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In the context of the speed of the opposition front three, and the need to execute the defensive part of the game-plan perfectly in order to have any chance of a result, the Socceroos deserve credit for the manner in which they stayed compact in Kazan.

Let’s face it, many of us were expecting the French trio of Kylian Mbappé, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembélé to run the Socceroos defensive structure ragged, pulling it all over the place, and creating openings left, right and centre.

When Mbappé burst in behind Mark Milligan early, it looked like it would be a long afternoon in Kazan and that our worst fears about Australia being exposed by the rapid speed and quality would be realised.

But Bert van Marwijk’s men weren’t having any of it. Roused by a wonderful travelling contingent, they scrambled at every contest, invariably staying tight and together, and rarely looking like they would be over-run.

The elastic band was stretched, no doubt, but it was rarely broken, at least until the VAR intervened in what appeared at first glance to be contact by Josh Risdon with the ball.

The defensive work from the whole unit was to be applauded. Apart from the defensive leader Trent Sainsbury, those setting the tone were some of Australia’s key attack triggers, including Aaron Mooy, Mat Leckie and the two fullbacks, Risdon and Aziz Behich. 

As I wrote in the build-up, I was expecting the Socceroos to be under the most ferocious examination, but it was nowhere as non-stop as it might have been.

Partly we can thank Didier Deschamps for what were quite conservative tactics in dropping off and allowing the 'Roos to have the ball. 

Rather than drive the likes of Paul Pogba and Corentin Tolisso consistently beyond Griezmann, they generally were conservative. In fact, it’s hard to remember too many occasions where Pogba got forward apart from the late, lucky winner, which has since been marked as an own goal to Behich. 

Perhaps Deschamps was worried about Australia’s speed in forward transition. His pre-game comments highlighted plenty of respect for the 'Roos, and it was matched by his tactics. 

Little doubt he knew all about van Marwijk’s ability to organise a transition template, and paid him a compliment with his measured approach. 

In the end Deschamps got away with it, and could also take positives from the fact he was able to control the Socceroos’ counter game.

For van Marwijk, it was a balancing act. He felt that if he pushed more men on, the Socceroos would have been exposed the other way more consistently, and he was probably right. 

Unfortunately though it meant there was very little penetration in attack. 

Try as he did, Tom Rogic just couldn’t shake the shackles of N’Golo Kanté to find the space to trigger the counter.

Van Marwijk cited one moment when substitute Tomi Juric was clear and pulled down cynically by Tolisso but, let’s face it, if you’re waiting for one moment in attack, you’re not really doing enough to hurt the opposition.

From defence to attack and looking ahead to Denmark

There’s no excuse now not to swing the pendulum a little more to the attacking side. Australia must ask more questions of Kasper Schmeichel than they did of Hugo Lloris.

Of course, Australia will need to be mindful of Denmark’s tactical variety from coach Age Hareide, and ensure they are equally prepared for either the front-foot or the more conservative, counter-attacking Denmark we saw against Peru.

Again, no doubt concerned by the pacey penetration of Ricardo Gareca’s men, and also forced back by Peru’s ability to keep the ball and move it swiftly from side to side, Denmark sat back.

Against Mexico, in the last warm-up game leading into Russia, Denmark pressed high and hurt the Mexicans with the physical power of the likes of Yussuf Poulsen, Thomas Delaney and William Kvist laying a platform for Eriksen to take control.

Against Peru, Eriksen was far less effective, until one moment when Peru left a massive gap between their midfield and defensive line and he filled it with his usual creative aplomb.

This is the dilemma for van Marwijk as he prepares his tactical plan for Thursday’s clash in Samara.

If the Danes do sit back a bit, knowing they have the buffer of the three points, they still pack plenty of counter punch, and the Socceroos must not give Eriksen the space Peru afforded him in that one counter moment that killed them.

The ‘Roos have to balance building up, when Denmark drop, with counter when Hareide’s men press; but all the while must maintain the defensive discipline and solidity they showed against France. 

That’s about remaining compact if Denmark have the ball. More importantly, if it is Australia that is dominating possession, the defence must remain switched-on to the Danish counter if possession is coughed up. The Danes do not need a lot of moments, as we saw against Peru.

Moreover, the Socceroos focus can’t stop at controlling the Danes in defence. They have to control them with the attack, finding ways to puncture them if they sit back. To that end, Rogic and Mooy are critical planks with their ability to deliver the creativity, and Australia must be more composed in the box than Peru were, whoever starts in the number 9 role.

It was a very good job on the defensive front in Kazan, but it means nothing if the Socceroos can’t perform on both fronts against Denmark, asking more consistent questions in attack. 

Samara beckons and van Marwijk and his men can’t be satisfied with Kazan. They need to go to the next level.


Categories: Analysis | Socceroos | World Cup

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