The Socceroos 2019 Asian Cup campaign finished the way it started against the United Arab Emirates.

The Australians enjoyed the majority of possession, created the better opportunities, yet somehow conspired to lose the game.

Once again, Graham Arnold and his team failed to find the answer to a cheaply conceded goal and a packed defence.

Truth be told, this was perhaps the best performance of the tournament.

The decision to play with two strikers in a more traditional 4-4-2 set-up in the absence of Tom Rogic actually assisted the fluidity of the Socceroos attack and created more opportunities for overloading the UAE defence in central areas.

At times Jamie Maclaren and Giannou Apostolou linked up nicely to forge a path through the UAE defensive stocks but failed to take their chances when they arose.

Chris Ikonomidis continued to show his potential, while Robbie Kruse will have done little to win over his many detractors, even if this was far from his worst display for the Green and Gold.

Milos Degenek made no secret of his feelings that he had let his country down with his shocking part in the decisive goal, but as has been the case all tournament, it was never the Socceroos defensive efforts that were going to be the decisive factor in their title defence.

And while the mistake which cost the Socceroos the decisive goal was a terrible one, it was no worse than some of the chances spurned at the other end.

Maclaren, in particular, failed to convince anyone that he deserves to lead the line for Australia.

He might feel his one goal from five games helped to silence his doubters, but he leaves this Asian Cup with far more doubt over his ability to have a tangible impact for the Socceroos than before the tournament started.

Tomi Juric has had ample opportunity to fill his boots with goals for the Socceroos, but the fact he was completely omitted from the team will in hindsight raise significant questions.

What Juric might lack in goalscoring ability he more than delivers in his movement and his ability to play with back to goal, both of which were sorely lacking from Maclaren – and to a lesser extent Apostolou.

Arnold's insistence that the solution to Australia's attacking woes would include Maclaren, despite three sub-par performances raises questions about his ability to find such a solution.

Unfortunately, as national team manager, goals are not something he can buy and if Australia is sorely lacking a traditional number nine, then he is going to need to formulate a new approach to goal.

All tournament, Australia's most potent threat to the goal came from the moments its wingers had managed to find space and opportunities inside the box.

Whether that says more about the quality of the likes of Ikonomidis, Awer Mabil and Mathew Leckie as opposed to the inability of Maclaren and Apostolou to finish the chances created for them is up for debate, but there's little doubting that such a heavy reliance on creating chances from crosses was not particularly effective in the previous four matches.

If Arnold's comments post-game is anything to go by, it doesn't look like he will be changing his approach, despite the evidence of this tournament.

“The style that we expect to play takes time,” Arnold said.

“You’ve got to remember I’ve been in charge only for four months, I’ve only had eight games with these boys.

“The style is completely different to what they’ve ever played.”

Arnold's use of the 4-4-2 and before that slightly modified 4-3-3 structures would hardly be revolutionary for any of the players in the squad, regardless of their international experience.

No one would argue that the players did not give their all and there is no doubting that the number of injuries the squad suffered prior to the tournament had a sizeable impact, but even bowing out to a fiercely competitive UAE backed with incredible home support in the quarter-finals in that fashion leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Not that Arnold sees too much to be concerned about.

“I’ll be honest, I think that we’ve done very, very well this tournament,” he told reporters after the game.

If a failure to score one goal from 39 shots over the two knockout games in which the Socceroos had over 60% of possession is an indication of a good performance, then the standards are too low.

It's not all bad, of course! This tournament has provided much-needed caps and international game time to some of Australia's most promising youngsters, particularly Ikonomidis and Mabil and if nothing else has allowed us to learn more about the players that do – and don't – have long-term futures in the Green and Gold.

Doubts must surely hang over Arnold, especially given the treatment of Ange Postecoglou by the very same media which demanded such high expectations of him.

Above Arnold, questions need to once again be asked about the future of Australian player development and as the analysis begins of yet another lacklustre performance in a major tournament, attention must turn to ways we can better encourage the development of our brightest young prospect.

Categories: Opinion | Socceroos

socceroos, asian cup 2019, #2019asiancup, football development

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