Lack of preparation bites Arnold’s Socceroos
Too few players used in only four preparatory matches meant that Australia was underdone to meet the threat of Jordan07 January 2019 | Matthew Galea
A bit like the groom who drinks one too many glasses of whisky before arriving at his wedding, the Socceroos set themselves up for failure ahead of their defence of the Asia Cup.
Australia looked dishevelled and unprepared for the exertions ahead of them when it lined up to take on Jordan – and they paid the ultimate price with defeat.
Before kick-off, Australia coach Graham Arnold told FOX Sports that Australia would “press high and dominate the game” to beat Jordan. It was an assertive statement of his confidence in the quality of his team – both as individuals and a collective.
Such confidence might have been fair looking at the two squads on paper, but Jordan reminded Australia once again that failing to prepare in Asia is preparing to fail.
Arnold will no doubt point to the horrendous run with injuries the Socceroos have endured in the lead-up to the tournament, but there is no denying that a significant lack of game time together contributed significantly to his team's disjointed and lethargic display for the first match of the campaign.
Australia played just four matches in between the World Cup and the Asia Cup, despite having four international breaks. Arnold started just 23 different players over the course of those matches, leaving little time to experiment with second-string line-ups for significant amounts of time.
No surprise then that with no Aaron Mooy, Mathew Leckie, Andrew Nabbout or Martin Boyle – the newly minted Aussie who made such a good first impression – Arnold's side looked so lost.
In the same period, Jordan played seven games and looked much better organised and structured for it under the guidance of manager, Vitel Borkelmans of Belgium.
The Jordanians did not have to do anything spectacular – other than their defending – for their win. It was simply a matter of sticking to the game plan – numbers behind the ball, repel the never-ceasing crosses and looking to use the blistering pace available to them on the break.
That organisation was complemented by the sheer determination and running of players like Khalil Bani Attiah and Yousef Al-Rawashdeh who rebounded off of Australia's advances with expert precision and gutsy desire.
With the exception of Awer Mabil, the Socceroos lacked anyone with similar endeavour.
Compounding the failure to match Jordan for sheer application was the fact that Australia approach to the game was similarly simple – and that was a big part of the problem for Arnold.
The few glimpses we got of Arnold's Socceroos in the friendlies prior to the tournament suggested that width would be key to Australia's attack.
With the powers of a fully-fit Leckie and Boyle, and the willingness of Aziz Behich and Josh Risdon to support them as attacking full-backs, perhaps this approach made sense.
But without Leckie and Boyle and without the industry and quality provided by Mooy and against such a well-structured Jordanian defence, it seemed Arnold's side was destined for a frustrating afternoon.
Failure to specifically mark Jordan's best header of the ball at an early set-piece, allowing Anas Bani Yaseen to score with consummate ease from a 26th-minute corner, further amplified the lack of preparation for the threat – however limited – Jordan might pose on the day.
With a one-goal lead to defend, Jordan set themselves even further back in defence, content to repel the extremely repetitive advances of Australia.
For the better part of the remaining 65 minutes, Australia pumped long balls into the box, with only a thunderous strike from Mabil truly threatening the Jordan goal amidst a collection of goal-mouth scrambles in which a packed Jordan defence managed to clear its lines.
Arnold had very few attacking options on the bench, which hampered his ability to change the approach on the day with personnel alone, but more disappointing was the inability of the team to find a new approach to goal.
There remains a lot of football to be played in this Asia Cup, but Socceroos fans will desperately hope that there is something else in Arnold's locker if the Socceroos are to have any hope of defending its Asia Cup crown.
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