June 27, 2018

Horse 2430 - Australia Knocked Out Before A Ball Was Kicked - But It's Fine

Australia 0 - Peru 2
Carillo 17'
Guerrero 50'

It was obvious before the kickoff in the Australia - Peru match, that Australia would not qualify for the round of 16. If you'd been watching the kickoff in the France - Denmark games which started two and a half minutes earlier, you would have seen from the get go, that France had no intentions of trying terribly hard and that Denmark were absolutely fine with their part in being co-conspirators in the quest to pick up one point each. In fact, the highlight reel of that match, pretty well much began and ended with the kickoff and final whistle and not much else. France and Denmark secured a point each by playing a game which is best described as dour.

As for Australia's hopes independent of that match? Well, let's just say that this was an industrial relations field day, with both Australia and Denmark having less strikes than a well organised and coordinated worksite where everyone is happy with their pay and conditions.

Peru didn't start this game at anywhere near as frenetic a pace as Denmark or France did. This laid back approach would serve them well as they calmly dealt with any attacks that Australia might make. In fact the opening goal of the game happened against the run of play; on a counter attack and surprisingly very calmly indeed.

Peru pressed forward to the edge of the 18 yard box, while Australia looked organised  defensively and held their line. A cross was sent in front of the back four, where Carillo thumped it into the bottom left side of the goal and back across Matt Ryan. It was really Peru's first meaningful touch on the ball in the match and seventeen minutes in, they were already looking like they'd pick up all three points in what was effectively a dead rubber.

Most of this match looked kind of the same from this point. Australia would push forwards, and either get stalled in front of the opposition's defence, or take a shot and jag it badly.

Milligan's pass to Leckie resulted in a miss (20'). Mooy had a meaningful shot that breezed past the post (39'). Behich delivered a corner that bounced around for a bit before Cahill's stot missed (60'). Rogic played a long ball after which Behich found himself in space and the missed (71'). Peru's Flores hit a shot that was more hopeful than good and missed (80'). Jedinak took a free kick after Sainsbury was brought down a missed everything (82'.)

The other goal came at the 50 minute mark when Guerrero (who was only allowed in the tournament because the confederations of France, Denmark and Australia, decided to forgive his cocaine charges which would have rendered him ineligible) made a run into the 18 yard box and had a go. There was nothing inherently remarkable about the goal other than it doubled the scoreline and given that apart from Matt Leckie, nobody in an Australian shirt has scored a goal in calendar year 2018, this effectively put the game beyond Australia.

Probably the newspapers will spend many column inches trying to diagnose what's wrong with Australian football but with a string of results of 2-1, 1-1, and 2-0, against teams ranked no lower than 12th, I don't think that that's necessary. The basic problem with Australian football is that Rugby League, Rugby Union, and Australian Rules Football exist. This is a simple opportunity cost issue and given that Australia either is or is somewhere near the top of the world in those three other codes of football, it should be expected that they do not as well against nations of comparative specialists. I bet that the number of people in Peru who have heard of Australian Rules Football, could all fit into a phone booth. The fact that Australia qualifies and consistently fails to escape the group is merely an expression of where the expectations should be set. On that metric, Australia has performed exactly as should be expected and in the very broad context of the history of the World Cup, only eight nations have ever won it anyway.

Australia has done better than Italy, they've done better than the United States because they've made it to the tournament, and they've done better than Saudi Arabia because against the top dozen teams, they have looked adequate. The even numbered QF flight from Sochi to Sydney may have been booked immediately after the kickoff in the France - Denmark game but there's no reason to arrive at Kingsford-Smith Airport with pitchforks and backhoes unless you are the landscape gardeners.
Australia played with heart and soul and were simply not good enough to beat the top dozen teams in the world, and although that's boring, it's fine.

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