Socceroos: International friendlies pose big questions for a new coach

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Bert van Marwijk at training with the Socceroos in Norway.

By TAS MAVRIDIS 

New Socceroos coach Bert van Marwijk will have plenty to think about after a mixed first international break as Socceroos coach.

A first match at the helm against Norway in Oslo came only three days after his first camp, leaving little time for the Dutchman to get his coaching philosophy across to his players.

Consequently, the match did not go well for Australia, with Norway walking away with a 4-1 win.

Australia made a promising start with Hull City midfielder Jackson Irvine heading home the opening goal after only 19 minutes.

However, despite dominating possession Australia’s poor passing and lack of desire to push forward wasted their 1-0 lead.

The direct approach of the Norwegians proved too strong for Australia with Ola Kamara drawing the home side level on 36 minutes before two goals from Tore Reginiussen and Kamara after the break secured Australia’s fate.

Despite attacking changes, Australia could not seem to create any clear-cut chances before Kamara completed his hat-trick in injury time.

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A fan is removed from the field during the friendly against Columbia.

Looking to bounce back at the Socceroos’ home away from home, Craven Cottage, Australia managed to hold on to record a 0-0 draw with South American powerhouse Colombia.

The South American side were denied by the woodwork and poor finishing, with the one occasion that they put the ball in the back of the net called offside.

Tomi Juric had the Socceroos’ best chance of the first half with his low shot going wide of the post.

A frantic final 10-minute period saw Colombia create a minimum of three golden opportunities including a penalty chance which was saved by debutant Danny Vukovic after the Genk goalkeeper committed a clumsy foul.

While Australia was lucky to escape with a draw, one of the bright sparks for the match was the performance of QPR’s Massimo Luongo, who was the Socceroos’ best afield. Luongo’s passing and dribbling was pivotal in opening up the game for the Socceroos.

With only two more friendly matches before their World Cup Campaign kicks off against France on June 16, there will be plenty of discussion around the structure of the side across all lines.

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Aleksandar Susnjarin action against China in an U23 match.

Centre-back pairing a potential issue

Two of Australia’s first choice centre-backs under Ange Postecoglou in Trent Sainsbury and Matt Jurman were both unavailable for the pair of friendlies, which exposed a potential issue for van Marwijk.

Despite Milos Degenek playing consistently at centre-back for club side Yokohama F Marinos and Mark Milligan well respected for his versatility, there is a clear need for more options.

One player who did impress in the defeat to Norway was Aleksandar Susnjar who plies his trade for Czech side FK Mlada Boleslav.

In his cameo against the Norwegians, Susnjar seemed to gain more control in the aerial battle which was responsible for much of Australia’s downfall.

With Bailey Wright having a poor match at right back against Norway, he could potentially be another option to shift to a centre-back slot.

Despite captaining Championship side Bristol City from the right back position, at international level Wright appears best suited to playing centrally in a back four.

Another potential inclusion for Russia is Rhys Williams; the Melbourne Victory centre-back has rejuvenated his career after a long spell in England for Middlesbrough and a short year-long stint in Perth.

With his ability to play and control the ball at the back, a solid ending to the A-League campaign could see Williams cement himself in the squad.

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Tom Rogic, here playing with Celtic, is Australia’s key attacking midfielder. 

So many midfield options, only so many starting spots

With Australia seemingly shifting towards a 4-2-3-1 formation it means that there is only room for three of Australia’s central midfield options.

The most significant issue facing the Socceroos coaching staff is that this is arguably their most stacked position.

Tom Rogic appears to be the only out-and-out attacking midfielder, while Jackson Irvine has the potential to play this role but he is best suited alongside the defensive midfielder as a link-up player who can grab the ball and play it into the attacking front four.

This same issue applies to both Massimo Luongo and to an extent Aaron Mooy, who also provides a different skillset to the players mentioned above.

As seen during his time in the Premier League for Huddersfield Town, Mooy best works when he gets the ball played into him, allowing him to angle passes across the park.

However, one thing that he seemingly lacks compared to the other options is the engine to bolt forward and join the attacks.

With this in mind, van Marwijk will have slightly different options depending on how he decides to approach each match.

Skipper Mile Jedinak is then left seemingly unchallenged as the primary defensive midfield option who will look to break open the play and allow the other midfield options to create, but he is approaching his mid-30s, and van Marwijk may turn instead to Milligan or Josh Brillante from the current squad.

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Jamie Maclaren celebrates a goal for Hibernian this month.

Who is going to score our goals?

For years the Socceroos have needed Tim Cahill to step up with crucial goals, and as his career comes to an end, we are still no closer to finding out who will fill the shoes of Australia’s greatest ever goal scorer.

Tomi Juric had the first attempt to fill this role, but with minimal success so far it has raised some questions. Despite his decent goal-scoring record in Switzerland, his wastefulness in front of goal when in Australian colours has been frustrating for the team and fans alike.

Other names in consideration from outside the squad include Jamie Maclaren and Brandon Borrello.

In van Marwijk’s preferred formation of a lone central striker, Maclaren could fill this role.

Despite being cut from the final squad for these matches, Maclaren’s move to Hibs in Scotland has ensured that he will be able to do everything in his power to force his way into calculations.

After a fruitful couple of seasons for Brisbane, Maclaren has scored a couple of goals in his first handful of appearances for Hibs and if he keeps this form up, there is no doubt he will find himself on the plane to Russia.

From left field, the likes of Hertha Berlin’s Mat Leckie has long been trusted as another option.

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Brandon Borrello in action for Kaiserslautern.

Currently, Andrew Nabbout, Nikita Rukavytsya and Robbie Kruse (who could also be deployed more centrally instead of Rogic) have been the three players given a chance.

However, after a slow start to life in the 2.Bundesliga for Kaiserslautern, Borrello looks to have found his feet at the right time of the season and could add something as a wide attacking player.

The goals and assists are beginning to roll over and a convincing end to the season will put him into calculations for a Socceroos debut.

With only two more friendlies before the team’s first group game at Russia 2018, plenty of questions remain as to how van Marwijk will potentially get Australia into the knockout stages of another world cup.