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Jun 13, 2014

New wave of Aussies growing up

Tim Cahill speaks after Australia lost to Chile in their World Cup opener.

As football fans across the globe wake to see the score line Chile 3-1 Australia, few will look closely at how that result came to be. Chile, one of the elite South American nations in this World Cup, are tipped to push the Netherlands and Spain to qualify for the knockout phase of the competition in Brazil, and a seemingly easy win was to be expected.

What those people have missed, however, is a courageous performance by the Socceroos, and a turning point in the nation's football development.

For the best part of an hour, Australia dominated Chile. Not only with the ball at feet, but mentally as well. Tim Cahill lived inside the minds of the Chilean defenders for 60 minutes, tormenting them every time the ball came near the penalty area.

Not only that -- we expect to see such performances from Cahill, after all -- but players such as Mathew Leckie stepped up and showed they can lead Australia into the 2015 AFC Asian Cup and beyond. The former Adelaide United flier played with swagger in his step in the second stanza. It was beautiful to watch, and so rare for an Aussie to play in such a manner.

Before we get too carried away, though, it's important to recap that Chile did, in fact, win the game. Advancing from Group B -- an already daunting task for the Socceroos -- is now a virtually impossible task for Ange Postecoglou's men.

And that is squarely down to the nerves shown in the opening 15 minutes. Australia appeared stunned by the bright lights in Cuiaba, Brazil, as Chile stars Alexis Sanchez and Jorge Valdivia blazed the South Americans comfortably ahead before some had taken their seats in the stadium.

ChileChile
AustraliaAustralia
3
1
ESPN2, ESPN3 FT
Match 4
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The long periods of possession leading up to the opening goal were a warning sign for the Socceroos, who backed off to their own downfall.

It is the sign of a young, inexperienced team that such inconsistencies rear their heads during important moments. This, sadly, won't be the last time Australia will experience such periods as Postecoglou brings through generation next.

However, following Cahill's header to bring Australia back into the contest just after the half-hour mark, the Socceroos started to look like the side their compatriots want them to be: fearless, confident, energetic, tough but fair.

In a telling moment leading up to Cahill's 33rd goal for his country, Leckie showed great poise to play the ball wide to Ivan Franjic for the cross, a simple act missing from the early chaos.

The later injury to Franjic -- who has been battling with his fitness over many weeks -- will cause plenty of concern for Postecoglou and his medical staff over the coming days, with Ryan McGowan surely forced to play at right-back.

Arturo Vidal and Valdivia were also taken from the pitch in the second half, as Chile slowly faded out of the match they had started so well.

Tim Cahill led an impressive effort from Australia.
Tim Cahill led an impressive effort from Australia.

For Australia, the delivery of crosses into dangerous areas was far better than in recent friendlies against South Africa and Croatia, setting up a string of gilt-edged chances for Cahill, Leckie and Mark Bresciano.

To be fair, Chilean goalkeeper Claudio Bravo deserves all the plaudits that come his way, and more. Every decision he made was the right one, every save he made crucial.

Then Jean Beausejour's late strike sealed the win, although probably not in the convincing manner Chile had hoped for before this match took place.

There were plenty of heart-in-mouth moments for both sides as the match reached its climax. An offside goal disallowed, a goal-line clearance, a host of chances brilliantly denied by Bravo. But to focus solely on these highlights would be to miss the point -- and to deny those who want to look a little further than the result.

Watch the second half of this match, see what Australian football is all about and where it's heading. It's an exciting time driven by positive ideas carried out by a team who have so far done their nation proud.

Chile depart Cuiaba knowing they were in a genuine fight. Australia, in all honesty, could scarcely have asked for much more.