Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chile 3 Australia 1; 2014 Fifa World Cup Analysis

This was one match expected to have many goals given the experience of the South Americans over the Asians better known for rugby and cricket. However, the similarity of styles at the beginning, each team employing a textbook 1-4-2-3-1 saw the match being an open affair with clear-cut lines between units and the intentions of each team clear.

Chile were technically superior, quick in take-off, accurate in passing, positive in ball reception, incisive in penetration and effective in wing play. They strived to be first on the ball and take on the Australians.

The Socceroos showed some tactical discipline in maintaining their shape under pressure, determined to give as much as they took by getting behind the ball early while keeping the defensive line at the edge of the penalty box.

The first moment the Chileans breached that line, they scored. The ball was sent into the right channel of the box, sent across goal, received by the winger who drew out the goalkeeper on the by-line, sold him a dummy and deftly crossed the ball which was headed to Alexis Sanchez who controlled it, and quickly side-footed it past a defender obscuring the view of the goalkeeper behind him. The keeper’s reflex was only enough to touch the goal-bound shot for the first goal.

The crosser was not pressurised enough, and the cross was not headed clear and wide by the taller Aussies while the tight-marking was not duly employed in the box. The midfield had failed to cut off that supply after they adjusted their shape to a 1-4-1-4-1, suddenly the four midfielders beaten by a single pass.

Utilising the emotional drain caused by the goal, Chile stabbed home again. That midfield job failure on the right side was exposed again as the ball was quickly fed to Sanchez who neatly threaded the ball to Valdivia. The defence was drawn out and sucked into the ball by over-shifting to its left , leaving the central defensive position gapping. The defenders failed to communicate to watch their blind side and the goalkeeper did not command the backline to stay put and see both the third man running and the ball as they just ball-watched.

Valdivia controlled the ball with the outside of his right foot as he set up himself for a shot. That excellent first touch enabled him to make a curly scoop that was powerful enough to rise over the keeper and lower under the cross bar.

There was no consistency in the tucking in of the Aussie defence as the spaces began to show at the back. They screened and shifted well but the pace of the nibble-footed Chileans was a shade too quick for them. Chile began to throw bodies forward in almost a 1-2-3-2-3 formation with the goalkeeper sweeping. To be honest with Australia, they were just too poor in the final third. They tried counter-attacks that made them even spongier. The lack of inroads into the Chilean defence and the goals psychologically visibly drained the Socceroos tremendously.    

The frantic Chilean attacks exposed their back as they were hit by a counter attack from the left. The ball was flighted into the box for Leckie to fluff the opportunity and the ball was pushed to the centre line on the right, where it was won by a committed sliding tackle, pushed into midfield and then wide again to a crossing position. The driven cross was met by Tim Cahill who leaped high in the midst of three defenders, to jerk-knife the powerful header past a desperate goalkeeper who had no chance to deal with ball the cross and the second ball.

Australia became content for a while, failing to close the passing lines and without employing triangulation to deal with the pace of Chile. They let too many passes pass through the units with ease. They were not combative enough in midfield and they were almost punished with each attack.

There was growth in confidence and willpower in the second half as they asked all the questions but they moved into offside positions a shade too early, and were denied goals by good keeper heroics. Each passing phase that they threatened the goal gave them the impetus to soldier on and search for an equaliser. They competed and engaged in duels and creating space for Cahill between central defenders.

At the conclusion of the match, an attack from the right attracted a central defender to dive into a tackle and the ball being played to an unmarked player in a central position, whose first shot was blocked by an on-rushing keeper. The ricochet was ferociously met by a man from midfield who shot from the edge of the 18-yard box with his left foot, a hard and low screamer to conclude a wonderful spectacle of the beautiful game. This was the best-officiated match of the 2014 Fifa World Cup so far. The referee was African.