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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Socceroos v UAE

by Ben Somerford on Jan 26, 2019

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Australia’s 2019 Asian Cup campaign is over and again we’re all filled with disappointment, with goal scoring rearing its head again as the perennial issue.

The Socceroos dominated Saturday morning’s quarter-final with hosts UAE, with 64 per cent possession and 22 shots compared to seven, but couldn’t make that count.

The conclusion drawn from Australia’s 2018 World Cup campaign before Graham Arnold took over as coach was goal scoring was our downfall and so it proved in UAE.

In Australia’s two knockout stage matches we went 210 minutes without a goal against Uzbekistan and UAE, hardly world powers.

In fact, during Australia’s five matches at the Asian Cup, we failed to score in three of them and finished overall across 90 minutes with two wins, one draw and two defeats. That’s not good enough.

But there were clearly other issues at play, injuries to Daniel Arzani, Aaron Mooy and Mathew Leckie didn’t help, nor did Tom Rogic’s suspension for the Emirati clash. Milos Degenek’s backpass was a moment to regret too.

Reflecting on the quarter-final defeat and campaign overall, GGArmy’s Ben Somerford looks at the positives and the negatives.

The Good
Crashing out at the quarters is a failure, but emerging from the rubble were a few shining lights, namely A-League pair Chris Ikonomidis and Rhyan Grant who’ve become two of the first selected players now.

Having stepped up following an injury to Josh Risdon in the first game, Grant has arguably been the best right-back at the Asian Cup, with his tireless work-rate, intelligent decision-making, long-distance throw-ins and, of course, ill-advised mullet.

Glory winger Ikonomidis didn’t always get it right in attack but worried defences throughout the tournament, with his fancy foot-work, pace and will to create. He appears a genuine threat when on the ball.

The Bad
It’s no secret and I hate to say it but Degenek’s backpass was a horror moment of miscommunication and naivety. Degenek has had a good tournament and been a strong contributor, but he telegraphed his intended ball to goalkeeper Mat Ryan amid pressure from Mohamed Abdulrahman, which wasn’t enough to constitute a foul.

Team-mates around Degenek appeared to have their hearts in their mouths as his body shaped towards making a backpass when he had a multitude of other options. Ali Ahmed Mabkhout ghosted in and did the rest. It was a slow motion train wreck.

With Australia desperate to reply, Andrew Nabbout’s impact off the bench replacing Apostolos Giannou, who had been excellent, was a disaster with the ex-Newcastle Jets man well off the pace.

The Ugly
To borrow a social media craze with a twist, Arnold’s 12-year challenge has borne the same fruits, with Australia crashing out of the Asian Cup at the quarter-finals stage in 2019, like they did under his leadership in 2007.

Prior to the tournament, anything less than a semi-finals appearance was a failure. Arnold may have only been in charge for six months but losing to the likes of Jordan and UAE is underwhelming. No one can point to bad luck when you fail to score in three matches. That’s a clear under-riding issue.

How does Arnold or the FFA solve it? There’s no quick fix. The talent arguably isn’t there and tinkering with the formation or system hasn’t affected much. We created a lot but were profligate in front of goal.

Where’s the next Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell or Tim Cahill coming from? Or are we pinning our hopes on an individual and missing the need for a greater systematic overhaul?

Personally, I prefer not to get too reactionary during the wake but there is a body of information over the past two tournaments which shows outside Australia we cannot score against reasonable opposition. Something needs to be done.