Despite losing 3-1 to Chile in Cuiaba, the Socceroos can take many positives from their second half performance.
Socceroos manager Ange Postecoglou named an expected starting line-up, with Mark Bresciano fit to begin the match as the most advanced player in central midfield. With an emphasis on a high tempo and early crosses into ‘No.9’ Tim Cahill, Postecoglou selected Mathew Leckie and Tommy Oar to start on the wings.
Arturo Vidal recovered in time from a knee injury to begin in central midfield for Chile. Whether you view their formation as a 4-3-3 with a ‘false 9’ or as a 4-4-2 diamond, Jorge Sampaoli has continued with a Bielsa-like emphasis on high tempo attacking football.
Chile’s quick start
Chile got off to the best possible start, immediately gaining control of possession, pinning Australia’s defence back before taking a 2-0 lead within 15 minutes. Key to that start was Chile’s use of their fullbacks Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla. Such is the emphasis on attacking width, when in possession of the ball, both the left and right fullback of Chile pushes forward.
Because of the width coming from the fullbacks, a quick switch of play is always an option for Chile and, with their patterns of play, they are able to create 2v1 situations against the covering opposition fullback. This was a prominent feature in the opening stages of the match, particularly down Chile’s right wing, and played a part in the build up to Alexis Sanchez’s 12th minute goal.
In this early example, the ball was worked down Chile’s left side before the ball was played back into midfield for the switch of play. Because of Australia’s compactness when defending, there was space on the right, with Isla (circled, red) pushing beyond Oar and creating a 2v1 situation against Davidson.
Davidson was forced across to apply pressure, opening up a space in between him and the sliding centre back Matthew Spiranovic. Sanchez, the right winger, would then dart into that space looking for a first time knock down or pass. In this particular example, Isla’s attempted header into the path of Sanchez was comfortably dealt with by Davidson.
Again the switch of play occurred from left to right, with a raking long pass played into the path of Isla (just off the bottom of the screen) who moved beyond Oar.
With Davidson forced across to close Isla, Sanchez again burst in behind looking for the first time through ball, but Isla’s volley went over his and Spiranovic’s head and was cleared by Alex Wilkinson.
Example 3, Chile’s first goal:
This third and final example demonstrates Sampaoli’s emphasis on attacking width and also the players’ understanding of their manager’s system. Right back Isla (circled, red) had carried the ball into a central area which had momentarily taken him out of position, but in order to not lose the outlet for a switch of play, central midfielder Charles Aránguiz pulled out to take up the usual position of Isla. The switch was again played from left to right, in behind Oar and targeting Australia’s left back.
On this occasion, with Davidson moving across and Sanchez bursting in behind, the execution of the pass was effective. Sanchez was able to bring the ball under control, and whilst Spiranovic was quick to cover across and close down the Barcelona winger, a goal was the eventual outcome.
Chile doubled their lead soon after, with Alexis Sanchez’s variety in his movement and skill playing an important role. As mentioned in the match preview, “Sanchez [was] not afraid to drop deep to provide a constant passing option to receive the ball” and when he received possession and instinctively turned Mile Jedinak, Australia’s back four was outnumbered and manoeuvred out of shape thanks to quick, direct runs off the ball.
Tim Cahill’s heading ability
After being pushed back by Chile in the early stages, Australia, by the time they went down 2-0, had completed only 31 passes (of 40 attempted) to Chile’s 112 (of 126 attempted). Nerves clearly hampered Australia’s play, but as the half went on they were able to gain a foothold in the match and pull a goal back thanks to, who else, Tim Cahill.
Cahill continued his incredible knack for scoring important goals, and for the 13th time in a row, the goal came courtesy of a cross, with 11 of those 13 going in off his head.
Cahill’s strike against Chile was not only a perfect example of his terrific jumping ability, but it also highlighted his intelligent movement in the box. Cahill, as crosses come into the box, looks to isolate himself against a defender which then allows him to out jump them in a 1v1 situation.
For the goal, when possession was regained by Ivan Franjic, Cahill was in front of makeshift centre back Gary Medel. Sensing an opportunity to isolate his marker, who is only 171cms tall, Cahill pulled away and positioned himself in between Medel and right back Isla.
With Isla conscious of Tommy Oar on the edge of the box, and Medel forced to look over his shoulder to see where Cahill was positioned, Cahill was in a prime position to attack Franjic’s inch perfect cross, inevitably heading the ball into the back of the net.
A look at Cahill’s last three open play headed goals, as well as his 2010 World Cup strike against Serbia, again shows how Cahill’s intelligent movement maximises his jumping and heading ability.
On all four of these past examples, Cahill pulled away and got himself in a position to isolate his marker, before winning the aerial duel and scoring.
The goal gave Australia the confidence they needed to play fearless, attacking football, and the second half saw a noticeable improvement in Australia’s execution when going forward.
Mathew Leckie terrorized the open Chile defence and Tim Cahill’s movement continued to cause problems. On three separate occasions early in the second half, Cahill moved to isolate himself against a defender and on all three occasions Australia came close to an equaliser. The first, from a cross from the left, saw Cahill get in front of Gonzalo Jara in a 1v1 tussle in the box and head the ball wide of the target whilst having his shirt pulled back (although Cahill too had a handful of the Jara’s shirt). A second example came soon after, with Cahill finding the back of the net, however the goal was correctly adjudged to be offside. On that occasion, Cahill had pulled off towards Medel, although in front of him and hence offside, before getting to Leckie’s wonderful cross first. The third example, which came early in the second half, occurred when Cahill pulled away to the back post and was again 1v1 with Jara as the cross was delivered. Although the cross went over Cahill’s head, with a question mark over whether Jara pushed the Aussie, Cahill’s movement allowed Bresciano to move untracked in behind Jara and volley the cross towards goal. Only a terrific stop from Chile’s goalkeeper Claudio Bravo prevented Australia from equalising.
The Socceroos were unable to equalise during their best spell of the match but continued to attack in search of an equaliser. Chile were able to seal the victory in stoppage time, with substitute Jean Beausejour accurately finishing from outside the box after goalkeeper Mat Ryan had initially saved a 1-on-1 chance. Australia’s proactive play troubled Chile, who had been so dominant in the opening 15-20 minutes of the match. At 2-0 down, Australia did not drop their heads and in fact grew in confidence as the match went on. Chile, on the other hand, at 2-0 up did not take full advantage of their dominance and were found wanting in the second half.
Despite the score line, Australia and Postecoglou can take positives away from the match. Although their start to the match was nervy, Australia reacted well when going behind and caused many problems for Chile’s defence.
Next up in Group B, Australia faces the Netherlands, who shocked everyone when they trashed World Champions Spain. Spain will be hoping to recover quickly from that loss when they face Chile – another loss will see them fail to make it out of the group.