'Big games are won by critical moments'
Michael Lynch and Sebastian Hassett review Australia's heartbreaking loss to the Netherlands in Porto Alegre, Brazil.PT4M6S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-3afad 620 349 June 19, 2014
Porto Alegre: In the tightest of sporting contests, in the biggest of games at the highest level the gap between opponents, even those much more lowly ranked is so often marginal.
It is how one team performs in a critical moment that makes all the difference.
Disappointed: Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou. Photo: Reuters
Australia had its golden chance to beat The Netherlands, but couldn't take it. Seconds later the Dutch tried their luck from distance, and got lucky when Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan blundered. The favourites won 3-2, but the tolerances can be so fine.
Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou acknowledged as much in his post-match press conference when he backed Ryan, eulogised Tim Cahill and paid tribute to his entire team for the way they had contained one of the best teams in the world and then taken the game to them at every opportunity.
With obvious pain in his eyes and emotion choking his voice when asked how he felt at the outcome he simply said: ''heartbroken mate,'', before reflecting at length on a performance that illustrated all that is good about the potential of an inexperienced team he has only had under his tutelage for six months.
Australian players were left heartbroken by the defeat. Photo: AFP
''I just wanted the players to get the reward for the way they went about things today. I have put a lot of pressure on the players...to be a certain type of team, to take it to a world class opposition. We did it today but we didn't get the reward...I am massively disappointed.''
Disappointment is understandable, but neither Postecoglou nor his players has any reason to be downcast about the way they went about their business. For much of this match they rocked one of the world's best teams who were never able to relax at any stage of proceedings.
The coach believes that this is simply the first step along a long route not just to footballing respectability but to a place where Australia will be respected and feared by anyone they play.
World Cup 2014: Australia v the Netherlands highlights
Arjen Robben of the Netherlands controls the ball on his way to scoring his team's first goal during the Group B match between Australia and Netherlands. Photo: Getty Images
''We came to this World Cup and we are playing against three of the best nations in the world. People were saying we were not going to score a goal, that we were just going to try to survive.
''We have only just started on this journey, the goal is that we come back in four years time and they fear us as much before we go on the pitch as much as they fear us on there now.
''I said all along that I was not going to discount this World Cup. We came here to make a mark, and we have had opportunities in both games to do so.''
He was, as can be expected, effusive in his praise of the warhorse Cahill who scored one of the great individual goals of this or any other World Cup with a precision perfect volley from Ryan McGowan's cross to bring Australia level in the first half.
''Timmy was Timmy. He was outstanding. I told him I wanted this to be his best World Cup. I said he was going to be a handful for any opposition. I am really delighted for him. ''
The coach was left to reflect on the moment when Australia's - and The Netherlands' - World Cup destinies could have become all so different.
Tommy Oar found himself in the penalty area with the chance to shoot, but instead of pulling the trigger himself he crossed for Mathew Leckie, who wasn't quite able to bundle the ball over the line. Less than a minute later the Dutch attacked, and Mephis Depay's speculative long shot had caught Ryan unawares, the goalkeeper's error giving The Netherlands the lead in a game which effectively saw Australia all but mathematically eliminated from the World Cup.
''We had our moment when we could have gone 3-2 up, unfortunately Matthew Leckie could not get the right purchase on it. He's got a future, he's got maybe one or two World Cups to look forward to, but it wasn't to be this time. It was moments that decided this game.''
Postecoglou would not point the finger at his 22-year-old goalkeeper who has not had the best of tournaments.
''It's nobody's fault. We win as a team we lose as a team. He's distraught, but he's only young.
''That was the critical moment, us missing the opportunity then conceding within a minute. That's how these big games are decided.
''We have had some really good noses to get our noses in front and have not been able to. They had one chance in the first half and Arjen Robben punished us, as he will. We did everything we needed to bar for the goal.''
Postecoglou says Australia has tackled this World Cup on its own terms, cared nothing for what those outside the camp have thought, and have both learned lessons and made a point to the sceptics.
''It was not about whether we have proved people wrong, its more about what we think of ourselves than what other people believe.
''We don't want to go to World Cups as outsiders. We don't want to come to World Cups defending for our lives. We don't want to be in this position in four years time, where people are writing us off before we play
''It wasn't just about the result today, at times I think we played some really good football.''
Nor was Postecoglou losing too much sleep about the absence of Cahill, who is suspended, nor the likely absence of another veteran, Mark Bresciano, who might struggle to back up for a third tough game in such short order.
''We are not going to make any excuses now that Timmy is out. Someone else will come in and do a job. Against the best opposition in the world our approach won't change.''