As Iran coach Amir Ghalenoei prepares for another Asian Cup semi-final exit on what he described as the worst day of his life, he noted that his side were not the only heavyweights it was terminated.
South Korea, Galenoei noted, huddled away at Jordan the night before, and his Team Meli Japan was accounted for in the quarter finals.
Ghalenoei added that Saudi Arabia were gone early, and so was Australia – it’s not the first time one of Asia’s best coaches has, without encouragement, raised the Socceroos’ status in Doha.
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Jürgen Klinsmann had a similar refrain after the Taeguk Warriors’ semi-final win over Jordan, while Qatar boss Tintín Márquez pointed to Australia’s exit when asked if he had not won a domestic tournament.
Saudi Arabia coach Roberto Mancini, famous for winning the Premier League and European Championship, named Australia as one of the strongest sides in the competition before his side was eliminated, as did Japan mentor Hajime Moriyasu.
But are the Socceroos one of the strongest sides in Asia?
Asia’s leading players seem to think so, something to consider in moments of reflection. However, another elimination at the quarter-final stage suggests a reputation that cannot be taken for granted.
On paper, the latest exit seems “better” than the 2019 elimination against the UAE.
After 90 minutes against a South Korean outfit filled with some of the best players in Asia, linked to some of the biggest clubs in the world, it took a last gasp penalty and then a moment of magic from global superstar Son Heung-min to reach Australia. in extra time.
Much of the game was played on the Socceroos’ terms as they chased down a Korean outfit that showed alarming disunity in possession, and the rout only prevented Australia from taking a two or even three goal lead – a margin that ‘would leave the final decisive exchanges. a lie
But as the heartache deepens, questions remain. Not just on that particular loss, but also on the challenges that came up in the previous games, and just how they might be interconnected.
In some ways, South Korea got a glimpse of both the highs and lows of the Socceroos under coach Graham Arnold. At their best, the tenets of commitment, defensive solidity, and delivery led to carefully planned runs into the opposition box which he was highly credited with.
What the Socceroos do well, they do very well. Another day, maybe most days, they win that game; Korean media speculated positively after the game about Arnold’s potential suitability in the K-League.
But in this same match, a decision to retreat and defend in the final exchanges proved costly, despite the fact that the Saudis had done the same the previous days but late in the “Zombie Football” in Korea.
When the equalizer came and extra time came, Australia’s move to sit deep, and the associated change into a back five, left few attacking options or motivation to try to come back and find another goal. even before they were reduced to 10 men.
Furthermore, their labors in possession of the competition suggested that the Socceroos were ill-suited to take possession even without this setback. As the landscape changed, there was no clear way back into the game.
A microcosm of the Socceroos in one heartbreaking package. The sun rises in the east, sets in the west, and Arnieball is Arnieball. This team can punch above their weight but their strengths can be mitigated (give them the ball) and the opponent or game situation can reveal limitations. A win over South Korea would not change that.
As tempting as it is to point out perceived deficiencies in talent, a final between Qatari and Jordanian squads featuring only one European-based player in the likes of Mac, Wataru Endō and Mehdi Taremi robs that influence of an end. Australia has the talent to do well.
Instead, the continued rise of smaller sides in Asia – Syria, Uzbekistan, and even Tajikistan coming to the fore – shows that nothing can be taken for granted, and just what an approach can do. defined, despite smaller resources.
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Unfortunately for Australia, and indeed other Asian heavyweights flirting with similar entropy in possession, most of these approaches are based on principles of maximizing talent through defensive and counter-attacking solidarity, obliging the federation’s ancien régime to unlock them.
Is it enough to roam through Asia if it means bleeding the noses of the world powerhouses? Is there a way to improve the former while maintaining the latter?
This challenge cannot be tackled simply by throwing resources at the problem. That will help, but the challenges and solutions for Arnold – as well as Klinsmann, Mancini, Moriyasu, Ghalenoei and others – are on the field.
As Asia develops, so must they. As long as their federation supports their philosophy and vision, they must find answers because a new era, a new challenge, requires an answer.