Socceroos coach Graham Arnold had warned the French to fear the ‘Aussie DNA’. On this showing ‘DNA’ clearly stood for ‘Do Not Attack’.
Although the Socceroos went ahead on five minutes thanks to an astonishing piece of high quality football, they chose that moment to retreat, allowing the incredible talents of France to run and create at will.
In the end the 4-1 scoreline flattered the Australians. “In all fairness it could have been more,” former Socceroos goalkeeper Mark Bosnich said on SBS.
An array of former Socceroos were assembled to pontificate on the game for SBS and it was a sobering night for them and Australia’s fans.
While Arnold’s defensive tactics were questions, Bosnich expanded his scope.
“You’re seeing there the result of people in France, way back in 1994 when they missed out [on the World Cup finals in 1990 and ’94] who sat down and put together a massive plan.
“The result of that is you see the difference in the class of quality. The biggest question is what Australian football going to do to see our players be like that one day?
“Five straight World Cups is all well and good but for what – one last 16 place in over 100 years? So what are you going to do about that?”
The Socceroos’ first World Cup finals appearance was in 1974 but it wasn’t until 2006 they qualified again. That year they reached the knockout stages but have been eliminated at the group stages in the past three editions and now face a mountain to get through, although Denmark’s draw with Tunisia earlier offers a glimmer.
No one really expected the Socceroos to get a result out of this game, despite Arnold’s pre-game bullishness.
But his tactics are under the microscope once again.
“I think the question is for Graham, whether he should have changed the game earlier,” said Craig Foster on SBS.
“We were 2-1 down but we also were conceding a lot of really good chances.
“I was surprised that he took so long to change – right at the end of the game. The other question is the ambition. In the second half at 2-1 down, we came out in the second and the same the pattern of the game was exactly the same.
“So at what point are we going to go up now start to press them?
“You obviously needed those fresh legs on the wings in particular [earlier], as you saw, which ultimately happened with Kuol and Mabil.
“Bring the team up to and start to put some pressure on them and take some more risks.”
He said that typically when a team was 2-1 down at halftime they would come out on the front foot – but Australia stayed in their shell.
“We never really did that. And all of a sudden, you’re down 3-1 and then 4-1 and the game is over. There are questions around whether Graham could have changed the approach, because the pattern of the game was already set,” said Foster.
Harry Kewell, whose 2006 goal against Croatia sent Australia into the knockout stages, made his commentary debut on SBS and was clearly frustrated by Arnold’s lack of intent.
“I just think if we had got them on the back foot, got the back line of France turning, we could have just caused them a little bit more trouble,” he said.
“And it has turned out to be such an easy game for France.”
After the match Arnold pointed to differences in quality, but also physique.
They were just so much bigger and faster and stronger than us today,” Arnold said.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe looked to be playing a different at times to the Australians and gave his opposite number Nathaniel Atkinson a torrid time.
Arnold was positive about the Hearts defender’s performance.
“The kid actually did decently well,” Arnold said. “He did his best against one of the best players in the world. In the first half he had Leckie and Jackson Irvine helping, when Mbappe had the ball three of them got out there and helped but how do you stop someone so quick?
“That’s very difficult. So it’s a great lesson for the kid and he’ll move on.”
Arnold must try to lift spirits quickly ahead of the clash with Tunisia.
“We’ve built the belief and the energy and the focus. The way we started I think that they believed in that and we just got punished by our mistakes.”