What a ride! But suddenly and sadly it’s over. The enduring feeling after Australia’s World Cup is a sense of pride. But there’s also that tinge of “what if”. That shows we weren’t far away.
What if Mat Ryan didn’t have that horror moment gifting Julian Alvarez’s goal? What if Emiliano Martinez’s left forearm doesn’t deny Garang Kuol? What if Aziz Behich capped that slalom run with a goal? What if Argentina didn’t have Lionel Messi?
As the dust settled, all those things were naturally running through my mind. But when a game comes down to fine margins, those thoughts prove that it was a genuine contest. And that’s something which should fill us with pride.
You could tell the Argentinians felt it was a contest too, given their whole-hearted celebrations after the game.
Sure, their fans whip up an undeniable frenzy inside any stadium which was worthy of gratitude from their players, but you could sense their palpable relief too.
We don’t want to forever pat ourselves on the back for giving ‘stronger opponents’ scares. And that’s not the point.
The point is for a side long lamented during an unconvincing qualifying campaign, they were not far off the required level.
For all this generation’s deficiencies, we were right there, and that should give Australian football hope that if we can get a few things in order in the talent development space, we can actually be a real contender at World Cups in the future.
We felt your support and passion all around the country 💚💛
Nothing like the power of football to captivate the entire country ⚽️🇦🇺
— Socceroos (@Socceroos) December 4, 2022
The Socceroos’ player of the tournament has been Harry Souttar and the big man was there again, making clutch tackles, thwarting Argentinian attacks and winning everywhere in the air. Souttar’s performances have been astonishing given he’d barely returned from 12 months out with an ACL injury a fortnight prior to the World Cup. He’s quickly become a fan favourite too, with huge cheers every time his face appeared on screen at any live site watching the game.
Jackson Irvine wasn’t far behind Souttar for our best and was tireless again for Australia with his energy, harassing and quality passing. He continues to excel as one of the side’s key leaders and his emotional and honest post-game interview summed up everyone’s feelings beautifully.
Speaking of leaders, veteran left-back Behich also enjoyed an excellent tournament, and potentially his four best games in the green and gold. There’s been some claims that Behich’s clash with Messi fired up the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner in the lead-up to the opening goal. Maybe he poked the bear, but you cannot fault his commitment and work rate, plus that late run was spectacular.
Individuals aside, coach Graham Arnold got the team playing the right way after that uncomfortable display against France. We got lucky with Craig Goodwin’s deflected strike finding its way into the net, but in some ways, we deserved that fortune for daring to dream.
We understood our limitations all tournament, and Ryan’s blunder aside, played within them, utilizing our strengths to a tee. It wasn’t about possession or technical quality. It was about being efficient when we had the ball but also backing ourselves and our quality.
We didn’t limp out 2-0 down. We kept up our approach. The fact we created two genuine chances at 2-1, shows that and gave everyone watching something to remember.
There’s no need to go over it again and again but Ryan’s mistake obviously was fatal. With the game still up for grabs on the hour, conceding a second goal in such fashion was utterly deflating. Arnold hadn’t even had a chance to reload the team with fresh substitutions.
Ryan obviously should’ve just cleared the ball first team. But then you also ask, should Kye Rowles have played it back to him, having already received a backward pass from Behich? There’s a philosophical question there, but sometimes you’ve just gotta be aware of the danger and deal with it, however agricultural.
The audacity of Ryan’s FC Copenhagen ‘teammate’ and goalkeeping rival Kamil Grabara to take to Twitter and criticize his colleague was an absolute shocker, particularly from someone who was originally overlooked for World Cup selection by his country, Poland.
Grabara’s public comments a few months ago about Ryan were staggeringly unprofessional, stating the Aussie had no claim to be the club’s number one goalkeeper and wasn’t a threat to him. From afar, it felt unprovoked but also completely unhealthy for team harmony. For the Polish keeper to double down on that, in such a moment which will haunt Ryan forever, is unforgivable.
Must have been politics, for sure😏
— Kamil Grabara (@Kamil_Grabara1) December 3, 2022