How short burst of Chile helped Socceroos realise they could handle heat
THE first 20 minutes of Australia’s 2014 World Cup opener brought only pain.
Their opponents, Chile, as had been widely predicted, were tearing them apart at will.
When Alexi Sanchez, then of Barcelona, scored after 12 minutes, it felt like it had been coming for longer. Two minutes later Jorge Valdivia doubled the lead. The game was up. Only it wasn’t.
What followed was an act of defiant resilience that Australia’s coaching and playing staff now view as a starting point for the current phase of the Socceroos’ ongoing evolution. The day belief in the vision and methods of Ange Postecoglou, barely six months in to his reign as coach, crystallised within the squad.
It is a belief that will have been sorely tested following a chastening 4-0 friendly defeat to Brazil at the MCG this week, the side’s heaviest loss under Postecoglou.
And faces a further, rigorous examination, once more from the Chileans in the group stage of the Confederations Cup in Russia this month. A group that also contains world champions Germany.
Australia regrouped after the early onslaught in Cuiaba, then made much more of a contest of it than the final 3-1 scoreline reflects, Tim Cahill scoring the kind of header he could probably copyright, seeing another chalked off for offside, the third Chile goal against the run of play late on.
So defeat, yes. But also a validation, a marker that a team searching for an identity since the retirement of a host of big name players were making positive strides in the right direction.
“Chile was really the starting point of this whole journey,” says Mark Milligan, who played that day and is in the squad that has gone to Russia. It changed the way we were viewed, in the way that we did things. Even now, I don’t think it was a 3-1 game.
“It set a platform for Ange to really stamp his authority lead ing in to the Asian Cup as to how he wanted us to play.
“You don’t ever want to cele brate a loss but at that time I thin those games and performance were very important to us.”
The performance agains Chile, if not the result, was a fa cry from the Socceroo’s openin World Cup match four year prior. Then, hosts Germany blit zed Australia early, too. But the kept up the pressure when me with limited resistance.
“We really noticed the change (in mentality between 2010 and 2014) on the pitch,” agrees Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak, absent from this tournament with injury.
“After the Chile game we continued that level of performance in to the Netherlands match (a 3-2 defeat when again Australia more than held their own), where on the day we probably should have won.
“It was a hard learning curve, but one thing I can say about the team is that we don’t give up. We took that in to the Asian Cup and had a great deal of success. Maybe- we haven’t had the resultsw we would have wanted (in recent World Cup qualifiers), but we haven’t lost too many. We won’t go down without a fight. That’s just in our DNA. When we’re out there we always think we’re a chance — and a good chance at that.”
Postecoglou stresses to both his team and those outside the camp that Australia should no longer consider themselves plucky underdogs punching above their weight.
“Ange has had a big part to play in resetting the mindset within the group,” says Jedinak.
Milligan adds: “We’ve always wanted to keep that Australian mentality of not being afraid and not taking a backward step, but then put that with playing some good attractive football.
“We have the confidence to go out and stick to our philosophies and we have a great opportunity to do that now on a big stage at a big tournament against some of the very best.”
Tim Cahill & Ange Postecoglou.