Not only can I hardly bear to write this, I can hardly bear to think about it. Australia are out.
It was those stupid emblems on the shirtfronts that did it – boasting about being Champions – it got the other teams fired up. Not least UAE who already wanted revenge for last time. And they didn’t even look cool! They looked ridiculous and I hope some idiot marketer’s head is rolling for that one.
So, once again Australia had all the possession but lacked the cutting edge. In fact, with just 36% possession UAE had much better chances than we did – which tells you a lot, mainly how much we missed Aaron Mooy, Daniel Arzani, Martin Boyle and, today especially, Tom Rogic.
Our balls going forward lacked imagination, guile and even technique. Milligan and Irvine were pretty much clueless – constantly turning away from the right options or overhitting long balls, especially as we started panicking with time running out. Luongo should have been brought on long before Nabbout, who clearly wasn’t fit.
Even still, we should certainly have made it to extra time unscathed and would have but for a moment of pure tragedy.
Don’t blame Degenek. Yes it was a terrible ball, clearly played at the precise moment Mabkhout was obscured by Sainsbury, and why would Degenek expect him to be there in what would have been a long way offside if the ball had been played by an Emirati?
He made a mistake but what about the mistakes at the other end? What about the misses by Sainsbury, Ikonimidis, Grant, Irvine, Mabil and others?
What about the constant wrong choices by our players trying to play killer balls into the final third instead of the easy ball to the wingers? What happened to the first time balls down the line that Grant and Behich played with such aplomb in the group matches? Time and again our wide runners got into dangerous space but were ignored.
What about bringing on Awer Mabil and then never trying to get the ball to him.
What about Andrew Nabbout being nowhere near ready to play? The Nabbout that played so well at the World Cup would have totally smoked that defender (in about the 80th minute). He would have got into the box, drawn the keeper and slipped the ball inside for a tap in. But the current injured version couldn’t get out of second gear.
I also think that Mat Ryan – terrific tournament though he had – should have gone to ground to at least give Mabkhout something to think about. Yes he was sold a major dump but if I was his coach I would’ve been disappointed he didn’t at least have a go.
We got plenty of stuff wrong so it wasn’t just Degenek’s fault we’re going home.
As for the officials - when will Asian referees start to do something about the appalling time wasting and injury feigning of particular nations? It does my head in to see the UAE goalkeeper (Eisa) punch the ball away, hit the ground, look around to make sure the ball is safe, and then play possum for a couple of minutes.
He was by no means the only one. The instant they hit the front they started hitting the deck and refusing to get up. And how did the referee respond? He did nothing. Neither did he hand out the cards the Emiratis totally warranted for some terrible tackles – especially the studs rake on Leckie’s knee which did get a yellow but if that was the A-League it would have been a red card and a six week suspension.
So what have we leaned for the World Cup Qualifiers which will start up later this year?
Yes we had a terrible injury toll going into the tournament and copped some dreadful refereeing decisions – not least Rogic’s card against Uzbekistan – but that’s football. That’s why you develop squad depth and have a clear strategy understood by all so that players can come and go but the strategy and method remains.
If Arnie is ever going to win over those legions of fans who think he’s wrong for the Socceroos, he must learn how to cope with buses parked like a Bangkok peak hour. We have the quality and the fitness over most of our Asian rivals, but too often we lack the strategy and the execution to unpack the standard match plan of the underdog.
Developing the sharp skills needed by a striker is clearly not the NT coach’s responsibility but Arnie was a striker himself. He ought to know what to look for in a striker and how his team mates should be providing service.
I for one still believe Arnie is the best man for the job but he needs to find some goal scorers.
So the Asian Cup for us is over – tragically – but in the end it’s only football (whatever Bill Shankley might say). Can I extend deepest condolences to Awer Mabil whose own tragic loss was far greater.
I hope that he will recover and continue to be one of our fresh new breed of Australian footballers well into the future.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets and will have a couple of exciting announcements shortly.