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Opinion

Three things we learned in Australia’s loss to France

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12 hours ago
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After such a positive start and an inspiring opening 15 minutes, the Socceroos were unable to pull off a historic World Cup upset.

During the early stages, the signs were evident that the nerves got the better of the French, which allowed Australia more freedom in possession, resulting in Craig Goodwin’s opening goal.

After that, though, it was mostly one-way traffic as the reigning world champions took control and exploited some weaknesses that exist within Graham Arnold’s squad.

At the 2018 World Cup Australia managed a narrow 2-1 defeat in the opening game and now a 4-1 loss against the same opponent at the same stage in Qatar.

Have the Socceroos improved and adapted since previous World Cup tournaments to bridge the glaring gap in quality?

A dejected Aaron Mooy of Australia at full time during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D match between France and Australia at Al Janoub Stadium on November 22, 2022 in Al Wakrah, Qatar. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

A dejected Aaron Mooy of Australia at full time during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D match between France and Australia at Al Janoub Stadium on November 22, 2022 in Al Wakrah, Qatar. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

There are a few things that caught the eye and should be the focus heading into the remaining two games against Tunisia and Denmark.

Arnold can look to strengthen in these following areas to give themselves the best possible chance of progressing past the group stages.

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1. More emphasis on looking to go forward and applying attacking pressure

The way Australia started the match was impressive and surprising at the same time. It proved that this team actually does possess some quality and is capable of causing opposition problems, especially down the flanks.

Goodwin’s great finish came about by taking the game on and knocking the ball around while switching the play to find space out wide.

Even the pressing game was strong at the beginning which was led by Mitchell Duke, who was phenomenal with his work rate and trying to put the French defenders under constant pressure.

He came close with a long-range effort, as did a Jackson Irvine header hitting the post, which taught us that they can create good chances by being more ambitious.

When Australia sat back more and invited the pressure for France to come at them in numbers, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

It forced them to lose momentum, and from there it meant little movement to receive the ball and struggling to string passes together to make a real push, especially in the very dire second half.

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Australia's midfielder #23 Craig Goodwin (C) celebrates with teammates after he scored the opening goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group D football match between France and Australia at the Al-Janoub Stadium in Al-Wakrah, south of Doha on November 22, 2022. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Socceroo great Harry Kewell made a good point in the commentary that the pressure applied needed to be better in order to cause issues.

During preparation for the next two games, Arnold and his staff need to enforce the mentality to keep pressing forward for large spells rather than do it in small spurts and sit back if they take the lead.

It is no secret that there is nothing to lose at this point. It was a miracle to qualify in the first place, so it should play as an advantage to keep the intensity high with less pressure.

2. They need to pick their moments

This is the first World Cup appearance for a lot of the current playing group, and the inexperience is there for all to see.

Going up 1-0 against one of the best teams in the world isn’t as easy as it seems.

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The sense of occasion can become overwhelming, the approach can be confusing as to whether to drop numbers deeper and managing a game so early against a top nation can be very difficult.

For those reasons it is understandable, but Australia needs to learn from this experience and better understand when to pick their moments.

As mentioned, it was crucial to recognise that the 1-0 advantage came about so early in the match and it should have resulted in the ambition to look for a second goal rather than defend what they had.

Australia is not going to dominate for large parts of the game, especially against teams like France and Denmark, so picking out those moments to soak up pressure and defend needs to be calculated to near perfection.

Kylian Mbappe of France controls the ball against Nathaniel Atkinson of Australia during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D match between France and Australia at Al Janoub Stadium on November 22, 2022 in Al Wakrah, Qatar. (Photo by Patrick Smith - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

(Photo by Patrick Smith – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Australia also needs to better pick their moments when playing out from the back.

We all know that Mat Ryan’s biggest strength is playing the ball out with his feet and being the starting point to their possession build-up, but there are certain moments in every football game where this doesn’t need to be relied upon.

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The mistake out of the back from Nathaniel Atkinson for France’s second goal was caused when Les Bleus were constantly peppering the goal and looking threatening at every opportunity.

Those kinds of moments are when it needs to be recognised that it is not the time to play pretty football and instead play more conservatively.

Football isn’t played just one way which is the beauty of it.

3. Arnold’s inability to tactically change a game

In the lead-up to the tournament, Australia coach Graham Arnold seemed very relaxed and at ease during his press conferences. This would be an obvious sign of no nerves and feeling zero weight of expectation, prepared to play with nothing to lose.

After going ahead though, this looked far from the case.

Despite Leckie and Goodwin contributing to the goal, they were both selections that screamed defensive duties, which ultimately left Awer Mabil and Garang Kuol on the bench.

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In these types of matches it’s important to have a player with the talent that Mabil and Kuol have to run in behind with their pace and cause France’s backline headaches by always looking to play forward.

The backwards and sideways passing as the game progressed was tough to bare for any Aussie supporter.

Instead, the Socceroos chose to bring numbers back and allow their opposition to dictate proceedings. Arnold is not blessed with prime Italian defenders that view defending as an art. Unfortunately, Australia just doesn’t have that type of personnel within its ranks.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he chose to bring on both Mabil and Kuol after being down 4-1. Too late.

If Arnold really has nothing to lose, then why not introduce those impact players earlier when there is half a chance of picking up a positive result?

As mentioned, there are different ways of playing football, but continuously deploying negative tactics will do Australian football no good whatsoever for both the present and the future.

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The equation is simple. A win against Tunisia and a draw against Denmark along with France avoiding defeat to the Danes will see the green and gold qualify for the last 16 for the first time since 2006.

Of course that is easier said than done, but if those few areas of Australia’s game can be brushed up, it could give them the best possible chance of a successful World Cup campaign.

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