Like the surprise local concert before a rock band’s world tour, the Confederations Cup is rarely remembered.
It’s a chance for FIFA to test the infrastructure, the local organisers to run through security and logistics, teams to sample tactics, personnel and most importantly, learn valuable lessons before the World Cupa year later.
The question is, what will Ange Postecoglou take from Russia 2017? Thus far, the Socceroos’ coach has shown a complete unwillingness to waver from his all-out attacking ethos.
His dogmatic adherence to his philosophy is commendable when it works, but becomes frustrating when it falls flat andAustralia’s 3-2 group stage loss to Germanywas another case of the latter.
After spruiking his ambition to win the Confederations Cup, his pre-tournament statements drifted further into the realm of lofty ambition as Australia’s defeat raised more questions over the direction of the squad. A spirited fightback and two fortuitous goals made for more respectable reading than their performance deserved as the scoreboard masked a pedestrian performance for the Socceroos.
For the most part, Australia looked defensively frail, remained largely rudderless in attack and disjointed throughout the spine. In their last friendly, the Socceroos’ lasted just 12 seconds before conceding against Brazil. A week later, they kept a second-string Germany scoreless for only five minutes as elementary defending gave Lars Stindl a chance to open their account, and critics of Postecoglou’s new 3-2-4-1 formation a chance to sharpen their pitchforks.
Attacking brightspot: Tommy Rogic shoots for goal for the Socceroos against Germany. Photo: Getty Images
In its fifth deployment, Australia’s tactics showed no ease of letting-up from the defensive problems it has presented. Germany ran riot down the unguarded flanks and roamed free inside the box. It made for uncomfortable viewing as the Socceroosambitiously tried to beat the world champions with a high press and attacking system, one Postecoglou admits didn’t work.
“There’s no question [Australia] is a team full of character and courage. We’re trying to play a certain way against the very best and it’s not easy to do,” Postecoglou said. “In terms of a result it’s a loss and the loss falls on me. It’s my responsibility.”
A firebrand of attacking football, Postecoglou’s determination to play fast, risky, aggressive football stems from his faith in Australian players’ ability to match it with the best. But he can only work with what he’s got and in expecting players whose employers are Huddersfield, Bristol City, Celtic, Jiangsu Suningand QPR to outplay regular starters of Schalke, PSG, Bayer Leverkusen, Roma and Arsenal, a system proudly boasted as ambitious is at risk of being remembered as naive. In its deployment against the world champions, it failed to leave an impression.
The Germans were far more concerned by their erroneous goalkeeper Bernd Leno than any problems caused by Australia’s playmakers. The headlines of national sports newspaper,Kicker, praised the new-look German side, while labelling the Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper a “loser” after his role in conceding goals from Tom Rogic and Tomi Juric.
If Australia are trying to make a statement, they need to first learn exactly where they sit in world football. Some of the most successful nations don’t go out to prove a point in every match, they balance ideologies with pragmatism.
While Postecoglou seems on a steadfast mission to purge Australian football of every last remnant of the Pim Verbeek years, others show how football doesn’t have to be a definitive choice between “Tiki-Taka” or “Catenaccio”. The lack of a middle ground between two polarising ideologies is becoming a sore point of frustration for the Australian public.
While there is no shame in losing to the world champions in a competitive game, there is cause for concern in expecting to outplay them with such an aggressive, attacking style.
Australia’s latest defeat was a further drift away from the balance and character that provided so much hope for the national team after the 2015 Asian Cup.
By contrast, the Confederations Cup carries little significance beyond its conclusion. It’s why Germany arewithin their right to field an inexperienced team to Russia and Postecoglou free to trial his renewed attacking system.
He will likely stick with it for the last two group games against Cameroon and Chile, but the true success of the tournament won’t just be determined by progress to the next stage, but whether he can discover the flexibility required to make his mark at a World Cup.