So we lost the first game – a game we should certainly have won. It’s a setback but the overreaction in some quarters is just plain ridiculous.
The first half performance was very disappointing. The players looked lethargic – complacent even – going through the motions and expecting to win easily against the team ranked 109 to our 41.
Trouble was, no-one was doing the work actually needed to get on top of a super-motivated Jordanian team. Yes, we were missing five of our best attackers (Mooy, Arzani, Leckie, Nabbout and Boyle), but the team are supposed to be learning a system. The ball movement was slow, the players were nervous in the face of Jordan’s opening onslaught, we defended like statues, and no-one made any kind of run into space in the first half.
This meant our overwhelming possession was wasted. It’s the killer balls that matter in the final third and those balls can’t be played when no-one makes the runs. To be fair, Awer Mabil did constantly peel away from his marker but was never used. Risdon, Luongo and Sainsbury were all guilty of not trusting him and turning back into traffic – allowing Jordan to reset their defence when a ball into the channel could’ve had Mabil running in behind.
Even still we might have had a penalty in the first half. If the UAE penalty was given the night before then the Jordanian handball was a stone waller.
Never mind, we should still have won. The Jordanians couldn’t maintain their intensity in the second half, so parked the bus – leaving us to pick them off at our leisure, if good enough. We did get increasingly desperate but once the intensity ratchetted up the quality fell away.
In particular, we did not get any sort of value out of Tom Rogic. We all know what a fabulous player he is – one of Celtic’s best – so what do we have to do to make him as effective for Australia as he is in the SPL? Where does he want to receive the ball and what does he want from the players around him? These are important questions.
We were a lot better in the second half but still let ourselves down with our finishing. There was also some very bad luck in decisions that didn’t go our way and balls that wouldn’t quite fall for us. Slice the luck differently and we could have won that comfortably.
I think Rhyan Grant has to start against Palestine. He looked threatening and defended very steadily. I’d definitely go with Ikonimidis ahead of Kruse and maybe Irvine ought to be starting. I’d also be giving thought to bringing Mabil (and even Rogic) off the bench as he seems to have better impact against tiring defences.
I’m unconvinced regarding Jamie MacLaren. He just doesn’t seem to be able to use his great speed at international level and was one of the main offenders when it came to lack of movement in the first half. He has a future but needs to build confidence off the bench. Andrew Nabbout please – fingers crossed he’s back in the next few days.
Still, all is not lost. We did drop a game in the group phase last time and finishing second (or even third) may mean we avoid Japan in the Quarter Finals. If the players use the loss as the wake up they need and play with the kind of intensity employed by Jordan, then we can still go deep into the tournament.
The key is not to panic. Since the ill-fated 2007 Asian Cup, Arnie has done an outstanding job with quality players in a good headspace. This will be his great challenge – to motivate players who’ve had a nasty shock and feeling the tremors of doubt.
He may have lost half a team of first choicers, but we are still good enough to easily get out of the group. This is an opportunity for the likes of Luongo, Irvine, Ikonimidis, Grant, Mabil and even Tom Rogic to really go to a new level and nail down their spots for the next five years.
Focus Arnie, and ignore the haters.
I, for one, won’t be joining them until we lose again.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.