Belgium trumps Socceroos in grind

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Despite suggestions led by Belgian media that Australia manager Ange Postecoglou and his men should be afraid of the challenge against the Red Devils, it is clear that the Socceroos certainly rose to the challenge.

The squad had many fresh faces showcasing not only the depth of players within Australian football but also their global representation. The final score was a loss of 2-0 for Australia and was certainly a reflection of the minor mistakes which were capitalised upon by the Belgium squad.

It was evident from the first few moments of the game that Australia was intending to use a similar style of play to which they used in the World Cup, one which is both fast paced involving high levels of stamina and significant mental strength.

Postecoglou retained 13 members of the original squad that were taken on Australia’s World Cup campaign in 2014, generating a mixture between both the old and new guard of Australian football.

Australia wasn’t able to stop the quick and clinical plays led by the Belgian squad defensively and the green and gold’s inability to hold onto the ball certainly led to their ultimate demise.

Many of the fouls were forced by the Australians, conceiving 10 in the first half with additional defensive mistakes haunting the first goal.

This amount was bound to increase in the second half due to the increasing amounts of pressure the squad was facing in order to prevent the Belgians from gaining momentum.

An opportunity was given to Mark Bresciano to convert a free kick within the first opening minutes of the game but this was sadly denied, leading to spaces opening throughout Australia’s defensive setup for the Belgian squad to overlap and exploit.

The capitalisation of such minor mistakes made by the Socceroos could certainly be attributed to the lack of experience and nerves felt by the squad, which failed to settle throughout the first half.

Certainly, both squads were presenting the new era of modern football by using many young players. With the right side of Australia’s defence consistently being challenged by Belgium’s Divock Origi, who pushed Trent Sainsbury to his limit, and Chris Herd, who was forced to make a clearance off the Australian goal line in the 10th minute.

Australia was unable to hold onto possession and slow down the play by the Red Devils, consequently leading to a tragic series of events, which led to the back four unable to prevent a goal with multiple opportunities to do so.

The ball was shot and rebounded off the cross bar by Debruyne, which provided him with another opportunity to score that led to Mertens finally converting it into a goal.

A sense of urgency by the Socceroos to prevent the strong attacking momentum by the Belgian squad led to Australia generating two fouls within 2 minutes, giving Belgium the opportunities for a free kick from both 26 and 20 metres out from goal. Yet, once again they were unable to transform these opportunities into goals.

Bresciano and Tommy Oar were given momentous opportunities, yet the experienced Belgian defenders prevented any possible results.

The 33rd minute saw a yellow card given to Matthew Leckie, which only initiated another fast-pace counter attack led by the Belgians. Along with dramatic and blatantly obvious dive by Leckie in the penalty box was lucky enough to have not received another yellow card.

Chris Herd, despite a strong debut in the first 44 minutes of the match, sadly was substituted off in agony, whilst Josh Brillante joined the field in the hopes of changing the current score of the match.

With 3 minutes of time added to the first half, it was clear that Australia have been tested both physically and mentally shown by their inability to settle throughout the first half.

The trouble for the green and gold stems from the Red Devils’ exceptional control and experience, which has minimal mistakes that the Australian’s are unable to exploit.

The tempo of the match was continued in the second half and the Socceroos had almost settled into the game receiving a corner and opportunity to score in the 49th minute through a play led by Tim Cahill to Brillante, which ultimately failed to be converted.

Bresciano attempted another shot on goal goal from another free kick opportunity and finally the Socceroos are settling into the game and holding on the ball around the 51st minute, though it is questionable whether they have altered to a style of possession or the Belgians were just gradually wearing down the squad due to the physicality of the match.

Despite Ben Halloran having outstanding pace and pressing forward, he managed to lose the ball, ultimate resulting in him being substituted, and perhaps could have held it and waited for the rest of the squad to catch up or go for goal himself. The Red Devils were very strong and unified defensively, which led to such opportunities continuously being prevented from being converted into goals.

Shortly after, Cahill shortly was substituted and replaced debutant Brad Smith.

An impeccable strike by Axel Witsel was unstoppable and saw the green and gold slide to 2-0, certainly presenting that there were things that critically needed to be improved on by the Australian side.

Despite the disheartening score, both Halloran and Leckie continue to make ground and Matt Ryan was forced once more to make a brilliant save in the 82nd minute with multiple chances given to Belgium to increase the final score.

With two minutes added onto the clock, the last minute was almost manic with the last chance for the Socceroos to change the final score presenting the ultimate problem which was their ability to release the ball too early giving it their opponent.

Belgium’s Origi was certainly the stand out from the game, testing the Australian’s right-hand side of defence continuously making his presence known on a global platform.

One can conclude post-match that there was almost too much of a heavy reliance on Cahill to score a goal. Friendly games are an opportunity for young players to shine and be selfish enough to take chances and create goals.

Many of the opportunities were destroyed due to poor passes and crosses that ended in enemy hands when in reality, most of these opportunities could have been capitalised on by the player who had the ball.

It must be noted that the final score of the game does represent a poorly played game, rather it represents a pathway for improvement for the squad enabling them to reflect and improve on the the minor mistakes made before their next friendly match against Saudi Arabia.

Exposing such a young team to a challenge such as the Red Devils will only further lead to improvement representing the very raw and exciting future of Australian football.

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Jessica Csaszar
Jessica joined the team for 2014 covering Western Sydney Wanderers in the Westfield W-League and Hyundai A-League.

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