The long road ahead for the Socceroos
As the Socceroos depart the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Greg Baum and Michael Lynch preview the long journey ahead for Ange Postecoglou's team.PT3M24S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3asdr 620 349 June 25, 2014
Curitiba: Lapses in concentration against Spain and the mental and physical effort of playing three high-pressure games at the highest level possible showcased the weaknesses in Australia and where the squad needs to improve if it is to be a more competitive force at future World Cups.
The aim, says Australia coach Ange Postecoglou, is to bridge the gap that currently exists between the Socceroos and the best, and make them a top 15 team, one which goes to World Cups with a realistic chance of progress and success.
Ange Postecoglou: wants the Socceroos to be a top 15 team. Photo: Getty Images
He admitted that his depleted side - a number of first-choice players were missing from the line up against the former world champions - were running on empty by the time the final game, a 0-3 loss to Spain , rolled round after two tremendous efforts against The Netherlands and Chile, both of whom advance to the knock out stages from Group B.
The remedy, says the coach, is to give more opportunities to the inexperienced players who did duty during this World Cup and others who come along to earn a place in the group.
He is also hopeful that Australia's younger players can build on their time in Brazil and take their club form to higher levels, leading to moves to more competitive teams in higher leagues.
Class act: Australia were easily beaten by Spain. Photo: AFP
There has been plenty to like about Australia's performance in Brazil and the way Postecoglou's tyros proved so many of the doubters wrong by being so competitive against more highly-regarded opposition.
The momentum built by those narrow losses to Chile and The Netherlands may be slightly halted by this reality check against the Spanish, but not for long if Postecoglou can build on the performances he has elicited from his players in this tournament and take it into the Asian Cup, which Australia hosts, next January.
Still, the reality is that they lost three out of three games and finished with a goal difference of minus six, having conceded three goals in each game.
World Cup 2014: Australia v Spain highlights
Australia's Oliver Bozanic jumps for the ball with Spain's Sergio Ramos (centre) and Raul Albiol (right) during their Group B match at the Baixada Arena in Curitiba. Photo: Reuters
The fact that they scored three themselves surprised many, but Postecoglou, despite his pride in the players efforts, made no secret of the fact that when the referee blew the final whistle to end Australia's Brazilian adventure the results had not been what he had set out to achieve, nor what he thought his players were capable of.
''It's a disappointing way for us to finish but full credit to Spain. They are a very good football side,'' he said after the final game.
In typically forthright fashion he was honest in his appraisal of a game in which his side, after a bright opening period, was outclassed for much of the match.
''I thought after the first 10-15 minutes they got into a rhythm and dominated the game. We really struggled to get into the game ourselves.
''We just looked a little bit tired.We have faced three world class opponents '' (in a short time, and that has taken its toll).
Postecoglou is famously his own man, so will have no truck with critics who might suggest the final game has somehow diminished the bright impression Australia made not just with the domestic public but the world at large in a tournament in which they began as the lowest ranked team.
''I am not really fussed what other people think we have achieved in this tournament,'' he said.
''We have been positive and backed ourselves and had belief. We have pushed some of the best nations in the world.''
''We are not a top 15 nation now, and that is where we have to try and push on and bridge the gap.''
The coach admitted that weariness had been an issue for the team in this game. While Spain made several changes and brought on players off the bench from clubs like Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United and Real Madrid and Barcelona, Postecoglou's line up featured three players who earn their living in the A-League, and two of them, Matt McKay from Brisbane and Adam Taggart of the Newcastle Jets, had not been first-choice selections for the Chile game but had come in as injury and tactical replacements.
''For a lot of these guys its been a massive effort, physically, mentally and emotionally. These are massive games. But this is the level we have got to reach
''A few of the boys struggled after the first 10 to 15 minutes, we gave the ball away too cheaply.''
In the end, he said, he was disappointed by the final table that shows Australia are bottom of the group. They might have won friends and Tim Cahill might have scored one of the goals of the tournament, but they are still going home empty handed.
''We have come here and lost all three games. We have not got the results we wanted when we came here. We wanted to make an impact and try to get the results
''We have measured ourselves against the very best. In my mind I have got an indication of where we are at as a nation and where we need to move to to make sure the gap between ourselves and the top 20 is closed.''
The solution, he said, is to keep believing in the talent Australia is producing and give the players opportunities to learn and develop at the highest level.
''Some of it is just experience. The lapses in concentration and the mistakes will cost you a goal . We need to keep giving these guys opportunities and exposing them to this level of football to get an understanding of the concentration levels required.''
Australia had paid dear in this tournament in that regard, with the first two goals for Chile, the Dutch winner and at least two of the Spain goals in this game coming when players had lost concentration even for a moment.
''We have not been as ruthless as the opposition have. We need to improve our depth, but we were down a few today. I want to make this squad a really competitive one to get into,'' he said, signalling that there will be no resting on laurels despite the positive reviews the Socceroos have largely generated.