Socceroos show promise despite Croatia defeat
Croatia scored a lacklustre 1-0 win over a promising Socceroos in Salvador.PT1M22S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-39ppa 620 349 June 7, 2014
Croatia warmed up for their World Cup opening match against host Brazil next week with a narrow, if in the end comfortable, 1-0 win over an Australian side that still has to improve significantly if it is to trouble the highly credentialled sides it will face in its World Cup group.
There was plenty to like about the Socceroos first-half performance, when they kept their shape and frustrated their Balkan opponents, who were slow to get going.
Deadlock broken: Nikica Jelavic of Croatia scores a goal past Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan. Photo: Getty Images
But Ange Postecoglou's side, still finding its way under his management, struggled to create meaningful chances and when the Croatians lifted their game in the second period they managed to get their noses in front and stay there.
Australia began in a determined mood, seeking to set a template for the game which played to their strengths and denied their better fancied opponents the chance to impose themselves on the match.
The Socceroos played with purpose and discipline, getting numbers behind the ball when required and pressing the Croatian midfield, anchored by Real Madrid star Luka Modric.
Socceroos clash with Croatia
Mat Ryan of the Socceroos clears the ball over Ivan Franjic of the Socceroos. Photo: Getty Images
The Croatians played at a slow pace, especially in the opening 20 minutes, denied by a well organised Australian team that stuck to its game plan and structure.
Lanky centre half Matthew Spiranovic was a pivotal figure for the Socceroos in the first half, his calm assurance in possession and his willingness to bring the ball out and create from the rear giving this Australian side a rather different look.
Goalkeeper Mat Ryan, fresh off a successful debut season in Belgium, was another to impress with his confidence in the sweeper role. Never fearful of coming off his line, Ryan made a number of interventions on the edge or outside his area as well as a handful of saves when, in the second period of the first half, Croatia lifted the tempo and began to threaten.
He showed plenty of adventure to come to the edge of his area to punch clear a cross from Domagoj Vida, while Alex Wilkinson, a surprise choice to be Spiranovic's partner at the heart of defence, made a timely intervention with a header to deny a Croatian opportunity.
Tim Cahill had Australia's first effort on target, giving Stipe Pletikosa his first save to make, early in the second period when he got his head to a corner shortly after the restart.
For all of Australia's structured play in the first half and the adventure shown by its fullbacks, Jason Davidson and Ivan Franjic, it had lacked penetration with its final pass, hence Pletikosa's inactivity, and the second half began in similar fashion.
Postecoglou made his first change when he took off Dario Vidosic, who had started in a wide position and brought on speedster Ben Halloran. Seconds later Australia captain Mile Jedinak brought down Croatia's Brazilian born striker Eduardo in a dangerous position in front of goal, but Dario Srnja lofted the free kick over Ryan's bar.
Shortly after that the Croatians took the lead after Modric's pass was deflected in the penalty area, Australia's defenders failed to deal with the ricochet and Nikola Jelavic, left unmarked as Australia looked for an offside call, blasted home from close range.
The goal came just before the hour mark, forcing Australia to rise to take the game to their European opponents, who were beginning to take control of this fixture as they upped the tempo and improved the quality of their passing.
Postecoglou rolled the dice by withdrawing Cahill, introducing Mark Bresciano off the bench and shuffling his forward pack, moving Matthew Leckie into the centre forward spot and pushing Tommy Oar, who had been playing in the ''number ten'' role, to the left wing.
A flurry of changes followed, but all to no avail. Australia huffed and puffed and its effort and industry could not be faulted, but its lack of a cutting edge meant Pletikosa was largely untroubled, despite some good Australian possession, in the dying minutes.