Australia’s best ever World Cup performance, a worthy winner in Argentina, a high quality and efficiently run tournament, and Lionel Messi still does not compare to Diego Maradona. That was the story of 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
For the unheralded Socceroos, with a team of mostly domestic players and no big names, the portend of bigger things to come began early with a shock goal by Craig Goodwin on 9 minutes against the previous world champions, France. It was a quality goal too, after Mathew Leckie, on the right flank, ran onto a long pass from defender Harry Souttar, turned his defender, and crossed it beautifully for Goodwin to score. While this jolted France into action and they eventually ran out 4-1 winners – notably due to Kylian Mbappe unable to be controlled – it never stopped the aspirations of this Australian team.
With coach Graham Arnold instilling an intense belief and a strong work ethic into the team, and fashioning a disciplined, well structured defensive unit, this was the springboard to winning their next two games, holding their opponents goalless for the first time since 1974, and qualifying for the knockout stage for only the second time ever. It was a glorious move that started from defence that saw Mitch Duke head home on 23 minutes to beat Tunisia 1-0, and then Leckie’s solo break on the hour against Denmark saw another 1-0 win and guaranteed passage to the next stage. This goal and victory proved critical, as Australia could easily have relied on a draw in expectation France would beat Tunisia in the other game. Of course, France rested many players, and lost 1-0.
This qualification to the knockout stage automatically made the 2022 team Australia’s most successful World Cup team ever, and they still weren’t done. Facing eventual champions, Argentina, they had them under control for the first half and even dominated large portions of play at times, with one passage consisting of about 40 passes and almost resulting in a juicy chance on goal. Unfortunately, their discipline finally broke, when Aziz Behich gave away a silly free kick in a dangerous area near the side line, and while the free kick was initially defended, Lionel Messi was able to prod it into the net after some nice interplay on the next phase of play.
That first Argentine goal was on 35 minutes, and then 12 minutes into the second half was a moment of madness when goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, upon receiving a back-pass, tried to dribble past an Argentine player, only to be dispossessed and gift Argentina their second goal. While Ryan was clearly at fault, questions must be asked why defenders play these short, dangerous back-passes to the goalie, only for it to be usually booted upfield, when they could do it better themselves, and avoid any risk in the process. Seemingly down and out, Australia scored on 77 minutes when a Goodwin shot was deflected into the net by Enzo Fernandez.
Amazingly, Australia had two golden opportunities to equalise, when Behich made a breathtaking run into the box, only for his shot to be blocked. He really should have layed off the ball to a player waiting in the box. In the dying seconds, Garang Kuol found himself on the end of the cross, beautifully trapped the ball and spun around, and had his shot narrowly saved. It would have been fitting for this team to push the game into extra time. They deserved it. It’s not just that the results were far beyond expectations, so was their performance. They were defensively tough, scored a goal in every game, and kept two teams scoreless. Goals also came from open play, not the penalty spot as were both goals in 2018. In fact, unlike then, Australia were never involved in a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) penalty decision. The only area in which Australia disappointed was set pieces, primarily from Aaron Mooy. So many were over-hit or simply wasted.
As for coach Graham Arnold, like his style or hate it, results count. Just prior to the World Cup, when Football Australia ran a competition for fans to name their Socceroos Team of the Century, I named Arnold as coach of my team. He earned it simply from the tough qualification process he had to endure, so a competent display at the World Cup would be enough to compare favourably to his predecessors. He did far more than that.
For all the controversy about such a nation with poor human rights records hosting the World Cup, the threatened protests and moralising by many countries, including Australia, just prior to the tournament, was appalling. Qatar’s issues were known well in advance, and should have been expressed vociferously before they were announced as host. It’s certainly rich to wait all these years, on the precipice of the tournament starting, to pompously get all virtuous. It was similar with the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Tibet suddenly became an issue during the torch relay. The reality is, if such rights are so important to an individual or a team, don’t attend at all. Credit to FIFA for stamping out any chance of on-field protests by sanctimonious teams and players.
The final between Argentina and France, to finish 3-3, and then go to penalties, was as good and dramatic as you could hope, with France having two of the best chances late to steal it. Overall, Argentina were the better team, and best of the tournament, and finally got their third World Cup. No, this win does not immediately elevate Lionel Messi to legend status alongside Diego Maradona. Maradona won the World Cup almost single-handedly for Argentina in 1986, whereas Messi was merely an excellent, occasionally exceptional, player. He only really had one moment of magic for the tournament, and that was setting up the third goal in the semi final against Croatia. He’s at the second level of best ever players. Pele and Maradona sit at the top.
Qatar 2022 was a thoroughly entertaining and engaging tournament. Having four matches a day to reduce the closure period for domestic leagues, certainly added a nice, breezy flow to it. The groups developed evenly, and at pace, and we were onto the knockout phase before we knew it. In contrast, with the traditional three matches a day of previous tournaments, the group stage can seem never ending. Games themselves were good, with very few dull draws, and there were some crazy upsets, notably Saudi Arabia beating Argentina in their first group game. The refereeing was brilliant. Absolutely no concerns, and they have honed the use of VAR. Clear rules over handball certainly help, as is adding accurately all the stoppage time to prevent time wasting. Although, when it’s 8 and 10 minutes of additional time, FIFA might want to considering reducing halves from 45 minutes to 40.
It was a great tournament for Asia too. Along with Australia advancing to the knockout stage, so did Japan and Korea. The hosts, Qatar, were a disappointment when losing all three games, especially after all the investment and being Asian Cup champions. Japan were players in two of the most memorable games. Firstly, beating Germany 2-1 in their first group game, and then Spain 2-1 in their final group game. Unfortunately they fell apart during the penalty shootout in the first knockout game against Croatia, after the match finished 1-1 after extra time. Arguably the most memorable game was Korea stunning Portugal, 2-1, in their final group game. They scored the winner in the 91st minute, then waited for the result of Ghana vs Uruguay to determine if they would progress. Everyone huddled on the pitch looking at phones for several minutes was a sight to see, and then came the jubilation. Of course, let’s not forget about Morocco becoming the first team from Africa to reach the semi finals of a World Cup. A great achievement, eventually losing to France, 2-0.
In comparison to other World Cups, Qatar 2022 is on the second level. Russia 2018 remains my favourite, with USA 1994 and Brazil 2014 at the next level, and mostly let down by some weak games in the knockout stages, including the finals themselves. Germany 2006 was great simply due to Australia’s return after 32 years and then performing well. Qatar delivered a great final and semi finals, had Australia’s best every result, while being patchy elsewhere. The images broadcast were superb, especially the wire camera that could put you on the field, and the supporting graphics like for offside. Holding the tournament in winter, despite all the whinging at the time, was clearly no issue. The default commentary feed from the host was excellent, which made SBS’s continued use of the dreary Martin Tyler for certain games, like the final, extra puzzling. He waffles on inanely and is a living barometer of the state of the game. If it’s dull, he reflects it, draining all energy from the broadcast. He only pipes up when there’s a hint of action, which was at least beneficial for the times I would drift asleep.
When Qatar bid for the World Cup, their motto was “Expect Amazing”. While it didn’t quite reach such heights, we did at least get “Excellent”. They can be proud, and now we look forward to 2026, with the USA jointly hosting the World Cup with Canada and Mexico, and it will be the first World Cup to feature 48 teams. Finally, I might actually get to one.
That was Qatar 2022 – The 22nd World Championship of Football
Football Federation Australia is the process of announcing the Socceroos Team of the Century as part of that 100 Years Of The Socceroos celebrations. It’s judge by the fans and voting closes 7th September. Here’s the link. Remember to set your formation first. I chose a 5-2-1-2, which is a sweeper system, as I already knew most of the players I’d select were best suited to this system. In reality, it could be 5-3-2 or even 3-5-2. Three at the back gives your sweeper the liberty to go forward, while your wide players would add defensive cover. My team is a mix of players from an era that I first really engaged with the Socceroos (the early 1990s), and those that formed the golden generation that culminated in World Cup qualification in 2006 – the first such qualification since 1974.
They pick themselves. Harry Kewell is arguably the greatest talent Australia has ever produced, while Mark Viduka is a dominant striker that can play various roles. While I believe he’s best with two up front, he can play as a solo striker, allowing the likes of Kewell to play deeper in a revised formation or simply to mix up the game if needed.
Tim Cahill is simply a maestro of scoring goals when needed, and seemed even more lethal when playing deeper, rather than main striker as during the latter stages of his international career. If required, he and Kewell could switch roles. Ned Zelic was sadly lost to the Australian team when Frank Farina was coach, seeming to be a surplus requirement in his 4-4-2 formation. Despite that, it’s impossible to argue that Zelic was one of our most gifted players ever, and really made a name for himself when Australia qualified for the 2002 Olympics, beating Netherlands in the final playoff, with Zelic scoring all 3 goals, including the famous decider from near the goal-line in Utrect. Zelic was also proficient enough to play in midfield or as a sweeper, and played at the highest level of club football in Europe. Paul Okon became Farina’s main choice in midfield, led the team well for the 2002 World Cup qualification campaign, played in Italy’s Serie A, and in this 5-3-2 formation, there’s no reason both he and Zelic can’t be included. Zelic is this team’s captain.
Whether this formation is 5-3-2 or 3-5-2, there’s zero competition for the wide defenders. Brett Emerton on the right; Stan Lazaridis on the left. Both had speed, with Emerton able to nip in for goals and Lazaridis a superb crosser. Lucas Neill is clearly Australia’s best ever defender, so gets a spot as stopper. On the other side is Mehmet Durakovic, who was incredibly solid during his career of 64 caps, could score goals, and was famous for scoring the equalising goal against Canada in a playoff for the 1994 World Cup. When you’re talking sweeper, there was no better than Milan Ivanovic. Not just his reading of the game; it was also his ability to provide scything attacking passes out of defence. He was a freak at times. It’s sad he’ll be remember for losing possession to Diego Maradona in Sydney in the first leg of the playoff against Argentina for the final spot for that 1994 World Cup. He was exposed a little, and, of course, Maradona popped a sublime cross on the head of Abel Balbo. Australia soon equalised to go to Argentina at 1-1, before losing 1-0 there in a tight match.
As much as Mark Schwarzer, over his record career of 109 caps, had very safe hands, coming off the line was one of his weaknesses. This was noted most famously against Japan at the 2006 World Cup, and which ultimately saw him dropped for the game against Croatia. While Mark Bosnich was the most talented goalkeeper Australia has produced and played at the highest club level, he played only 17 times for Australia and, let’s just say it, it was a rubbish goal-kick that Iran rebounded to sink Australia’s hopes for the 1998 World Cup. So Robbie Zabica gets the nod. A stalwart during the first half of the 1990s, and was stoic in that second leg against Argentina for a spot at the 1994 World Cup. He was reliable and, most of all, had an affinity with the defenders in this team.
Essentially the next best options that missed the final eleven and potentially could fill more than one role. Frank Farina was Australia’s leading striker in the 1980s and early 1990s, Craig Moore a quality and enduring defender, Paul Wade was solid in midfield and a could pop up for goals, and Marco Bresciano was dynamic in midfield. Aurelio Vidmar could play up front or in midfield. Those to just miss the squad are Charlie Yankos and Robbie Slater.
Likely a controversial selection for many, Graham Arnold simply emerges as the best option when you analyse the careers of all Australia’s previous coaches and considering the players he would manage. As colourful and patriotic that Frank Arok was, he never got Australia to a World Cup, and is most particularly remembered for the loss to Israel in a playoff before even the final playoff (against Colombia) for the 1990 World Cup.
The Eddie Thomson era was an interesting one, given he was first to load the team with high profile players based overseas, and to much publicity too. Farina, Zelic, Slater, Arnold, Vidmar, Bosnich – they were all there, while Thomson wisely stuck to a core group of domestic players in defence, who already had formed themselves into a solid, cohesive unit.
The blistering exhibition Thomson promised from the team materialised when routing New Zealand, and after a tight 2-1 loss in Canada (Australia led despite goalkeeper, Robbie Zabica, sent off), Thomson promised Australia wouldn’t get beaten at home by a team like this Canadian one and couldn’t wait to get them in Sydney. In a game Australia could have won 10-0, a goalkeeping error by Mark Schwarzer (replaced the suspended Zabica) saw Canada lead 3-2 on aggregate before Australia scored late and Schwarzer famously redeemed himself in the penalty shootout.
Next was Argentina, in the final playoff, where Thomson disappointed many in the home leg by starting with only one striker (Graham Arnold) up front instead of the double striker of the previous games. While Australia played well to draw 1-1 after going behind, they would need to score in Argentina to have any hope. They couldn’t, with an unlucky deflected cross lobbing into the goal to give Argentina a 1-0 win. This lack of faith in the players at critical moments is something that would taint the record of several future coaches.
Australia famously fell short for 1998, losing to Iran in a playoff after leading 3-1 on aggregate in Melbourne, with arguably Terry Venables opting to play nuggets in defence, including the under-prepared Steve Horvat, instead of the reliable Milan Ivanovic to partner Alex Tobin, being the critical failure. Despite Australia dominating throughout, Iran scored two goals in the last 15 minutes to level the series 3-3 and win on away goals.
As much as Guus Hiddink was lauded for imprinting upon the team a new belief and style, he made blunders at the 2006 World Cup, notably starting Zelko Kalac against Croatia and conceding an early penality, and leaving substitutions too late against Italy, thinking a better strategy was to overrun them in extra time (Italy had a man sent off early in the second half). He also got lucky in the tie against Uruguay, which could have been over in minutes had Alvaro Recoba not missed early in Sydney. Uruguay had plenty of other chances too, meaning Australia would need to score 3 goals to win the playoff, instead of the 1-0 that pushed it to penalties.
If you look at match results against high calibre oppoents, Frank Farina arguably reigned over Australia’s most successful period. Australia finished third in the 2001 Confederations Cup when beating world champions France in the group phase and Brazil in the playoff for third. They lost to Japan 1-0 in the semi final, which is indicative of a frustrating pattern with Australia’s international sports teams and athletes of doing well as underdogs and choking as favourites.
Facing Uruguay in a playoff for the 2002 World Cup, the high hopes after a tough 1-0 win in Melbourne were unravelled within 15 minutes in Montevideo when Uruguay scored and levelled the tie on aggregate. Farina foolishly believed the team needed a goal in Uruguay when clearly protecting their lead was more important. While his theory was sound that an Australian goal under the away-goals rule would transform the tie and make it very difficult for Uruguay, surely you start with a solid defence, because stopping goals is easier than scoring them.
Until the 90th minute when Uruguay scored their third goal, this mystical away-goal scenario was actually still alive. Uruguay going up 2-0 in the 70th minute still meant an Australian goal would see them qualify on away-goals. Alas, Australia couldn’t score. Instead, they were reckless, got caught out early, and lost 3-0, with Farina adamant in belief that Australia always needed a goal. He probably still believes that. After famously beating England in England in 2003, results soon began to sour for Farina, which included 3 spectacular losses at the 2005 Confederations Cup (spectacular in that Australia still scored plenty of goals against Germany and Argentina!) and that’s when Guus Hiddink was brought in for the final qualifying stage for 2006. He noted Australia’s style at the Confederations Cup as something like 4 across the back, 4 across the middle, and 2 cowboys up front.
Pim Verbeek managed Australia through the World Cup campaign for 2010 in South Africa, and for the tournament itself. After so long in Oceania and subjected to cruel, random playoffs, 2010 was the first time Australia qualified through Asia, notably through a group phase, where one or two bad results would not crucify you. With the bulk of the stellar 2006 team still in the squad, it was an easy passage. Verbeek would be judged in South Africa. “Pimbecile” headlines were already fermenting when Australia started against Germany with no strikers, and they were quickly confirmed with Australia all at sea and losing 4-0. The Verbeek era was essentially over. He simply had no faith in Australian players, especially from the domestic league, and the only time he got adventurous was when the team took charge against Serbia and looked like they could qualify for the knockout phase. The 2-1 win wasn’t enough, and Australia missed out on goal difference, even with the same results in 2006 of a win, loss and draw (1-1 to Ghana). Had they held Germany to 1-0, they would have qualified.
Ange Postecoglou had almost complete impunity to do as he pleased at Brazil 2016 after Holger Osieck was sacked just prior to the tournament. Two 6-0 losses in preparation games (to Brazil and France) compounded a reality of a tired and aging squad. Osieck, like Verbeek, had almost zero faith in domestic players, hoping the aging list could last until Brazil. While the youthful team that Postecoglou managed did play well (particularly against Netherlands), they left Brazil with three losses and were clearly exposed as substandard.
Postecoglou would win the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil before almost failing to get the team to the 2018 World Cup. Before Australia comfortably handled Honduras in the final playoff, Syria just missed scoring in the dying seconds of the third placed Asian playoff, which would have seen them play Honduras. Postecoglou then notoriously quit on the eve of the 2018 World Cup, meaning he left with his job and legacy as mission incomplete. He whinged about lack of support from Football Australia; in truth, he’s been a coach to quit on a high or when tough scrutiny begins to emerge, unable to cope with even mild criticism. Bert van Marwijk took over duties in Russia and summed up the two losses and a draw as “I’m not a magician”.
Then there’s Rale Rasic, who took Australia to their first World Cup, in 1974. It was a different era, so it’s difficult to compare. Australia certainly had a tough run to qualify, needing to win a group that involved New Zealand, Indonesia and Iraq, then beat Iran over two legs, then beat South Korea over two legs. That final series ended in two draws, so a third match in neutral Hong Kong was arranged in which Australia won, 1-0. In Germany, Australia lost to both East and West Germany, before drawing with Chile. They didn’t score a goal.
When speaking of toughness, arguably Graham Arnold has had the toughest job since Rale Rasic to get Australia to a World Cup. While qualifying top two in one of two final Asian qualifying groups sounds easy in simple terms, in reality the current generation of players are one of the weakest bunch Australia has had, and then add COVID-19 forcing home matches played away and creating other problems, and there were two sudden death playoffs to navigate, including a tough opponent in Peru in the final one, Arnold and Australia had so much against them. Qualifying for Qatar 2022 was a true triumph, easily comparing, if not surpassing, 1974 in difficulty. Another factor in his favour is that Arnold is from an era where he’d understand the mentality, and have faith in, many of the players selected in this team. Specifically the likes of Ivanovic, Durakovic, Lazaridis and Zabica in the final eleven, Farina, Vidmar and Wade on the bench, and even with Viduka and Emerton, who both emerged through the domestic soccer league before playing overseas. While Arnold’s yet to be tested at a World Cup, a competent display will be enough to compare equal to his predecessors and even be seen as a triumph.
25 September 2022
Football Australia announced the official Socceroos Team of the Century. More a squad of the century, as it includes 23 players and no specific positions defined. The forwards are the most obvious picks and align with my choices. Midfield and defence differ (six omissions), as does the coach (an assistant). Sixteen of the positions were chosen by fans, while a panel of historians chose the rest (in bold).
Players: John ALOISI, Mark BRESCIANO, Tim CAHILL, Scott CHIPPERFIELD, Reg DATE, Brett EMERTON, Mile JEDINAK, Harry KEWELL, John KOSMINA, Joe MARSTON, Judy MASTERS, Jimmy MCNABB (GK), Craig MOORE, Aaron MOOY, Lucas NEILL, Alf QUILL, Mathew RYAN (GK), Mark SCHWARZER (GK), Alex TOBIN, Tony VIDMAR, Mark VIDUKA, Johnny WARREN, Peter WILSON.
Head Coach: Guus HIDDINK
Assistant Coaches: Graham ARNOLD, Ange POSTECOGLOU, Rale RASIC
Playing in England in England was a match Australian football fans dreamed about for eons. Finally, for the first time ever, it occurred, just over 17 years ago – on the 12th of February 2003 at Upton Park in London. Tonight, at 1930 AET, the match will be premiered live online. Here is the preview and match report posted on the Socceroo Realm at the time.
An email exchange between a reader, Sean Gordon, and the Socceroo Realm about the proposed England/Australia game
If and when we do play the Poms, how do you think we’d go?
Depends on how seriously England take it. Hopefully it’s serious, unlike their last friendly against Portugal when seven substitutions were made at half time. Because it’s a friendly, it’s up to the two countries to dictate the terms of the match. Already Farina has said he wants it to be serious, meaning only 3 subs like you’d get with official games. I’d say they’ll compromise with 5 subs, but in the end, Australia and Farina will probably take the match however England dictates.
So, to answer, if it’s non-serious, it’s anybody’s. If serious, England are obvious favourites. I’d think England would do everything in their power not to lose to Australia, and Australia will find it very difficult to score. In that case, don’t be surprised at a 0-0 draw.
In my opinion, we can match it with anyone on our day, we’ve beaten France and Brazil and Uruguay in the past, so we can match it with England I’m sure. Also been reading that Okon will probably not play due to his lack of time at Leeds. I reckon we need to play a few young kids, like Bresciano and Neill and Grella, so come 2005 when we embark on qualifying, hopefully we will have more potent midfielders.
I’ve already said on the website that Okon’s time is up. Facts are, he disappointed against Uruguay, and other players in his position have surpassed him. It’s not realistic to pick him at this stage. Provided Farina sticks with his usual formation (it could time for a change back to a sweeper system), I’d try Grella in his spot against England, whilst also trying to incorporate Bresciano in midfield. Those two, along with Emerton, Skoko, Tiatto and Kewell, should form the basis of the midfield. I can’t see a way for Okon to come back.
Also read that Lazaridis may not play, at least in the starting 11, cos people want Kewell on the left. Kewell is brilliant on the left, but Lazaridis is also valuable. He’s great with corners.
Lazaridis is unfortunately getting on and beginning to taper and will have trouble getting a spot ahead of previously mentioned players, and Neill at wingback. He’s in a purple patch at present and yes, cornering is vital, but you need more from players than just that, and he just can’t be placed ahead of Kewell at wide-left.
With the Kewell/left-midfield debate that preceded the Uruguay games, people basically forgot the implication on Lazaridis. Farina played Kewell up front so Lazar could play. He wanted his best players on the pitch period, rather than the best players in the best positions scenario that could dilute the overall quality of player on the pitch. That’s a quandary he still has today. So to say Kewell must play left, also says that Lazar does not play. There’s no where to put him. It’s a tough decision. As they say, a champion team beats a team of champions. The team of champions failed against Uruguay.
If Kewell and Viduka don’t play in this one, I will be livid. The match is scheduled for a international break, so there is no excuses. I was furious when Kewell didn’t come down for the Olympics, and his general lack of game time for Oz has really annoyed me. He’s a great player, and from what I’ve seen a pretty decent bloke, but he’s got to play more. There have been times in the past where I have doubted Kewell’s true commitment and desire to play for Australia. What do you think?
Kewell was injured before the Olympics – he would have appeared otherwise. I get your point at his reluctance to play. I once felt he was being selfish and should play more for Australia, and now think that the travelling to Australia for insignificant matches (friendlies and qualifiers against island nations) is not only a burden, it’s not worth the risk at losing your spot at your club. In fact, few overseas player are now called up for home matches during the club season for, not only Australia, for most other non-European countries.
Kewell would be first to admit that at the start of his club career he did forsake the team to cement his club position. That’s fair enough because that’s his entire career. Other players have done the same, including Okon and Bosnich, who both famously “retired” from international football just prior to the Canadian games in the 1993 World Cup qualifiers. In Europe, there’s only been Hungary, Scotland and the Confederations Cup that Australia has played in during the past few years. Kewell played against Hungary, was injured for Scotland and too tired for the CC. Viduka was the same. In fact, quite a few players missed the CC, on the back of a tough club season, last year.
Viduka’s attitude has always been inspirational to me, I can tell he wants to play. But his form for Australia has been a worry to me, particularly in the Uruguay/ France matches. But its on England soil, against many players he actually scores against for Leeds, so i’m thinking things will change.
Viduka’s always had the luxury of being established at club level (he played in the lowly Croatian league originally, and then Scotland) so could come back. Plus, he’s a tougher character and prepared to stand up to his clubs for what is actually his right to play for his country. Kewell’s profile is now high enough that he can now do the same. A good sign is that after the Uruguay debacle, I think all the players now feel that they need to play more, and Kewell has been vocal in this respect. Because, with almost certain direct qualification to the World Cup via Oceania, Australia won’t need to play any matches until 2005, the players will commit to playing the qualifiers against even the minor island nations. Really, they have to, because Farina has stated he won’t pick players for the World Cup that have bypassed the qualifying rounds.
Club versus country is an increasing problem and I now have all sympathy for the players and the clubs. They pay their wages and invest in their future, so should not be so inconvenienced with players trapesing off around the world during the season. The root of the problem is due to Fifa’s crazy calendar of mid-week international matches upsetting the club season. As I discussed in the recent Big Problems, Simple Solutions editorial, the only solution is to segregate the club and internationals seasons so there can be no clash.
You’re right, Viduka is an inspiration. He’s probably my favourite player. Not only because of his skill, also his attitude both on and off the pitch. While there’s talk that Kewell could be the next captain, I’d like it to go to Dukes. He’s already captained the Young Socceroos and the Olyroos, and seemed to do it well. Most of all, the players respect him.
Yes, his form for Australia is statistically poor. He’s only scored twice in about 15 games (against Tunisia in a friendly just prior to the 1997 World Cup qualifiers and then against Mexico in the 1997 Confederations Cup). However, it must be remembered that most of his appearances have been against countries superior to Australia or the tougher World Cup qualifiers. At youth and Olympic level, he scored freely. He’s also been used as more of a holding striker than an out and out scorer in many appearances. Plus, he’s been a tad unlucky. Still don’t know how he missed that close range header off Okon’s throw-in against Uruguay in Montevideo that would have put Australia at 1-1 and in the box seat to qualify.
Well, that’s it. I’m happy, but I just don’t want to be pissed off in a couple of months time because SA announce they have had to scrap the match due to financial reasons. And I reckon we can beat England.
Don’t worry, the match against England will go ahead. Financial problems will certainly not bring it undone. It’s all been signed-up. It’s only 3 months away, so just look forward to it and hope England take it as seriously as Australia desires.
31 January 2003: Australia’s team to face England
Coach Frank Farina released a predictable squad for the glamour friendly against England next month. The only player missing from Australia’s last match will a full strength team, the ill-fated World Cup qualifying against Uruguay over a year ago, is defender Shaun Murphy. Some media supports mentioned he was blamed for conceding the first goal in Montevideo, and by inference, that was a possible reason for his omission. Truth is, while he could have been cynical and shoved Dario Silva over, the cause of the goal was tactical and he should never have been left one on one. More likely, he’s simply been squeezed out. Blackburn Rovers’ Lucas Neill has been in outstanding form this season and simply had to be picked in the 18 man squad. Striker Paul Agostino can count himself unlucky for similar reasons. Danny Tiatto, out through injury, is the only other notable frequent first choice to be missing.
In to the team comes outstanding Italian based midfielders Vince Grella, who’s the only uncapped player, and Marco Bresciano. At least one should get a run during the game, even if there seems no obvious room in the incumbent midfield of Okon, Skoko, Emerton and Lazaridis. While Harry Kewell has been picked as one of only three strikers, he’s more of a midfielder/forward, same with French-based Mile Sterjovski. Viduka and Aloisi are the only two out and out strikers selected so it seems likely that Kewell’ll play off-striker with Mark Viduka as the out and out.
Really, considering that this will be the team’s first match in almost 14 months, and there’ll be only two days’ preparation, Farina’s playing safe with the team. There’s no doubt that he’s out to win the match, which given the fact that World Cup qualifiers are at least 18 months away, is how it should be.
The more pertinent issue now is of how England will treat the match. The English FA has hit back at reports suggesting their coach Sven-Goran Eriksson will treat this game in accordance with recent history – making up to nine substitutions at half time, which is a farcical attitude to a game that Australia’s treating as serious. Given that Australia’s restricted itself to 18 players, that would suggest England would have to do the same meaning huge substitutions would therefore be impossible. That should be in accordance with the contracts signed governing the conditions of the friendly. Despite such contracts, Farina was still unsure of England’s intentions regarding the match at his press conference. If he had to guess, he felt that Eriksson would more likely go down the mass-substitution road rather than treat it as a serious match. That’s not good, and suggests England’s obligations, at least player number-wise and substitution limits, might be unrestricted. For the integrity of the match, hopefully that’s not the case.
Goalkeepers: Mark Schwarzer, Zeljko Kalac. Defenders: Stan Lazaridis, Craig Moore, Kevin Muscat, Lucas Neill, Tony Popovic, Tony Vidmar. Midfielders: Marco Bresciano, Scott Chipperfield, Brett Emerton, Vince Grella, Paul Okon, Josip Skoko, Mile Sterjovski. Strikers: John Aloisi, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka.
11 February 2003: England Friendly to become an Angry.
It’s amazing what some clout can do. A few years ago, Harry Kewell may have relented and heeded his club’s wishes to not join the Australian team after missing two club games, including last weekend, through a hamstring strain. Despite it being club policy of Leeds that any player that misses a club match on the weekend prior must miss any mid-week international game, Kewell simply hopped in his car and drove to London. As he correctly stated at the press conference, he has no choice, under FIFA regulations, anyway. Whilst the hamstring strain is a concern, latest reports suggest he will be ok for the game.
Kewell’s attitude has been indicative of that of all of the Australians – fired up and ready to go. That’s in contrast to England’s approach, whereby its coach, Sven Goran-Eriksson, has suggested he might make 11 substitutions at half time. That seems farcical for a supposed serious international match, and he’s done it before, most recently against Portugal. For this game, Eriksson has picked a squad of 27 players, compared to Australia’s 18, so it seems huge changes are on the cards, and rendering the match as nothing more than a training session for England as it prepares for Euro 2004 qualifying matches.
That’s disappointing, though, understandable given the heavy workload of players during the club season. In order to appease the Premier League clubs that have applied enormous pressure on him not to even bother selecting them, Eriksson’s compromised by selecting a large squad to spread the workload. Such pressure from clubs is becoming just as significant a problem as travel has traditionally been for countries like Australia. While Australia’s looking to set up a home base in London to circumvent the travel problems, that won’t ease the problem of clubs not wanting to release their players for international matches in the midst of a hectic schedule.
Now this has all been said before in these pages, notably in the “Big Problems, Simple Solutions” editorial, the only solution is to create a designated international season by compressing the club season. Do this by removing the crazy designated mid-week and weekend international dates and simply play club games at these times instead. All tournaments, qualifiers and friendlies would be played during this international season. There’d be no club versus country problems because the club season would be over. It would also provide continuity to both club and international games. I personally hate the way international matches are buried during the club season, almost rendering them as nuisances to the club games. I also hate that the club season is disrupted with frivolous international matches. Other sports, like the rugby codes in this country, have designated seasons for club, state of origin and international matches, and it really is time football did the common sense thing and followed suit.
Anyway, whatever the circumstances of this match, England versus Australia will be big, especially this being the first instance ever of the teams meeting in England. Australia, for their part, will disregard the “friendly” status of the match, and approach it with full force. England, for their part, seem likely to at least start the match at full strength, and duly reciprocate. Australia really have nothing to lose regardless anyway. They’re at long odds (around 8/1) with both Australian and English betting agencies, and most English people would think their youth team would whip Australia’s butt. So it’s a time for respect, and maybe even time to go for a double win. If Eriksson does replace his team at half time, look at it like this: why beat one team, when you can beat two?
13 February 2003: The Ultimate Humiliation?
With chants of “just like the cricket” and “we want four” emanating from the Australian fans at Upton Park this morning, England’s nightmare of a horror loss in the sport they felt Australia could never beat them at, soon became reality. A more hungry and dedicated Australian team rightfully punished England for their haphazard approach to this controversial international friendly. As intimated before the match, England’s coach, Sven Goran-Eriksson did change his entire team at half to a predominantly under-26 B team, but by that stage, Australia had already established a lead of 2-0 over Eriksson’s “A” team. For Australia, they had the hindrance of absolute inactivity for almost 15 months and only one proper day of preparation to combat anyway. Regardless of circumstances of the match, England 1 – Australia 3, is a staggering result which ever way you look at it.
Australia started with four positional changes from the Uruguay series. Murphy was replaced by Popovic, Neill came in for Muscat, Lazaridis moved to left-back whilst Chipperfield played left-midfield. A very attacking line-up, which, with Lazaridis not noted for his defensive skills, would be a sound test for Australia’s overall defensive stability. While Australia were occasionally caught out with Lazaridis’ raids up-field, thankfully, England never made the most of their breaks. The most pleasing aspect of the game was that two goals came from quick mid-field breaks. That’s the hallmark of all crack international teams, and is something Australia’s traditionally been unable to manage. What a time to start perfecting it.
Harry Kewell and his much-talked about hamstring injury, did start the game. He had his usual free role up front, and spent it mostly on the right flank, seemingly to terrorise his former Leeds teammate, Rio Ferdinand. Farina’s tactics worked, as Kewell was clearly the most dangerous player on the pitch, and created many chances with his speed and skill. On the right, cutting inside gave Kewell an extra dimension by opening up his dangerous left-footed shots. You don’t get that on the left, meaning he’s more likely to stick to the line and is easier to cover. In support, Lazaridis’s and Chipperfield’s speed proved lethal. Laza just kept on running all match. At the other end, the defence held up superbly and were impenetrable through the air, with Popovic particularly excelling. Schwarzer never had to make a save. For England, Beckham proved dangerous at times with several lobs and free kicks landing dangerously in the penalty box, whilst Scholes’ passing was a constant menace. Their defence never looked settled, with Neville often out-paced by Lazaridis and Campbell out of synch with his opponents’ runs. Ferdinand simply failed to control Kewell, completing a defensive shambles. Owen’s badly out of form, while new-boy Beattie received no worthwile service.
However, England settled quicker, as a clearly nervous Australian team under-hit many passes. Beckham soon lobbed in one of his dangerous free kicks, while at the other end, Kewell created a huge chance when he skipped past England’s defence and crossed dangerously towards Chipperfield. England’s Neville just managed to keep ahead of Chippers and head the ball away.
The first shot on either goal came from an Australian error, when Emerton lost control near the by-line and conceded a corner. Sol Campbell’s header, however, was blocked by Neill in a crowded box. Immediately after that, Kewell broke forward, cut inside on his left boot, and launched a 30-metre shot that was well saved by James.
If Australia weren’t settled yet, the 16th minute goal would do that. After Emerton was fouled, Lazaridis sent in an in-swinging free kick from the right flank, reminiscent of the winning kick against Brazil at the 2001 Confederations Cup, and Popovic rose above Neville at the back post to head the goal in. A simple, well-executed goal, and one that England’s lack of respect for Australia helped conjure. A bit of homework should have seen a taller defender marking Popa. Anyway, England’s response was frantic. With just half an hour left for their “best” team to gain a half-time win, they wasted no time playing the ball.
First response came with a break from Dyer, who’d received a lovely long cross-field pass by Beckham, which caught Australia’s full-backs out after an attack. The ensuing low cross was finally poked into the net by Scholes after a minor goal-mouth scrimmage, and was rightfully disallowed for a clear shove by Beattie on Popovic when he attempted to originally clear it, and not for offside, as many commentators have suggested. Schwarzer then made a mistake in trying to get pass Owen after receiving a back-pass. Owen stole the ball off him, and saved the goalie’s blushes by sending his shot into the side netting from the very acute angle.
Owen had two other great chances, but his poor form for Liverpool transferred to his country. While Moore’s pressure on Owen may have affected his shot that went just wide from a headed knock-down, towards the end of the half, his total mishit after a nice run through a channel and receiving a lovely lob-pass from Scholes was simply dreadful.
In between those two instances, Australia still looked dangerous and managed to double their lead. After a Kewell-inspired move, Chipperfield dinked nicely over the English defence towards Viduka. He managed to get a good looped header on it, but the shot was just tipped over the bar by James. Then, in the best move of the match, Kewell, Viduka and Emerton and tore up the right wing with a series of one-touch passes, which resulted in Neville’s out-stretched leg deny Chipperfield from scoring off Emerton’s low cross. The resulting corner saw another great chance when Kewell gained a free header after leading to the near-post. Unfortunately for the green and gold, he failed to direct it accurately enough. Then on 42 minutes, Lampard was stripped of possession in midfield near the right side-line by Neill, whom played a beautiful and, more importantly, swift pass down the wing for Kewell to run onto. He won the race and barging contest with Ferdinand, whom then fell over, leaving Kewell clear on goal. Rounding the goalie, he stroked the ball into the open net. Eriksson looked decidedly sick – his face telling a thousand words – and the English fans booed like hell.
The commentators felt that England may have been hard done by with the goal. They felt Ferdinand may have been tripped, and deserved a free kick. In reality, it was a 50/50 go at the ball, and any clipping of his heel could almost have been self-induced. Replays showed nothing untoward. And there were no complaints about the goal from England’s players anyway.
At 2-0 up, whatever team Erikson put on the pitch in the second half, you just knew Australia would be in for a torrid time. He stuck with his pre-match “Young Lions” policy, and as you’d expect with a fresh team, they started the second half very lively. For Australia, Bresciano replaced for Skoko. The the team looked to contain the early onslaught. Kewell, with his Leeds coach Terry Venables watching on in the stands, was substituted after 10 minutes too – for Aloisi. But not before he had another great chance on goal – this time, a glancing header off a free kick that went narrowly wide. It was England’s youngster’s that then did the real damage, when they scored with a lovely break out of midfield, and firmly put the pressure back on Australia in the process. The much-hyped Rooney played a nice lob out wide to Jenas, whose whippy cross was greeted crisply by Jeffers. The crowd sensed an English revival, but Australia consolidated in defence, slowly took over possession, and leaving England chasing shadows for significant periods of the game.
Australia made more changes to restore some freshness to their team, with Vidmar and Grella, who was making his debut, coming on for Popovic and Chipperfield respectively. Bresciano moved out left to cover Chipperfield, whilst Grella moved into Bresciano’s position. This provided the team with some more spark – lost when Kewell was subbed – as their breaks became notably more dangerous. With England still attacking, though, another goal was required to quell Australian fans’ nerves. It came perfectly timed in the 82nd minute when Emerton played Aloisi through with a quick ball from midfield. Unable to shake off his marker, Aloisi played the ball back to Emerton, who was charging through a vacant middle chanel, to slot the ball between Robinson’s legs. Eriksson slumped yet again with that sick look on his face again.
While the resounding result sent shockwaves throughout the world (well, at least Australia and England), it really is a pity the match could not have been played out in accordance with a normal football match. It seems Fifa’s decision to incorporate their fairplay ethos into the very name of this form of international match, seems to have been taken way too literally. Had Australia not taken this match as seriously as it did, one cannot imagine just how farcical it could have become. And really, for England’s approach to the game, it would have been a grave injustice had they not lost.
As with most of these “big problems”, there are “simple solutions”. Fifa must put a cap on the number of substitutions for such matches and remove the word “friendly” altogether. Or simply don’t class them as “A” internationals. In fact, instead of Friendlies, call them A-Internationals. Five substitutions seems a good compromise (normally it’s three), but only allow three per transpiration of a half so there’s no time wasting. For other matches, like the likes of this morning’s match and nation versus club matches, call them B-Internationals. Whatever, there must be a better description than a Friendly.
Is this match the first real new dawn for football in this country? Considering the extra sponsorships already generated for the national body, plus new found respect for the team and for Oceania, it really does seem likely. The trick will be to convert this success into more matches. There’s been so much talk that Oceania’s World Cup spot will generate more of these matches, but it’s more likely that results like this will count more.
As for England, “this is the ultimate humiliation” was the sombre summation from England’s Sky Sports reporter after the match. No doubt the English newspapers will go even further and make that comment look like a St Valentines Day love greeting. While being the ultimate maybe stretching it, it is a significant impact on England’s sporting psyche, and especially the rivalry against Australia. And truthfully, whilst England’s cricket team is a mess, football’s the only sport to be serious about now. Hopefully this result will see the establishment of a legitimate sporting rivalry that will transcend that of even cricket’s Ashes.
It’s been a great start, however, and amazing that it only took one match for Australia to so easily dent England’s last bastion of supremacy over their former colony. I say dent in that while Australia’s win was outstanding and deserving of wide-spread praise, it was only a friendly after all. It really needs to be done in something more serious, something worthwhile – something like the World Cup – before that bastion comes tumbling down. Until then, look for a possible match-up in the World Youth Cup in March. England’s qualified for that.
Australia 3 (Popovic 16′, Kewell 42′, Emerton 83′) – England 1 (Jeffers 67′)
Alan Stajcic sacked for no reason sees Australia predictably fail
13 July 2019
On the surface, a loss to Norway at the round of 16 stage via a penalty shootout after 1-1 draw doesn’t seem so bad. It could even be explained as simply being unlucky. In reality, the loss capped off a disastrous few months for the Matildas, as Australia’s women’s soccer team went from genuine World Cup contenders to an inept defensive unit and struggling to beat teams they ordinarily were dealing with quite easily.
The troubles started when Alan Stajcic was sacked as coach by Football Federation Australia in January for apparently overseeing a poor playing environment following a “Matildas Wellbeing Audit”. A quarter of a players in two confidential surveys – the type that are notoriously used to inflate personal grievances into systemic problems – said they felt under stress, while the FFA cited “workplace culture” and “player welfare” issues. Director Heather Reid was quoted in the media at the time saying “if people knew the actual facts about Mr Stajcic’s behaviour ‘they would be shocked’.”
This was all a lie as FFA wanted Stajcic out for reasons unclear. While CEO David Gallop maintains Stajcic was sacked to give Australia “the best chance to perform at the World Cup”, who did they hire as his replacement? No, not Jesus, who would be just about the only person who could be doing better with the Matildas at the time. They hired Ante Milicic! This was a coach getting his first serious senior gig! So you replace a proven performer, who had won the Tournament of Nations in 2017, beating USA, Japan and thrashing Brazil 6-1 along the way, and followed that in 2018 with wins over Brazil and Japan and a draw against the USA, with a newcomer.
It’s utterly bonkers the FFA can expect anyone to seriously believe them and, indeed, Heather Reid would later apologise and withdraw her statements “entirely and unconditionally”. She would say “I apologise unreservedly for the damage, distress and hurt that I have caused to Alen Stajcic” and “I apologise also for pain and suffering that I have caused to Mr Stajcic’s wife and two young children”, while the FFA confirmed “Stajcic’s contract was not terminated on the basis that he had breached his contract or had engaged in any misconduct”. Reid has been on indefinite leave from the FFA board due to health reasons since the crisis started, and that’s probably the reason she hasn’t been sacked yet. Gallop has announced he will leave in December – at least 12 months too late. He should have quit the moment the Matildas, and therefore he, failed.
Still we don’t know why Stajcic was really sacked. Either that survey, in this crazy “woke” era we live in, spooked the FFA into a ridiculous overreaction, or the FFA wanted him out for whatever reason and commissioned the survey hoping to get some dirt to use against Stajcic. Many high profile players were stunned at his sacking, and defended Stajcic publicly. Indeed, many didn’t even realise the survey would be used against Stajcic, and had they known, might not have been so cavalier in answering it. So if there is any legitimacy to player distress, it’s probably only a handful of younger snowflake peripheral players who think earning a spot in a national team should be easy.
No surprise it was a dreadful start for Australia in its opening game against Italy when Italy tore them apart, and were unlucky to only win 2-1. They constantly breached Australia’s high defending, while Australia lacked cohesion going forward, and wasted possession. This was a continuation of the pattern we’d already seen in preparation games against USA and Netherlands, in which Australia lost 5-2 and 3-0, with the latter result only one week before Australia’s opening World Cup match.
It must be noted that team pedigree for the women does not align with the men. Even though they were current European champions, this was Netherlands’ second ever World Cup, while Italy hadn’t qualified in 20 years. France is still developing, while Spain is a step behind. Germany is the only traditional European power to excel, when winning the World Cup in 2003 and 2007. Norway has been the traditional European power (won in 1995), with Sweden just below them, as these were the first European countries that empowered women to play. In recent years, the more traditional powers have started domestic leagues for women and are beginning to exert their force. South America is still way behind with only Brazil showing glimpses of ability to challenge the best teams. China led the way in Asian initially before Japan took over (won in 2011). Now Japan are off the boil. Of course, the best female team traditionally is the USA. Australia’s mostly hovered around the second tier of teams over the years, and only hit the top tier in recent years under Alan Stajcic. Of course, he was sacked before his true test, at this World Cup in France.
Australia’s second match was against Brazil, which they won 3-2 after falling behind 2-0 – again being caught high. A goal just before half time was able to provide confidence leading into the second half. Still, it must be tempered with the fact that Brazil had lost 9 games leading into this World Cup before beating lowly Jamaica in their opening Cup game, and only lost to Australia due to a dreadful own goal by Monica.
Jamaica would be Australia’s final game in the group, and again it proved a struggle, and they had to thank some poor Jamaican defending and a goal-keeping blunder in their 4-1 win. At 2-1, Jamaica actually looked ominous until Australia snuck a goal.
Against Norway in that round of 16 clash, Australia were caught high again when falling behind, before managing to equalise late through a fluky direct corner. Naturally the Australian media whinged about being dudded against Norway. A penalty was awarded to Australia for allegedly hand-ball in the box. Replays show the ball hit the Norwegian’s shoulder and it would have been a clear and obvious error had the penalty not been rescinded.
If Australia were dudded, it was sacking coach Alan Stajcic for no reason months before the World Cup started. The defense was diabolical ever ever since, conceding multiple goals in most matches, and were lucky to beat Brazil and survive the group. Let’s not fault the players either. This debacle was all administrative, as when you sack the coach for no reason just months before the World Cup starts, you can’t expect it to go without consequences. The Matildas were put in an unmanageable position to succeed.
So the World Cup that seemingly Australia was on the precipice of achieving their best ever result, if not winning, ended in a performance and result well below ability and expectation. Sacking Stajcic was never about giving the team the best possible chance to perform, it was an exercise in vanity and ego, and likely to distract from the FFA’s own flaws. Let’s note the men’s team is at their lowest ebb in decades and the youth teams often fail to qualify for World Cups and Olympics, and now we have the women’s team go backwards. In a way, the Matildas’ failure at France 2019 is justice for the treachery of the FFA. Such selfish and despicable actions should never be rewarded.
Overall, it was a great World Cup. USA won for the second time in a row and the fourth time overall, and showed their class throughout and handled Netherlands quite comfortably in the final for their 2-0 win. Most notable from the tournament is the Europeans have really developed and dominated, with the quarter finals featuring seven of them: Norway, England, France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. The standard has improved too, notably with the goal-keepers. In the early days of women’s football they were an embarrassment.
It’s a shame the American success wasn’t as unifying as it could be due to Megan Rapinoe’s unsavoury antics, notably kneeling during the anthem in 2016, the general criticism of her country, and the equal pay dispute between men and women. Curiously, that kneeling event was when Rapinoe started on the bench. She’d dare not do it on the field – restricted at the World Cup to simply not singing – and no doubt was told at the time she’d be booted off the team if there’s a repeat episode. After all, this is the USA national team. It represents the country and its people. If you don’t respect that, get out. If she was really passionate about diversity, she’d not be playing soccer anyway. One look at the American team and it looks more whiter than the Republican Party and that many come from privileged backgrounds. As for equal pay, she can start with all players in her own team and domestic competition earning the same. They do the same work, the same training, so why not? No doubt she’ll respond market forces and her value dictate her higher salary. Bingo. Same goes when trying to compare a Rapinoe to a Ronaldo, or the women’s World Cup to the men’s.
The Video Assistant Referee was highly visible in this World Cup, and while there was some minor controversy about decisions, this was more due to FIFA’s stricter guidelines on handballs and trips regarding penalties, than any wrong decisions made. Overall, it worked. Probably the area to rethink is offsides let go, and often only called once the player offside eventually touches the ball. This can causes players, notably defenders, run for the ball for no reason. Personally, the line referee needs to signal of a potential offside, especially an obvious one, so the players don’t waste their energy. If it’s not obvious, you let the game go and only check if a goal is scored, as is has become practice now. Ensuring goal-keepers don’t leave their line before a penalty kick is taken is another great use of VAR. It’s been an area of cheating for decades in the game, and it should have been long stamped out. Bravo to FIFA for actually doing good things for the game, and to the women for an excellent tournament.
It’s been seven weeks since the final of Russia 2018, where France beat Croatia 4-2, and with that came the confirmation that the world just witnessed the best World Cup ever. In my lifetime, it certainly was. The closest competition was USA 94, which unfortunately fell down with dull semi finals and a really dull 0-0 final. Brazil 2014 was on track to be a great one until the knockout stages mostly disappointed. The rest going back to Mexico 86 were all good, while Germany 2006 will always be memorable due to Australia’s return and three dramatic matches. So Russia 2018 is it.
France wins the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Image: fifa.com
It wasn’t so much that Russia 2018 was full of goals (at 2.64 per match), or even full of great goals. The dead rubber of France vs Denmark was the only 0-0 too. It was mostly that it was full of drama. That drama was epitomised with the final itself, where own-goals, video assistant referees, penalties, a smaller nation excelling, and touches of class, all made it a microcosm for the tournament itself. With many Russian cities quite easterly, it meant a reasonably friendly timezone, so more of a football feast for us in Australia.
The six goals in the final of Russia 2018 was the same total as all the goals in normal time of the last four World Cup finals, and one less than the seven goals of the 1958 final. Croatia, though benefitting from one of the softest draws imaginable and requiring penalty shootouts and England to choke to progress, were unlucky to be 2-1 behind to France at half time. France had only one shot on goal for the half compared to 7 for Croatia. Classy goals on 59 and 65 minutes effectively sealed it for France, before a crazy goalkeeping error on 69 minutes gifted Croatia one back. It proved insufficient as France comfortably held on to win.
France were the best team all tournament and deserved 4-2 winners. In contrast to Croatia’s opponents along the way of Denmark, Russia and England, France had to contend with Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium – with the latter two arguably the third and second best teams in the tournament. Both likely would have breezed to the final on Croatia’s side of the draw. In fact, Belgium’s most important match was their final group game against England. Had they surrendered the game with a draw or a loss, they’d have been on the weaker side. Instead they won 1-0 – and then beat England again in the third placed game, 2-0.
Russia 2018 will also be remembered for the dominance of the European teams, and the poor performance outside of Europe and South America. All semi-finalists were European, while only Mexico and Japan could make the knockout phase, with both only scraping in. Despite two wins in their first two games, the 3-0 loss to Sweden in their final game meant Mexico required Korea to beat Germany. That happened only in the dying minutes, reversing the heartbreak Mexico had at the final whistle when it seemed that match would be a draw.
Japan only progressed through “fair play” rules after being in a deadlock with Senegal on all other tiebreak methods. From there, at least they put on a good show and seemed on course for a shock win over Belgium in their last 16 match when scoring two early second half goals, only to be run over and lose 3-2, with Belgium’s third goal coming with the last play of the game. Mexico looked good when beating Germany in the opening group game before later matches revealed Germany were a team on the slide. Only just scraping past Sweden and then losing to Korea to be sent home early. In fact, that win by Korea made it quite a successful tournament in the group phase for Asians teams. Four of the 5 won a match, with only Australia missing out.
It’s a mixed bag. Struggling through the qualifying campaign, expectations were low for Australia’s chances in Russia, with a feeling they would be on the path to humiliation. That short-term coach Bert van Marjwilk was able to mould a competitive and resilient unit was of great credit to him. Unfortunately, defence, something that has plagued Australia since they returned to the World Cup in 2006, was again weakness, with Australia 0-0 against Chile in 1974 remaining their only clean sheet. Quite simply, you won’t win many games at a World Cup while consistently conceding goals.
At Russia 2018, with the lack of firepower upfront, goals conceded, notably France’s second goal and Denmark’s goal, proved fatal. Both should have been prevented, and if so, a loss and a draw becomes a draw and a win, and progress to the knockout phase. By the time of the final match against Peru, there was little to play for, and for a Peruvian team unlucky in their first two matches, they were too good for Australia. So bottom of the group with 1 draw and two goals by penalty, it’s not good reading, and not the progress expected after 3 losses in 2014. One positive is, that after Belgium, Australia probably gave the eventual world champions their greatest test.
World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C final standings
While debate turned to van Marwijk’s lack of use of Tim Cahill until the second half against Peru, the reality is the coach was left little time to prepare the team so stuck to a fixed plan. It was based on a settled team and improving them as a unit. With Cahill barely playing any minutes for the latter half of the season at Millwall, and already being phased out under Ange Postecoglou, it was always questionable to promote him ahead of players with solid time and form with their clubs. The second half against Denmark, when the game was there for the taking and Cahill remaining on the bench, that was probably the only questionable decision. While, in retrospect, Cahill should have got a run, too much focus there detracts from the overall good job done. As van Marwijk said, he’s not a magician. Australia’s issue all along was lack of quality players, especially gamebreakers and scorers in the final third.
Also questionable was former coach, Ange Postecoglou’s article on the Player’s Voice website, suggesting Australia still likes being an underdog, and his quest to change that attitude was actually a personal crusade, not a tidal wave of change he was about to ride. While that underdog sentiment still lingers (“brave” was a common word heard after the close loss to France), Postecoglou’s proposition to play aggressive, attacking football, to show the world Australia are not battlers, is very much another way to dodge accountability for poor results. As much as saying “we were underdogs” tries to justify a loss, so is saying “at least we had a go”. Neither are great mentalities, as the key measure of success at a World Cup is always results. If you look at a comparable team like Sweden, the question of whether you’d prefer their grafting style that sees consistently reach the quarter finals when they qualify or a “have a go” strategy that really only achieves praise from armchair neutrals, I know which way I’d go.
This World Cup was a counter-attacking World Cup, where the possession game was demolished, so to think Australia could bustle in and take on these crack international teams with such a strategy would have been a guaranteed mission of suicide. The “competitiveness and defensive stability” that van Marwijk brought was actually a positive because Australia lost it under Postecoglou. Being aggressive and attacking is all well and good as long as you don’t sacrifice other key aspects of the game. It’s quite galling for Postecoglou to be so critical of the playing style at this World Cup when he had abandoned the team with mission incomplete. For someone so full of the “have a go” mentality, he showed incredible weakness when crunch time came. Not just on the field either. Off the field and facing accountability, that was not something palatable for him. It seems as though Postecoglou felt he had carte blanche to do anything he pleased with the team, even if it jeopardised World Cup qualification itself. Apparently we were meant to look at the big picture. No, the big picture is the World Cup, and that’s where success and failure is defined.
It’s hard not feel some sort of sympathy for Ange Postecoglou’s ethos anyway, as much of the media and fans are obsessed with “performance” over results – a phenomena normally most appreciated only in the bedroom. Chief choir boy was again, Craig Foster on SBS, who typically within 5 seconds of being asked a question he’d begin prattling on about the same old stuff, while Lucy Zelic would look gushingly on. It became unlistenable that I would mute the telecast. Zelic had her faults too, notably her obsession with correct pronunciation of foreign names while doing nothing about her appalling English diction. It’s one of the worst Australian accents on TV. If she can sort that out, she’s a winner.
This was the first SBS football telecast since the death of Les Murray and it had a sense of watching kids on work experience kids. Really amateurish at times, with the two main hosts lacking direction. Guest panelists would lift it, as did the increased use of David Zdrilic. In retrospect, SBS might have been caught short as they were meant to only show one match per day after selling off most of the rights to Optus Sport. The debacle with their streaming service meant SBS would simulcast the games anyway. It’s a shame, because Optus had the far superior presentation, with the likes of John Aloisi and Mark Schwarzer providing great insight into the actual games, while their use of default English language commentators meant we were liberated from the tiresome Martin Tyler.
Video Assistant Referee (VAR)
This tournament was full of so many penalties, which be attributed to VAR. It was great in finding penalties that would often happen happen too fast, or not 100% certain, for the referee to see. It also created confusion about when it should be used, that whether it’s for overturning a “clear and obvious error”. First thing to realise, denying a rightful penalty would be a clear and obvious error. It’s not so much blatancy of a foul, it’s the impact, and obviously not awarding a penalty is a great impact on the match.
VAR guidelines on penalty decisions
The final itself had a great example (along with Antoine Greizmann in France vs Australia) when Ivan Perisic was adjudged to have fouled. Whether deliberate or not is now irrelevant, and that’s been the trend for many years now, way before VAR. Bottom line is Perisic moved his hand downward to the ball, and palmed it onto his leg to knock it out of play. Intentional or not, the use of the hand clearly blocked the corner from entering the goal area. The only issue is that the referee took so long to confirm it.
Suggestions by ESPN commentators that the referee initially decided no when checking the replay, and then returned to look again, possibly prompted by VAR, is likely nonsense. He could have already confirmed a penalty and decided to double check. Remember also that with VAR about, referees are now less inclined to make tight calls, so rather than VAR there to intervene on clear and obvious errors, it’s really to intervene on clear and obvious incidents, especially relating to penalty kick decisions, and also if the referee never saw the incident in the first place.
Also the rule about “deliberate” means subjectivity is always involved. While the referees have been moving towards zero tolerance over the years, VAR almost makes it zero tolerance. With that knowledge, then “deliberate” needs to be removed from the equation, and any handball in the box that affects the offensive team’s chance of scoring should be a penalty. Note, such incidents outside the box are nearly always a foul, so just because the repercussions might be harsher on the offending team, it shouldn’t mean the enforcement of the rule is less strict. In fact, when the stakes are higher, so should be the enforcement. Remember that players are so adept these days at making anything intentional look like an accident, and while Perisic may have known nothing about the penalty, there’s every possibility he did know about it, and in the natural action of dropping his arms after jump, he deliberately made sure to contact the ball.
Another curiosity of this World Cup was the plethora of own goals. A new interpretation seemed in effect whereby any deflection was classed as an own goal. Previously the shooter would get the goal as long as the shot looked like it was heading towards goal, so typically meant glancing deflections were always goals and huge ones less likely so. I’ve never liked that interpretation and always believed it should be about intent. Any deliberate shot towards should be a goal regardless of deflection because the shot caused the deflection, whereas an own goal is a deflection from a non-attempt on goal, like a cross. Obviously goals directly from the defending team are always own goals.
QF Brazil vs Belgium 1-2
A quality display by Belgium to snuff out Brazil’s chance for immediate World Cup redemption after the semi-final 7-1 debacle against Germany in 2014.
R16 Belgium vs Japan 3-2
A stunning second half where Japan scored a double early before Belgium over-ran them, scoring the third goal only the last play of the match via a classic counter attack.
R16 France vs Argentina 4-3 France showed their potential to put Argentina away. A flattering result for Argentina, while Lionel Messi leaves another World Cup with both he and his country unfulfilled.
R16 Uruguay vs Portugal 2-1 Uruguay provided a classy display to sweep past the pretentious Portugal and Ronaldo, especially notable for two superb goals by Edinson Cavani.
QF Russia vs Croatia 2-2 (3-4) The most dramatic match of the tournament with Croatia coming from 1-0 down to go 2-1 up in extra time, only for Russia to equalise late to sent it to penalties. A shame the Russians had to go, especially after knocking out Spain in the previous round.
With a winter World Cup confirmed, set for 21 November to 18 December, talk now is about the other big possible change: increasing teams to 48. In terms of games played, there’s only 16 more, so the real issue is whether a small country like Qatar can accommodate 48 teams plus all the supporters. Typically these sorts of suggestions that would be well embraced by national associations are implemented quickly, so it’s likely a 48 team World Cup will arrive 4 years earlier than planned. The smaller confederations benefit the most with Asia getting 8 places (currently 4.5), Africa 9 places (5), CONCACAF 6 places (3.5) and Oceania 1 place (0.5). Europe get 16 places (13) and South America 6 (4.5). There’ll be 16 groups of 3, with the top 2 progressing to the knockout stage, meaning 32 teams will play 3 matches like now. It sounds ideal, so get it done.
One foible will be that with 3 teams to a group there’s no simultaneous final match like presently. Personally, these simultaneously matches have always been an overreaction to a controversy in 1982 when Austria and Germany seemed to conspire in their final group match to ensure they both progressed instead of Algeria, who played the day before. Such a situation can be avoided by a floating schedule for the final round whereby, in the 1982 case, Austria and Germany would have played first. Facts are, these days the final round equations are obvious anyway (eg: this year France and Denmark knew a draw would be enough to progress ahead of Australia), while a small thing called the telephone and internet keep teams updated about the concurrent match anyway (note when Japan learnt Senegal went behind to Colombia they suddenly settled for their 0-1 score against Poland and simply kept possession for the last 10 minutes). Also, in a 3 group team, a conspiracy situation is less likely to arise.
That was Russia 2018 – The 21st World Championship of Football
This World Cup was always more about hope than expectation, and that hope was only ever a tentative one. A solid performance in the 2-1 loss to France provided a small spark of hope that Australia could beat Denmark in their next match and set a strong course for the next phase. That spark quickly extinguished when Denmark scored early, only for it to reignite when the Socceroos equalised not long after. Alas, no. Despite dominating much of the game, Australia were unable to get a winner, so were faced with the double jeopardy of beating Peru and hoping France beat Denmark.
Entering the final game against Peru in Sochi, it was almost a continuation of the Denmark game. Australia dominated early, failed to convert opportunities, and then went behind on 17 minutes. Four minutes into the second half, it was another goal for Peru, and any flickering hope we had now changed to putting us out of our misery and ending this campaign that always seemed forlorn. A late Peruvian shot hit the post to avoid a more embarrassing 3-0 loss. Not that an Australian win would have mattered, as France and Denmark only needed a draw to qualify first and second, and 0-0 was the not so unexpected final score.
Aaron Mooy sums up Australia’s disappointing World Cup campaign after their 2-0 loss to Peru in their final game at Russia 2018. Image: fifa.com/Getty
In fairness, Peru were the second best team of the group and should have progressed. They dominated much of the action against Denmark and France with 27 shots on goal, and shot a penalty over the bar against Denmark. They lost that game that they should have won, meaning their match against Australia was only for pride. In victory, they looked as despondent as Australia did. Not only were Peru more deserving to progress, and more lethal when required, they also out-played Australia strategically. In contrast to their two frenetic opening games, knowing Australia had to win, Peru let Australia do all the running, and picked them off the break.
Peru’s opening goal was simply a lob over the top that was passed across the box for a running Andre Carrillo to hit first time into goal. Calls of offside were dismissed as Trent Sainsbury got a foot to the ball to annul the possible offside. It was Peru’s first real chance of the game, whereas Australia and several opportunities, and continued to create them. The best being a low cross by Robbie Kruse that saw Mathew Leckie just fail to connect while under pressure by two defenders, Tom Rogic shooting meekly at the goal-keeper after skipping past four Peruvian players, and an Aziz Behich volleyed cross that failed to find an open Tim Cahill.
World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C final standings
A disappointing end to a totally disappointing campaign. Even the qualifying campaign was disappointing, with the team constantly conceding goals and having trouble to score goals. It came down to an intercontinental playoff against Honduras, in which, after 0-0 in Honduras, Australia won 3-1 in Sydney, thanks to a free kick and two penalties by Mile Jedinak. In Russia, it was all too familiar. Conceding goals, and the only two goals scored were penalties to Jedinak. While the lack of a killer edge up front was clearly obvious, facts are the perennially leaky defence could never be fixed. Ignoring the less relevant fact Australia hadn’t kept a clean sheet at a World Cup since the 0-0 against Chile in 1974, the more relevant fact is through the entire World Cup cycle for Russia 2018, defence has been a problem. The glaring reality is if Australia could have denied France one of their goals and Denmark their goal, they’d have made the next round.
In hindsight, there doesn’t seem much more Australia could have done. The most glaring situation was when Tim Cahill not brought on against Denmark when they were ripe for the picking. When Andrew Nabbout was injured, it’s fair to say most people were surprised that Tomi Juric came on instead. This was at a stage when Denmark, with France as their final game, were clearly happy with the 1-1 score, and were playing tentatively. Australia was in desperate need of a big moment and Tim Cahill is our big moment player. It wasn’t until Peru that he got a run – not long after Peru went 2-0 ahead – and it was all too late by then. To his credit, in that limited amount of time, he had a shot blocked after a corner, and would have had a goal at his fourth World Cup had Behich crossed better.
It would be unfair to criticise Bert van Marwijk too harshly as he arrived with only a limited amount of time with the squad, and would have judged his playing selections by his own measure. Cahill played barely any club football in 6 months so it’s not right to compare the Cahill we’ve known all these years, or even a year ago, with the Cahill of now. Remember, Ange Postecoglou had been phasing Cahill out of his starting teams long ago, and indeed, it was Postecoglou deserting Australia with mission incomplete that compromised the team’s preparation. Van Marwijk’s first match was a 4-1 loss in Norway in late March, and fears coming to Russia were a smashing by France. That the team produced three creditable and competitive performances, and put themselves in a positions to win, is a huge tick for van Marwijk, and easily offsets the non use of Cahill against Denmark, especially since we can never know if he’d have made a difference.
PLAYER RATINGS FOR THE TOURNAMENT
Matt Ryan 6
Not at fault for any of the goals, nor made any miraculous saves or penalty saves. So it’s a “good” rating for doing his basic job.
Trent Sainsbury 7
Did little wrong at the back, other than almost conceding a penalty against Denmark, and not being quite able to intercept the pass that led to Peru’s first goal.
Mark Milligan 7
Solid in an unnatural position as a stopper next to Sainsbury. Had some good attacking flair too. Good to see him rewarded with three match starts after only playing one match in the past 3 World Cup campaigns.
Josh Risdon 6
Showed some good pace and got into good positions; unfortunately never resulted in much.
Aziz Behich 4
Not good enough at this level.
Mile Jedinak 6
Reasonably solid in a defensive midfield position, and reliable with penalties. General forward passing was uninspiring, or went sideways.
Aaron Mooy 8
Best player of the campaign. Let down by very few decent corner kicks, and he plenty of them to try.
Tom Rogic 7
Always looks neat and skilful on the ball, and played the two passes versus Peru that set up Kruse’s and Behich’s crosses. Otherwise, his work often results in very little, and he can’t shoot either. The World Cup is not like playing Motherwell in Scotland. Was substituted in all 3 games.
Robbie Kruse 5
Another player that looks neat, or tries to look neat. He’s lost pace, and often when he gets into good positions his crosses are rubbish or are blocked. Was substituted in all 3 games.
Mathew Leckie 8
Really stepped up when the situation demanded it. Fast and always looked dangerous. Unfortunately never quite had the support to capitalise on his work, and missed a great shooting chance late in the game against Peru by taking an extra touch.
Daniel Arzani 7
Came on all all 3 games, always looked dangerous, and twice against Denmark nearly set up a goal. Unfortunately, no actual result for his effort so it keeps his score down.
Jackson Irvine 6
Serviceable as the second midfield substitute in all three games.
Tomi Juric 5
An old fashioned target man, he was neither a great target or could create much himself. A substitute for Nabbout in the first two games; started the third before being substituted for Cahill.
Andrew Nabbout 6
Looked dangerous at times, especially with his speed. Never quite got the service. Missed the final game through injury. Was substituted for Juric in the first two.
Tim Cahill 6
Only appearance was as a substitute against Peru. Did as much as he could with his 35 minutes. Would have had a goal if Behich’s cross on 71 minutes vs Peru was better.
As much as we can pick at coaches, preparation, tactics, selections and even bad luck, ultimately, the players of this generation are not good enough. During the qualifying campaign it was noted that none of this 2018 team would get a start in 2006. Perhaps the possible exception is either Mile Jedinak or Aaron Mooy for Jason Culina. Not even Tim Cahill was in the starting eleven then, and now, at 38 years old, he is still Australia’s most dependable goal scoring option. Comparing to the other teams at Russia 2018, the differences are clear. One less touch, a bit more urgent, a bit more ruthless, a bit more tricky, even a bit more cunning. We need to be resigned to the fact that World Cup success below the top echelon of nations is about generations. All teams go through it. The likes of the Netherlands can go from almost a World Cup winner in 2010 to a non-qualifier in 2018, while Italy missed out too. It’s not about grand visions, technical direction, permanent playing styles, changing landscapes and other hocus pocus ideas. It’s about youth development and growing the game domestically to ensure the best talent is attracted to the game and a pathway is provided for them to reach their full potential. Then the final polish is made with coaching, tactics, strategy and general support. The hope now is the wait for that next generation of great players is not too far away.
The 1-1 draw against Denmark in Samara on Thursday has left Australia in a precarious position. Fail to beat Peru on Tuesday night, Australia are out. If France fails to beat Denmark on Tuesday night, Australia are out. A 1-0 win over Peru will be sufficient as long as France’s win is also a low scoring match. If it’s 3-2 or higher, Australia must beat Peru by 2 goals.
World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C standings after 2 games
It’s disappointing that Australia is in this predicament after they were the better team against Denmark and blew too many good opportunities to score. The match started poorly for Australia when Denmark scored after just 7 minutes. The ball wasn’t properly cleared well after a Danish throw-in, and Denmark was able to pop the ball through an unsettled Australian defence for a relatively simple running volley by Christian Eriksen. The ashen look on coach Bert van Marwijk’s face said it all. It was a sickening opening to a match Australia entered with high hopes of winning.
Thankfully it was only 20 minutes later that Australia equalised, thanks to a penalty by Mile Jedinak. It came after the intervention of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) when the referee was notified to check the replay for a possible handball. The Australians had protested immediately when Matthew Leckie’s header towards goal was blocked and, indeed, replays showed Yussuf Poulsen had blocked the header and possibly prevented a goal. It even looked deliberate too, with Poulsen’s arm flailing in the air, so lucky to avoid a yellow card. It’s the second game in a row where Australia’s goal came from a penalty after a handball infringement and no yellow card was given.
Once into the second half, Australia began to exert its dominance as Denmark became tentative. A loss to Australia would mean Denmark would need to beat France in their final game and obviously wanted to avoid that. Sadly, Australia could not make the breakthrough, with substitute Daniel Arzani providing the best two opportunities: one a cross that slipped through the penalty box untouched, and later a shot himself from a tight angle after a burst down the wing. Another cross might have been beneficial there. Then there were other lost opportunities through the recurring problem of errant passing and poor decision making. For Denmark, a tangle between Trent Sainsbury and Andreas Cornelius could have been a possible VAR intervention for another penalty. Cornelius managed to stay on his feet, and pass to Pione Sisto for a shot just wide.
Van Marwijk fielded the same starting line-up again, and made similar substitutions, notably leaving Tim Cahill on the bench. When Australia really was needing a moment of magic, it seemed strange that Tomi Juric was used instead of Cahill. While the team has played well in both games, clearly up front isn’t potent enough. Tom Rogic can’t shoot while Robbie Kruse is too slow. Leckie has been dangerous out wide only to be let down by a lack of support for his creativity. That’s where a Cahill just pops up to nod one in. Even his presence alone benefits the team, as he’ll draw defenders and inspire more confidence. The only issue against Peru should be whether Cahill, with barely any club time in the last few months, starts the game or comes on in the second half. The chorus among fans and many commentators is at least make sure he gets a run. Instead of Kruse, it’s worthwhile to give Arzani a go from the start too. He’s trickier, and faster.
As noted, the VAR was active again, and successful again. Of course, in the bizarro world of SBS’s World Cup coverage, VAR was another misuse and wrong use. Despite Poulsen clearly blocking a goal-bound header with his arm, for Craig Foster, it wasn’t a penalty, with his primary reasoning is if it was Australia infringed, would we be happy? Yes! Just like with the Griezmann penalty against France. Rational Australians want the rules applied fairly and consistently, not on potential feelings of indignation. Then in the Brazil vs Costa Rica match, Neymar reacted to a touch, threw himself to the ground, and somehow Foster deems Neymar was impeded so it’s a penalty. Meanwhile, Griezmann was clearly impeded and he says no penalty? VAR doesn’t decide or overturn anything either. It advises the referee to check the replay, then he decides. The only issue with VAR is that perhaps it doesn’t intervene enough. No doubt it will be reviewed after the tournament, and possibly one idea is the referee asks for a review, rather than rely on VAR itself to intervene.
– Australia plays Peru on Tuesday night 26 June at midnight (00:00 27 June). France vs Denmark is at the same time.
Australia got the job done against France in their opening game at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Despite the 2-1 loss, the broader aim is qualifying for the knockout phase from the group, and with that, against by far the group’s strongest team, the primary aim was of damage minimisation. While a draw would obviously be better, or even to snag a win, the most realistic and critical outcome was goal difference. The 4-0 hammering to Germany in 2010 cost the Socceroos a spot in the next round, while the experimental 2014 team lost 3-1 to Chile – effectively ending their campaign when Netherlands and Spain were still to follow.
Mile Jedinak scores a penalty for Australia against France. Image: fifa.com
After a nervy start, Australia handled both themselves and France well. While France always looked the more dangerous side, eventually they ran out of ideas and Australia began to create the occasional opportunity themselves. Nil-nil at half time was perfect, and it was hoped the pattern could remain. Then, after 10 minutes into the second half, the chaos started. A penalty on Antoine Griezmann when tripped by Josh Risdon was followed within minutes by one for Australia when Samuel Umtiti inexplicably, and deliberately, handle the ball. Mile Jedinak converted while Umtiti inexplicably avoided a yellow card.
As the game progressed, Australia began to tire and became sloppy, losing the ball too often in midfield either by dallying too much on the ball or through errant passing. Eventually France would capitalise, and it happened in the last 10 minutes when Paul Pogba ran onto a loose pass and shot on goal. It deflected off Aziz Behich’s leg, over goal-keeper Mat Ryan, off the crossbar and over the line. Curiously it was awarded as an own goal by Behich. So disappointing to concede so late after all of that hard work was done.
All the post-match focus since has been about that penalty to France. It was the first time the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) had been used to determine a penalty situation at a World Cup, and it’s driven controversy online and in the media since. Much of this is through ignorance or a downright denial of reality. For those in Australia it’s been led by SBS’s Craig Foster. While initially he agreed with the decision (as the commentators did), he reversed his view and now claims no penalty. Claims that only “clear and obvious” errors are meant to be “overturned” is also misleading.
First, the use of VAR. For penalty decisions, the FIFA website says its “role is to ensure that no clearly wrong decisions are made”. There’s nothing about “overturning” a decision. With the VAR active, the referee, when in doubt, is more likely inclined not to unnecessarily stop the game and call a penalty, preferring to wait for notification from the VAR. In this particular case, the referee was notified of a possible missed decision, went and checked the video himself and awarded a penalty. His decision was never “overturned” as the system relating to penalty kicks is not about that anyway. It’s about preventing clearly wrong decisions, and denying a penalty based on the footage would have been clearly wrong. The system worked.
As for the decision itself, the chorus of “he touched the ball” as somehow meant to annul further fouls is nonsense. Again, Foster has led this in Australia, primarily from picking out of context David Elleray’s (former English referee and head of VAR) admission Risdon got a touch on the ball. Even Australia’s players post-game, and captain Mile Jedinak in the press conference, blindly blathered away about this infamous “touch” – a touch that was barely noticeable and only deviated the ball’s direction by 5 degrees, if that. The touch is irrelevant, as Griezmann is still entitled to regather the ball. In his subsequent stride, Risdon lifted his leg and clearly tripped Griezmann. That’s always a penalty. The sequence of events:
Risdon attempts to tackle Griezmann, barely contacting the ball. Note this is outside the penalty box, so a foul would have been preferable then.
Now inside the box and Griezmann into a new stride, Griezmann skips clear in pursuit of the ball while Risdon lifts his leg and drops it on Griezmann’s heel.
The force of the contact causes Griezmann to fall and Risdon’s leg to fly into the air. It’s clearly a subsequent incident, clearly a trip, and clearly a penalty.
David Elleray’s full quote:
It’s a shame there’s been so much focus on this one incident as it’s a mostly a distraction. Facts are France “handed” Australia a penalty back within minutes, reversing the damage and restoring the game to level scores. Australia lost because of their constant turnovers in midfield that gave France too many opportunities on the break. Australia were lucky not to be punished earlier. So look to the match in the broader picture, praise the team for playing so well and remaining so disciplined. Whinging won’t help. Even the complaints against France’s Lucas Hernandez constantly going down on any minor contact is irrelevant. As he admitted in the press conference, “Sometimes I exaggerate, but that’s all part of the spectacle… it also helps to take more time when you are winning.”, it’s all part of the game.
Mile Jedinak was right about one thing: It’s time to move on and look forward to Denmark. With Denmark beating Peru 1-0 in their opening game, that blocks the scenario of two draws being enough for Australia to qualify for the knockout phase. That would have been a real scenario as long as France beat Denmark and Peru by more than a goal, and all other games were draws. As it stands, and presuming France doesn’t implode and lose both of its remaining games, Australia cannot afford a loss to Denmark otherwise it’s all over. A draw will mean the final game is alive and goal difference will likely count (the real achievement made against France). A win will mean a draw is most likely enough against Peru. A win by two or more goals means a narrow loss to Peru would also be sufficient.
– Australia plays Denmark on Thursday night 21 June at 22:00 AET. France vs Peru follows at 01:00 on 22 June. The group’s final games are Tuesday night 26 June at midnight (00:00 27 June).
“I will do it my own way.” With those words at his initial press conference, out went the old ways of previous coach Ange Postecoglou, and in come the new ways of coach Bert van Marwijk. So much for changing the landscape, or leaving a legacy, as was Postcoglou’s mission. It was always a fool’s policy that Postecoglou set, and actively encouraged by elitists in the media, that a national team can be moulded into a permanent style. National teams are representative, meaning player options are often limited, not bought or recruited from anywhere, so strengths across the field can vary through the years.
With that, it was also pleasing to hear van Marwijk say “it’s important we play in a way that fits the players, and “you cannot play in a way that players cannot do.” Australia struggled through World Cup qualifying primarily because of Postecoglou’s enforced doctrine. The possession and pressing game, and always playing out from the back, was exploited, with the leaky defence never to be fixed, and experimentation with team selection never ending.
In the four internationals van Marwijk has controlled the Socceroos since his appointment late January, things are slowly improving. A 4-1 loss in Norway was followed by a 0-0 against a quality Colombian team in London, then a 4-0 win over Czechia in St Polten, Austria. Even though Czechia appeared in holiday mode and Colombia had plenty of chances to win easily (including a penalty saved and hitting the post twice), Australia looked much better on the ball in both of those games, and finished their World Cup preparations with a 2-1 over Hungary in Budapest. That was strange game in which all goals came from mistakes: Hungary’s goal-keeper fluffed a shot from range by Daniel Arzani, Hungary equalised after Trent Sainsbury’s headed back-pass went straight into the net, while Hungary responded with an own goal of their own.
Speaking of Daniel Arzani, the 19 year old was a shock inclusion into the World Cup squad. Barely with 6 months of club football under him at Melbourne City, he’s now threatening for a starting spot in Russia. His inclusion has shown a preference towards the trickier, speedier and more skilful players in van Marwijk’s teams – evidence he sees (realistically) that the overall playing strength is not at the required level to take on these pedigreed World Cup teams head on, so he’ll rely more on individual brilliance and a counter attacking game. As he says, play to the players’ strengths, not force something unusual on them or beyond their capabilities. If he can sort out the defensive frailties further, then we could in for a surprise result or two.
Can Australia reach the knockout phase?
If you take a direct form line from Russia’s 5-0 demolition of Saudi Arabia in the opening game, it won’t be easy. Saudi Arabia, with van Marwijk at the helm, qualified ahead of Australia. Van Marwijk then quit after negotiations to renew his contract broke down, and now Australia is lucky to have secured his services for the tournament. Although, Australia handled the Saudis quite comfortably in qualifying, are arguably a more talented team, and now have a more astute and flexible coach than previously.
France is Australia’s first match, and while the French are notoriously slow to start a tournament, no risks will be taken. Remember, it doesn’t matter when you score your points to qualify for the knockout phase, as long as you score them. With France likely to beat Denmark and Peru as well, essentially it will come down to those matches. A narrow loss to France would be sufficient, and then it’s a matter of trying to gain 4 points from the other two matches, or 6 points to guarantee it.
Denmark qualified relatively easily behind Poland in a rather weak Group E, and then disposed of Ireland in the playoffs. They look the standard, solid Scandinavian team – teams Australia generally have handled well in the past. Peru was South America’s fifth best team and qualified thanks to a 2-0 playoff over New Zealand. Even with a draw (or loss) to Denmark, the fate of Australia is likely to come down to that match, and while Australia generally struggles against South American teams, as they say in the classics, if you can’t beat Peru, you don’t deserve to be in the knockout phase.
World Cup Predictions
It’s difficult to have much confidence in Australia progressing unless those defensive problems are fixed. Scoring could be a problem too if “no goal scorers” is the second favourite at $6.50 to be Australia’s top scorer. Tomi Juric is favourite at $6. Best case scenario to qualify is a 50/50 proposition. If Australia qualified for the round of 16, the likely opponent would be Argentina. Iceland, Croatia and Nigeria are the other options.
As for the World Cup winner, the draw is always the best guide, along with general form, especially through qualifying. France, Spain, Portugal and Argentina are in the top half, so some will be eliminated before the latter knockout stages. In the lower half, Germany (who won all games in qualifying) and Brazil will steer clear of each other if they win their respective groups, while Belgium is the likely spoiler, and it would be great to see a new team win. While I certainly will be hoping for the Belgians, the tournament seems set up so well for Germany to go two in a row, with Brazil their likely opponents in the final. Given the 7-1 thrashing the Germans handed Brazil in the semi finals four years ago, a repeat match-up would be quite an exciting prospect, even if both teams have won their fair share of World Cup spoils over the decades.
Australia’s Schedule (AET)
20:00 16 June France vs Australia
22:00 21 June Denmark vs Australia
00:00 27 June Australia vs Peru (Tuesday night)
Australia’s World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Brad Jones, Mat Ryan, Danny Vukovic
Defenders: Aziz Behich, Milos Degenek, Matt Jurman, Mark Milligan, James Meredith, Josh Risdon, Trent Sainsbury
Midfielders: Jackson Irvine, Mile Jedinak, Massimo Luongo, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic
Forwards: Daniel Arzani, Tim Cahill, Tomi Juric, Robbie Kruse, Mat Leckie, Jamie Maclaren, Andrew Nabbout, Dimitri Petratos
A significant milestone just occurred in March when the Socceroo Realm turned 20 years old. Yes, 20 years old! It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. Inspired by the infamous “Iran Game” of 1997, where Australia had World Cup qualification for France 1998 stripped away from them in the last 15 minutes, it’s almost certainly the longest continuous blog about the Socceroos and Australian soccer in general on the internet. In fact, it was born at the time when the internet was only just gathering mainstream appeal, where internet time was charged by the hour, and if you used more than 100MB a month you were a heavy user!
For many years, the Socceroo Realm was highly ranked on search engines for “Socceroos” and accrued much traffic, with the biggest boosts coming from the 1999 U17 World Cup in New Zealand where Australia lost to Brazil on penalties, the World Cup qualifying series vs Uruguay in 2001 and 2005, and, the busiest time of all, the 2006 World Cup itself. Australia’s long-awaited return to the World Cup in 2006 would also prove to be a double-edged sword, for as much as the blog prospered during that period, the proliferation of media outlets that would now extensively cover the sport also meant the Socceroo Realm would be soon drop in internet search rankings. Not that it ever really altered my personal behaviour. Initially meant as a cathartic experience to get over the Iran Game, and then to add some extensive analysis not provided by anyone anywhere, even on TV, writing has always been about fun, and it remains so. Having readers makes it satisfying.
There’s even been famous readers, notably Johnny Warren, who was “caught” a few times quoting almost verbatim some comments, most notoriously the “bad day” summary after the first Uruguay series. Now in the days of social media, it’s thrilling to get former Socceroos retweeting or commenting on a post. Speaking of social media, that’s been a double-edged sword too, as the immediacy and brevity of it, notably Twitter, often supplants the need for a post at all. Typically a post is about wrapping several thoughts into one nice article, and social media reduces the need for that. At least for a blogger. Journalists will still spit out a 1000 word article without really saying anything substantial!
The future of the Socceroo Realm will mostly mirror its most recent years. Social media will provide instant thoughts and analysis, while the blog will look at broader aspects of, say, a qualifying period or a big event. Gone are the days of match reports as they can be read from countless sources anywhere. Besides, there’s simply too many matches these days. In the days of Oceania, World Cup qualifiers were an event. Now they are only a piece of a broader one.
Also gone is the old website on the alphalink domain – my personal web-space since 1997. Moving house last November and changing ISPs meant it would soon vanish, and finally it has. Sites like WordPress make hosting and publishing so much easier, and updates can be made anywhere in the world, any time, and on any device. While has evolved and has a new home, all the original content remains on my computer and will occasionally feature as a “Blast From The Past” post. With that, the very first post on the Socceroo Realm, as exactly written at the time…
The Iran Game – What Went Wrong – Part 1
29 March 1998
This is the first part of a two-part prognosis with this part essentially focusing on what happened on the pitch. It is generally considered that the first leg was a great result and the tie was lost in the home leg. Also, the home leg is what most people remember vividly and is also the game where Australia reached what should have been an unassailable position, only to falter. Therefore, I will focus primarily on this game in the search for answers.
Jahor Baru, Malaysia: Third placed Asian playoff, Iran v Japan, 15 November, 1997
After seeing the playoff between Iran and Japan, I was convinced neither off these teams could compete with Australia. Japan has never been a good performer against Australia, whereas Iran has troubled occasionally. I thought Iran would win and it was only some weak defending that let Japan in. Iran led 2-1 and conceded a header to the shortest man on the pitch in Shoji Jo. Then in sudden death extra time, Ali Daei missed an open goal. Okana eventually scored from a rebound off a speculative low drive.
Both teams were ragged and weary after an arduous campaign and combined with the devastation of losing another chance, would be ripe for the pickings. Get them here and hammer them, I say. Mistake one: Australia should have played at home first. More on this later.
Tehran, Iran: First leg Oceania/Fourth Placed Asian playoff, Iran vs Australia, 22 November, 1997.
Before the playoff, my gut feeling said that Australia would either win 2 or 3 nil and end up trashing Iran over the two legs, or lose if Iran could stick close. After Viduka missed a simple header early and eventually Kewell scoring within the first 20 minutes, my former scenario seemed to be bearing out. Iran seemed to be paying Australia too much respect and once they were 1-0 down, then realised that the game was now in their own destiny, and simply had do something. Tony Vidmar got cautioned soon after and Iran immediately capitalised on a tackle-shy right side, and with the adrenilin of playing before a fanatical home crowd, turned the game. From this point, Australia was always on the back foot soaking up pressure – well I might add – with Slater having to defend constantly and providing no real forward drive. Iran exploited the wing with nearly all their goal scoring opportunities coming from here. Simply, a substitution had to be made far sooner than it did. Slater is no defender, but was resigned to one. He should have been pushed forward to somehow counter the attack, or the team re-shaped and/or substitutions made with the gun-shy T.Vidmar substituted. The equaliser eventually came late in the half, much to mine and the team’s disappointment. A soft goal, from a throw-in where Horvat failed to track his opponent after trying to play him offside single-handedly (?). Madavikia fired in a low cross which Azizi turned in.
It was not until a third-way through the second half that Lazaridis came on and gave some curry back to Iran. Australia had a few good shots of their own now and the game was 50-50.
Iran dominated the play overall and forced a few brilliant saves from Bosnich, though did not really missed any guilt-edged opportunities. The referee even seemed to favour the Australian’s with an Iranian offside definately call wrongly, with one other iffy one too. Iran might have been unlucky not to win 2 or 3-1 given the pressure, but it is all about scoring goals and even Viduka did missed a sitter early on. Maybe a 2-1 would have been right. Bosnich said after the game that he would have taken the result (1-1) if offered before the game, which suggest that during the game, they expected to win, especially after the early dominance. Like he, I expected a win too. If he is indeed sincere about the draw, then in this light, credit to the Aussies as it was a real cauldron of imtitidating and pressure football. This is what World Cup football is all about and 1-1 was a great achievement.
Personally, I was disappointed with the Tehran result, and the fact that Iran cold trouble Australia so much. I had to try and put it into perspective that 1-1 away is great and means Australia should go through. Given the home-ground advantage, I knew that Iran would play well but thought that they would lack the class to penetrate the Aussie defence, and conversely, Australia would be able to sneak in a goal or two. Never the less, I was not as confident as I hoped to be.
Melbourne, Australia: Second leg Oceania/Fourth Placed Asian playoff, Australia v Iran, 29 November, 1997
It is now April, four months later, and I have just watched the game again and with the result in the bag, dead, buried and accepted, and nothing emotional to cloud my viewing, I was able to analyse the game objectively and here are my thoughts
Two things are still vivid in memory and really highlight rollercoaster ride of the night and illustrates the drama that transpired perfectly.
First was Aurelio Vidmar’s defiant fist to the crowd at the corner flag, just below where we were sitting. It showed to us (in the stand) that, yes, we are through: we have got them beat. Also, it showed a minor show of relief in that Vidmar missed a couple of good chances early on.
Second was Stan Lazaridis’s emotional state after the whistle blew. He lay prostrate on the turf for ages, maybe about 15 minutes. After the players left, he still lay, and I sat down and…. Anyway, a police officer eventually helped him up and as he left, so did we. No one spoke a word while we walked out. Later, outside the Great Southern Stand, I noticed a young lady still crying and being consoled by an older lady: maybe her mother. She wore an Alex Tobin shirt, which I found curious as the defender and captain is not regarded as a ‘glamour’ player. It turned out to be his wife and I wish I had said something.
Back to the game. It took over nearly 2 and a half hours to watch 90 minutes of action because I was constantly rewinding and slow-moing the action. This was the fifth time I have seen it. The domination was even more pronounced this time as Iran had their first meaningful shot on goal mid-way through the second half! Ali Daei did not shoot at all during the entire game! Their lead striker!
Craig Moore. After drifting in on a far post corner, although a tough angle, he had an open goal but could only side-foot the ball across the goal for Khakpour to clear. He was also involved in the confusion that lead to Iran’s first goal, but was not involved in any of the crazy offside plays.
The concession of the 2 goals was, disturbingly, due to the rigidity of the back three in that they did not mark the strikers and instead were more inclinded to push up. And this is with a ‘sweeper’ system, which, if my rudimentary knowledge of game allows, goes against all modern footballing conventions. This tendedncy to push-up was responsible for all three goals conceded in the tie and was something I have never seen before in an Australian team. The fact that it was Vidmar who tracked back, with Moore following, to tackle Azizi for the first goal, with all the recognised defenders further upfield highlights this. We all know about the second goal, and in Iran, Horvat pushed up himself which gave the space for Madavikia to get the cross in to assist the equaliser. Venables denied instructions of this sort; I am not convinced though.
Horvat – coming back from injury too – was a controversial replacement for Ivanovic and was at fault for the Tehran goal. Tobin called for the offside for the second-Melb goal in what could be only be a decision described as sheer madness, or panic. Tobin is too good a defender to hopelessly misjudge a situation like that. Ivanovic had been a mainstay in Australia’s defence in all the other qualifiers and lead up games and did the job admirably and to drop him was simply wrong – even the media raised the peculiar issue. The only reason I can see for Horvat being in the team was the pace factor, even though it should not be all that a factor when playing sweeper. Interestingly, with Ivanovic, Australia kept Brazil scoreless in the Confederation Cup several weeks later with him controlling the defence. The offsides came, but they were well judged and Australia was never caught square. Vindication for an intelligent player and a poor selection decision by Venables to omit him against Iran.
Like Iran did in Iran, Australia totally dominated the game, but even more so. There really was only one team on the pitch with Iran unable to suppress the constant chances Australia created. Whilst numerous, most were only half chances, though. However, there were three blatant misses, but then the second goal did have an element of luck about it.. Maybe they SHOULD have been 3 up (2 at the half), but no more. Of course they COULD have been 10 up. Vidmar (early, should have nutmegged or rounded the goalie), Kewell (hit a defender on the line, he had more time to place it) and Moore (missed a fairly open net off a far post corner) were responsible for these obvious misses.
The critical third goal (that did not come) was the reason we lost on the field, such is the nature of the away-goals rule. One-nil, Iran needs 2 to win. Two-nil, Iran still needs 2 to win. Two-nil was a numerical advantage that only prevented extra time but gave the team a false psychological advantage. This probably lulled the team into a false sense of security, when in effect, there was very little advantage at all. One-nil would have kept the boys on their toes, and would have prevented Iran from risking all. I am convinced Iran’s objectives were to weather the storm and pinch it at the end. Even maybe concede 1 goal and rely on pinching the game in extra time or via penalty shootout. Iran had to score regardless in normal time, so conceding a goal would have meant nothing but putting the game into extra time where anything could happen.
Aurelio’s depair at missing some early chances during that ferocious onslaught. His expression summed up the night really.
Back to the critical third goal which would have given Australia a real advantage. Viduka was a leading culprit when he intercepted a poor goal-kick but sprayed his lob wide. He had heaps of time and could also have laid off a pass to Kewell, who would have been in the clear. Later, Kewell made a break down the left wing and put a low cross way to early which was cleared by Sadavi, narrowly avoiding an own goal. Kewell should have checked and played the cross later which would have wrong footed Sadavi and allowed an easy stick in for Vidmar. Viduka also had a good chance a bit later but shot too close the goalie after doing the hard work in turning a couple of defenders.
This was the last flurry: concentration slipped, composure was diminishing on the final passes and maybe complacency was setting in; and this is when Venables should have shut shop and made some substitutions. I know personally at the time that I felt the third goal would not come and I started looking a the clock. But then, there was no way I could (or anyone for that matter) foresee Iran even scoring one goal, let alone two. I recall mentioning to Bob (a friend) at halftime that Iran won’t score, and they should not have. Iran did scramble one, then got another with the help of a panic stricken Australian defence. I was again looking at the clock, but this time, for other reasons.
Viduka’s anguish as a penalty claim goes unheeded seconds before Australia’s second goal. In the end it did not matter, but here again, Viduka’s expression really summed up the night. Not to mention the lenient refereeing.
At 2-2, Australia had three real chances. A Viduka header that went way wide. An Arnold shot, that went to the keeper and finally an Arnold free-header that was poorly placed. Granted, Viduka’s header was difficult and if Arnold was more accureate with his attempts, they most likely would have hit Iranians such was their quantity in the penalty box.
The Referees did play a significant role in the outcome. The first Iranian goal was offside. Azizi got tackled as he burst through the Australian defence and lay in an offside position, albeit passive and not interfering with play. The ball bobbled about and a rebound from a half-clearance fell into his path which he duly cut back, thus becoming active and interfering with play. No one around us picked this up but then we are not paid referees. None of the Australians on pitch picked it up – though Trimboli on the bench did – but it was patently clear upon seeing the video tape. This refereeing error was simply paradoxical in the outcome of the game. A correct call here, and Australia may have got their substitutes on before anymore scares, or at least woken up from their defensive slumber.
Also, although he was consistent, the referee was far too lenient as the Iranians persistently fouled the Aussies. Indeed, Khapour hacked down Lazaridis half way during the first half and should have been sent off. Instead he only got a yellow. And the card Kewell got for receiving a knee from the goalie was a joke. The goalie lay in supposed agony and deserved an Oscar, and the referee seemed to just guess what had happened and penalised the real victim. Actually, this was the turning point of the game where everything started going wrong for Australia. Simply, for a World Cup qualifier, the referee was far too lenient and allowed the Iranians to get away with murder. They even hugged him when the whistle blew – what does that say?
Fifa can hang their heads in even further shame for allowing Iran to convince them annul all yellow cards incurred in previous games. The argument was that the playoff constituted a separate series and therefore should not carry. What a joke! Australia has always played these playoffs and cards have always carried and no other countries who were consigned to playoff games had their cards annulled either. Four players including Azizi (who was the main tormenter and goal scorer in Tehran), key defender Khakpour, and goalkeeper Abezadah. Thankfully Bagheri’s red-card suspension still remained though, but alas, Fifa’s intervention still allowed some of Iran’s best players to play in the first leg.
An actual as-yet-unused ticket to the game. Note how Australia’s opponents were not even known at the time (it was actually only 1 week before the series when they knew). This says a lot for Fifa’s organisation and qualification process. It also contributed largely to Australia’s ill-fated campaign with the obviously poor preparation forced upon it among other things. Most of which will be examined closely in the second part of “what went wrong”. Sadly, this ticket will be a momento for all the wrong reasons.
In a nutshell, why did Australia fail? Based on what you have just read, the referees were overwhelming influences on the result in the second game and Fifa may have effected the first game with their weak-minded decisions. Of course we will never know this and the Tehran game was considered a good result anyway. Of the game in Melbourne itself, poor defending (tactically and team selections) and maybe poor finishing were the problems. I am loathe to attack finishing because scoring goals is one of those intangibles in the game: sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. Defending, however, is not and there should be no excuse in getting that blatantly wrong. But personally, I feel the main failure was off the pitch and regardless if Australia even managed to qualify, or not, as it turned out, these mistakes must never be repeated again.