A tale of two Toms
Two Toms made the World Cup qualifier for Australia against Saudi Arabia in Adelaide: Tomi Juric and Tom Rogic12 June 2017 | Pablo Bateson
Last Thursday evening our Socceroos once again delivered when under pressure to come up with an essential result.
At the unsuitable Adelaide Oval, a somewhat disappointing crowd of just over 29,000 fans witnessed a topsy turvy encounter in which Australia ultimately prevailed over Saudi Arabia, 3-2.
The hosts got off to a flying start after only six minutes. Tomi Juric opportunistically took advantage of a sloppy clearance by the keeper to intercept and cooly find the net from 25 metres out.
The Socceroos Active Support (SAS) section went 'mental' although their euphoria was relatively short lived. A swift counter attack on 22 minutes led to a fine finish by Salem Al-Dawsari for the equaliser.
However, the hosts took the initiative once again in the 35th minute. Juric headed in from a pinpoint cross by Mathew Leckie from the right side. Then into stoppage time the Saudis struck back with Mohammed Al Sahlawi volleying home in fine style.
Half time at 2-2 included some tense conversations for many fans about the precarious situation.
The introduction of sub, Aziz Behich, to replace Brad Smith appeared to add some attacking wing back zest and defensive stability in the second half.
The contest tightened up with both sides more effective in closing down their opponents. The Socceroos seemed less vulnerable to the fluent counter attacks of the Saudis.
What would ultimately be the winning goal came from the individual brilliance of Tom Rogic in the 64th minute. His long range left footed shot from 25 metres rifled past the hapless keeper Yasser Al-Mosailem.
Australia also had a penalty claim denied on 70 minutes when Leckie was clearly brought down.
Our SAS ramped-up, bolstered by a coming together with a sizeable group of football fans normally associated with Adelaide United active support base.
Much relief after the final whistle was epitomised by the sustained fist pumping reaction of keeper Maty Ryan.
Overall, our national team did not play at their best level. In the face of criticism from sections of the media and public, it’s worthwhile remembering the nature of qualifying campaigns. Even the world's top-ranked national teams often grind out results.
Three points secured a place at equal top of the group, although Australia is still in third place on goal difference. The Socceroos are now well in control of their own destiny to eventually secure a top two finishing spot for automatic qualification to Russia 2018.
Post-match debate included the controversy over the refusal of Saudi Arabian officials and players to respect a one minute silence just before the kick off to honour the victims of recent terrorist bombings in the United Kingdom.
Only one player Salman Al Faraj from the visiting side appeared to genuinely respect the solemn ocassion.
Subsequent attempts of an official apology were clumsy at best and unsatisfactory by any reasonable measure. Forget any cultural differences as a weak explanation, it was hypocrisy and a diplomatic failure for Saudi Arabia.
On Friday morning I travelled to Melbourne for a block buster friendly between Brasil and Argentina.
La Albiceleste edged out their fiercest rivals 1-0 in front of more than 95,000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
With the high price of tickets, exclusive hospitality packages and healthy merchandise sales, the encounter will have also brought some lucrative commercial returns for organisers and both national associations.
Lionel Messi was largely well contained throughout the game, while Brasil missed Neymar up front as they failed to convert any of the numerous chances created.
The post game celebrations included exuberance from Argentina supporters on one tram returning to the city centre. Their chants and passionate vocal expressions entertained neutrals and local passengers alike.
On Tuesday it is back to the MCG for Australia versus Brasil in the final hit out for the Socceroos before the Confederations Cup in Russia.
This will conclude a feast of international football in Australia, featuring so many superstars. Let's not cringe; the latter now includes some of our own home grown talent.
There will be nothing like a repeat of the previous encounter when Brasil served up a 6-0 demolition of the Socceroos in Brasilia nearly four years ago. By contrast, I am expecting a tight contest with perhaps no more that one goal margin by the final whistle.
This will be good opportunity for coach Ange Postecoglou to select some fresh faces and even new combinations.
For example, I am hoping the likes of Mark Milligan, James Troisi, Mitch Langerak and Jamie Maclaren can make the starting line up or at least get significant game time.
The ongoing debate about playing either three or four across the back line is a fascinating one. It seems that we are still a work-in-progress in terms of a settled system with the right playing personnel.
Also, the Socceroos miss Matthew Spiranovic playing in partnership with Trent Sainsbury. It is unclear when the technically accomplished Geelong born central defender will return from a lengthy injury for full fitness and availability.
Meanwhile it will be interesting to see what changes coach Tite makes including to the misfiring attack of the Canarinho.
This will include a replacement for Gabriel Jesus who was wasteful in front of goal against Argentina and late in the game suffered a fracture to his eye socket.
Let us hope that it is another full MCG tomorrow for the eighth game since the first in 1988 at full senior level between our two nations. The current record shows five wins for Brasil, one draw and only one win by Australia.
The anticipated conditions are for fine weather, light winds and temperature of around 10 degrees. The pitch looked excellent last Friday and this standard is expected to be maintained for tomorrow.
So let us enjoy another exciting milestone for a shared football rivalry that none of other sporting codes played in Australia can even hope to match.
socceroos, world cup qualifier