How short burst of Chile helped Soc­ceroos re­alise they could han­dle heat

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT - IN SOCHI

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.

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