De Futebol

The Guardian:” The line between genius and insanity can be wafer thin. When Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou made six changes to his starting line-up to face South American champions Chile, many of his critics in the media centre and the stands thought he was deluded. The embattled manager left two of his best attacking players – Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic – on the bench, for an encounter Australia needed to win by two goals to qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup semi-finals.

On a warm Moscow evening, Postecoglou’s surprising team selection proved inspired. Australia played with vigour and dynamism, matching and at times even outplaying a Chilean side 44 places above them in the Fifa rankings. Following two insipid performances in recent days, the Socceroos were outstanding on Sunday.

But a first-half strike from James Troisi was later cancelled out by Chile’s Martín Rodríguez, and the 1-1 draw was not enough to see Australia progress to the knockout phase of the tournament. Despite one of their best performances in recent years, the required two goal win was elusive.

After playing their earlier matches of the Confederations Cup at sparsely attended stadiums in front of disinterested spectators, the atmosphere finally arrived for the Socceroos. While the recently-constructed Spartak Stadium was not nearly at capacity, vocal Chilean fans, patches of Australian support and enthusiastic Muscovites provided an apt setting for the encounter.

Not intimidated by a rousing rendition of the opposition’s national anthem, the Australians began with an aggressive attacking style. But the Chilean threat was ever present. Goalkeeper Mat Ryan was forced to make an impressive double-save in the seventh minute, while Ryan McGowan later blocked a dangerous attempt by striker Eduardo Vargas. As the half progressed, Chile began to exert their dominance on the match.

The controversial Video Assistant Referee (VAR) then threatened to intervene. Arsenal’s Alexis Sánchez was through on goal when veteran Australian defender Mark Milligan deftly extracted the ball from behind, Sanchez falling in the process. Almost a minute later Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi called play to halt, and while the decision ultimately came back in Australia’s favour, the frustration among the Socceroos during the delay was palpable.

The physical Australian approach took its toll, and by the 32nd minute three of Postecoglou’s players had received bookings. But there was far more to the Socceroos game plan than simply knocking the Chileans off their feet. Throughout the first half, Australia was composed in defence and measured when bringing the ball forward. The Socceroos were taking the game to world number four ranked Chile, with considerable success.

Their efforts were rewarded in the 42nd minute. Australia sent numbers forward with slicing build-up play, before a shot from Robbie Kruse was deflected into the path of Troisi. The mercurial playmaker – who qualified the Socceroos for this tournament with his winning goal in the 2015 Asian Cup final – calmly lobbed an onrushing Claudio Bravo.

Against both Germany and Cameroon this week, Australia has conceded in the shadow of the half time interval. When Arturo Vidal met a Sánchez cross with a powerful header that sailed towards the netting, it appeared the trend was to continue. But a last-ditch intervention from Trent Sainsbury prevented a certain La Roja equaliser, and the Socceroos entered the break with a one goal advantage.

Australia returned from the tunnel in a similar fashion, looking the better team at times in the early minutes following the break. But Chile hit back, substitute Martin Rodriguez putting a shot past Ryan after the South American was played onside by the Australian back three. They could have had another just three minutes later, Vargas misconnecting with a header as the goalmouth stood unguarded. There were hints of a handball in the clearance of Socceroos defender McGowan, but referee Rocchi refused to review despite pleas from Vidal.

Neither side really threatened in the final stages, the fatigue of three games in a week clearly showing in players from both sides. Try as they might Australia was unable to find a winner, let alone the two goals they needed to keep their competition hopes alive. But Postecoglou can take heart from an overwhelming positive showing, as he now starts preparing for a vital World Cup qualifier away in Japan in late August. If Australia can repeat their Moscow performance, the Socceroos will be returning to Russia in 2018.”

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