent Sainsbury early on after injuring himself in the warm-up. Understandably, such chopping and changing does not make for good understanding in the backline – and that lack of stability showed. The Socceroos have been shipping goals under Ange, and that will only change when he is able to settle on a regular back four who can learn to play together over time.
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