High-quality finishers seem to be the privilege of only a few teams at major international tournaments. The 2018 World Cup isn't proving to be any different, hence the odds of Brazil or France winning the title are far lesser than, say, Australia.
In this day, when emphasis on high performance, cutting edge analytics and tactics resembling geometry or mathematical models is high, it is still the good, old goals that decide football matches. Elite goal-scorers don't regularly emerge from supposed B-list international teams like Australia, thereby limiting their ambition.
Australia created enough chances against Denmark in Samara to deserve more than a 1–1 draw — a result that now has the Socceroos precariously surviving in the race to reach the next round, so much so that their fate isn't in their own hands.
Australia's striking issues
In the relatively pleasant setting of the Samara Arena, Australia's primary goal threat was Andrew Nabbout, the Japan-based striker who didn't have a single attempt in his 76 minutes on the pitch. Not only Nabbout, but Matthew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Tom Rogic , tasked with sharing the scoring burden also disappointed. Leckie and Rogic in particular, as their combined two shots on target from nine attempted proved.
Attack wasn't Australia's plan anyway; manager Bert van Marwijk has a more reserved approach than his predecessor Ange Postecoglou and keeping a disciplined shape mattered more to him, both in the Socceroos' opening defeat to France and on Thursday. Despite that, Van Marwijk's team were just a top striker away from securing what could've been a vital win in the circumstances.
Denmark's pressing game
Similar fate befell Denmark but their centre-forward Nicolai Jorgensen was more influential, delightfully creating Christian Eriksen's opener with a neat flick. While that was about it as far as Jorgensen's teeth were concerned, it barely mattered given the even more modest state of Denmark's opponents. To add to that, they even had a plan to offset their own scarcity of attacking resources.
The Danes defended in a 4–4–2 block when Australia built up and marked the Socceroos' central midfielders — Aaron Mooy and Mile Jedinak — when they tried to pass the ball out from the back.
Disrupting Australia's build-up inside their own half by marking and deploying cover shadows on the two pivots was a means for Denmark to generate dangerous situations in attack. Considering the Australian centre-backs Mark Milligan and Trent Sainsbury are very good on the ball, breaking their first forward pass was an ideal tactic to create chances by forcing mistakes.
Eriksen's goal came from a similar situation when Australia's weak clearance from a throw-in was redirected into the box where Jorgensen and Eriksen combined well to finish, as early as the seventh minute.
Age Hareide's team couldn't maintain the same intensity throughout, handing the Aussies a way back into the game. The Socceroos almost had the win but for their poor finishing and final third decision making.
Australia see brighter side of VAR
In their previous outing against France, Australia had the misfortune of becoming the first World Cup victims of a VAR-assisted penalty call that ultimately proved to be the difference in a tight 2–1 defeat. This time, however, VAR came to the Socceroos' aid at a corner in the 36th minute.
Denmark's match-winner against Peru, Yussuf Poulsen, was adjudged by VAR to have handled the ball inside the box, prompting the referee to signal a penalty which captain Mile Jedinak duly converted. While most of Australia would've fumed at the application of VAR against France, Thursday's penalty decision in the Socceroos' favour certainly suggests video referees are the way forward as the error margin in critical situations drastically reduces.
Jedinak is now the only goal-scorer for Australia at the 2018 World Cup, both his goals coming from the penalty spot. Teams like Australia don't always have the luxury of fielding someone of the scoring pedigree of their ex-hero Mark Viduka, hence their plight on the global stage is somewhat understandable.
An interesting trivia about the FIFA World Cup is it has been won by only eight countries so far. This is the 21st edition of world football's great show and judging by the scheme of things on the pitch, it is almost impossible for teams like Australia to break into that elite company of winners. All the more so without an elite goal-scorer leading the line.
Updated Date: Jun 22, 2018 11:56 AM