Review needed after Australia exit
After showing so much fight before ultimately succumbing to the talent of Chile and the Netherlands, Australia bowed out of the World Cup with a whimper in their final Group B clash against Spain.
Three gifted opportunities were gleefully accepted by the reigning world champions in a match that, to be fair, often resembled a training run. Though neither side had a hope of qualifying for the knockout phase of the competition, the lack of urgency played right into Spain's hands.
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Unsurprisingly, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque made seven changes from the team that was humbled by Chile in its last game.
For the Socceroos, there was a huge absence of experience in attack, with talisman Tim Cahill out suspended while attacking midfielder Mark Bresciano started on the bench as he continued his recovery from injury. Coach Ange Postecoglou kept the faith in his system from the first two matches, however, making like-for-like swaps, bringing in Adam Taggart and Oliver Bozanic for Cahill and Bresciano, respectively.
That understanding of the system broke down as the first half wore on, though, with Australia starting the match brightly enough before becoming careless with possession. Spain, particularly through David Villa, grew into the game, and it was only a matter of time before they made their dominance count.
The breakthrough came through Villa, via some sloppy play from Australia and some truly terrible defending. After being cut to shreds down the right through Juanfran, nobody in a gold shirt tracked Villa's run through the penalty area, and he was allowed to tap home the easiest of strikes.
No doubt fans in Australia will be delighted to see Villa performing so well in the A-League for Melbourne City next season, but it was not the first half that Socceroos supporters had hoped for.
It was clear that Postecoglou needed to make changes at halftime, and he did so by bringing Ben Halloran on for Taggart and shifting Mathew Leckie centrally. James Troisi and Bresciano also came off the bench, and each substitute added something to the game.
But the theme of thoughtless passing, sporadic pressing and poor defending continued. Fernando Torres and Juan Mata were the recipients of delightful through balls to finish off the scoring, but that each goal was almost a carbon copy of what went before was most worrying for Australia.
It would be easy enough to dismiss this dead-rubber defeat as a loss to a classy Spain side desperate to avoid further humiliation. In truth, this was a woeful performance from the Socceroos. If the national team is to progress as it would like under Postecoglou, these sorts of games must be reviewed time and again.
Which players failed to make the most of their opportunities and why? Did the players fit the system implemented?
Everyone in Australia has rightly taken the time to applaud Postecoglou and his team for their style of play in the first two games of the World Cup, but the time for deeper discussion about the future of the national team is now.
Cahill and Bresciano simply will not be around much longer -- perhaps not even for the 2015 Asian Cup -- and their replacements in this contest appeared a long way out of their depth.
It has certainly been a World Cup campaign filled with talking points for Australia. From the early nerves against Chile to the sensational rise of Leckie, from Cahill's wonder strike against the Dutch to the conceding of soft goals, every aspect can be a moment of learning for this young team.
Australia have shown enough in Brazil to capture the hearts and minds of their early-rising compatriots back home. Now comes the time for genuine growth toward January's Asian tournament. This evolution will come with pain and casualties but is a necessary process if the Australian national team is to become at home on the world stage.
Let's hope that by the time Russia 2018 rolls around, the identity of the Socceroos will be clear and they will qualify with a first continental title under their belts. All of that, however, rests on how this team learns from its hardships along the way.