Socceroos defender Alex Wilkinson outpaces Dutch forward Arjen Robben to the ball during their clash in Porto Alegre. Photo: AFP
It might be a dead rubber as far as the knockout stages are concerned but the Socceroos are desperate to end their World Cup on a winning note against Spain on Monday.
Like Australia, the vanquished world champions suffered defeat against Chile and The Netherlands in the group stage and now cannot defend the title they won so stylishly in South Africa four years ago. The Socceroos could complete the ultimate humiliation for La Furia Roja by keeping them winless in Brazil, something defender Alex Wilkinson believes is eminently possible.
“One hundred per cent we think we can. We’re going into the game to try and get something out of it,” he said. “This tournament isn’t over for us. We took another forward after the Chile game and we’ll be looking to take another step forward for the Spain game. There’s definitely still a lot to play for.”
That’s the opposite of how the Spanish media see it. The nation’s most influential sports newspaper, Marca, couldn’t care less about the fixture. “Spain to bow out of World Cup with insignificant game,” reads one pointer, swiftly followed by this headline: “Going through the motions against Australia”.
“There are few things which are more depressing in a World Cup than having to play a match when you are already out,” the gloomy story reads. “However, this is what will happen in Curitiba at 1pm local time on Monday, when Spain and Australia face each other in a totally inconsequential match at the Arena da Baixada.”
In spite of Spain’s ambivalence towards the clash, for Wilkinson it marks another opportunity to take on some elite forwards.
Coach Vicente del Bosque is likely to start again with the Brazilian-born Diego Costa, while Fernando Torres is another option, as is the Melbourne City-bound David Villa. The 29-year old is looking at it as another learning opportunity after taking on Chile’s Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas and the brilliant Dutch duo Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben.
“Of course we can take positives. It’s given all the players the experience of playing a big competition, which is invaluable,” he said. “The Chile game was the first game for a lot of players, including myself, as a World Cup experience. Once you’ve been there and had a taste of the first game, you go out a bit more confident and a bit more knowing. I thought we started brilliantly against the Netherlands. We really had them on the back foot to start with until we copped that goal.”
Recovery session with the boys pic.twitter.com/bEJqsX9mmy— Alex Wilkinson (@alexwilkinson84) June 19, 2014
Alex Wilkinson competes for the ball with Dutch star Robin van Persie. Photo: AP
The goal Wilkinson refers to was Robben’s first-half opener, which came about after the defender appeared to misjudge the flight of the ball, allowing the Dutch flyer to race away and score. “I just misread the bounce. It skidded on more than I thought it was going to and obviously once he gets past you, he’s a quick player, so it was hard to recover. It’s unfortunate,” he said. “I just had to read that bounce better and cover night have been better as well. I think were a little bit too open at that stage. “Spira” [Matthew Spiranovic] needed to be a bit further across and “Davo” [Jason Davidson] needed to tuck in a bit as well. But these are the things you learn from. Little mistakes at this level and good teams make you pay the price. At club level you could probably get away with that. At a World Cup, it just doesn’t happen.”
However, Australia enjoyed a magic moment of their own during the game, with Tim Cahill quickly cancelling out Robben’s opener in spectacular fashion. Wilkinson admitted that Cahill’s capacity to perform time and again for his country set him apart from the rest. “It was unbelievable. He’s a freak. Every game he produces. In the big moments, he just seizes them every time,” he said. “I’d be surprised if it wasn’t goal of the tournament. It’s going to take some goal to beat it.”