Socceroos win the battle whilst the war goes on

The ground separating the FFA and the PFA is craggy, and littered with barbs. The Players Association isn’t happy, and the national team coach is caught, awkwardly, in the middle. Ange Postecoglou made a twitchy reversal this week after commenting on the pay dispute issue, clarifying the nature of his remark regarding the irascible stances of both entities. “Lay down your guns”, he had said to both parties, before his statement was retracted.

His position, wedged between his employers and his players, isn’t an enviable one. And with Bangladesh arriving at the NIB Stadium as largely an unknown enemy, Postecoglou is trying clammily to force the national attention away from this ill-tempered affair.  In the stunning silence following the end of the transfer period, in which numerous Australian were seen traipsing from one club to another, and with the pay dispute ringing in the ears, Postecoglou and the Socceroos must now also focus on this eminently winnable World Cup qualifier. When the coach was asked pre-match how it felt that the pay dispute had been drowned out for the night and that football was taking prominence, Postecoglou replied flatly; “Football’s always taken prominence with me, mate.”

Of the group that began the match against Bangladesh, seven Australian players had changed clubs this off-season. Adam Federici went from Reading to Bournemouth, Jason Davidson went from West Brom to Huddersfield Town, Matthew Spiranovic went from the Western Sydney Wanderers to Chinese club Hangzhou Greentown, Mark Milligan went from Melbourne Victory to the UAE’s Baniyas Club, Mass Luongo went from Swindon Town to Queens Park Rangers, and Nathan Burns went from the Wellington Phoenix to FC Tokyo. This was just the starting XI, with fellow stars Tim Cahill and Tommy Oar – substitutes against Bangladesh – also beginning this season in new surrounds.

The initial stages of every club’s season are stumbled through, almost blindly, with teams trying to determine just how much progress has been made over the break. For players that have joined new teams, this period is even less certain. This international break stops this process in its tracks, and suddenly players are spirited back to earth, back amongst familiar faces, places and accents. It can be a little dazing. And as little a threat as Bangladesh posed in Perth, the trip to Tajikistan won’t be nearly as breezy.

Matthew Leckie scored Australia’s first goal within 7 minutes of the kick-off, converting a neat pull-back from Massimo Luongo. Tom Rogic’s scored a second goal a minute or so later. Luongo should have bashed home a third before the quarter-hour mark, but screwed a shot wide after dancing effortlessly into the box. It mattered little; Rogic‘s deflected shot meant the Socceroos were 3-0 within minutes of Luongo’s miss.

This was the tone throughout; by the time Australia had made 100 passes, Bangladesh had barely completed a dozen. A mismatch only begins to describe the status quo, on what was a flawlessly manicured NIB Stadium pitch. A 4-0 halftime lead had widened only slightly by the final whistle, and such was Australia’s dominance, the near-constant possession became almost tedious. With three-quarters of the match gone, multiple Bengali players were lying prone and winded on the turf, as the crowd bayed for a Tim Cahill goal, which never came.

With only Milligan ordered to guard against the counter (and he was only barely necessary) Aaron Mooy, Luongo and Rogic all revolved fluidly, taking turns in the No. 10 position, threatening relentlessly. Postecoglou could afford to play hyper-attacking midfield system against such inferior opponents, and yet, in spite of the training-like feel the match had, it was a pleasure seeing the three attackers work together. Mooy’s industry and care, Luongo’s subtlety, and Rogic’s upright potency; it was an intoxicating cocktail. Luongo in particular is a precious talent. His moments of incision are so deliciously unexpected. He’ll be chugging along, looking no more threatening than your average cherubic 22 year old, and then suddenly he’ll slip through an impossible pass, or pivot with the precision and grace of a prima ballerina. Of all the Australian players to have moved clubs, his start at QPR has arguably been the most promising.

There is very little of substance to take from a match like this, a total non-contest. From it, only the most ephemeral of indications, only the barest trace of a lesson can be learnt. More than anything perhaps, this result lightened Australian football’s collective mood. Nearly 20,000 people bore witness to this stroll, and all, except, of course, those wearing red and green, spent the evening smiling. Life is easy when you’re winning, and if a similarly positive result can be earned against Tajikistan next week, the players can carry their high spirits back to their clubs. The PFA and the FFA will sort their unpleasantries out eventually and, hopefully, in a less audible manner. In the meantime, the fans, and the team, can celebrate this highly comfortable victory.

FINAL SCORE // AUS 5 – 0 BAN

Written by Evan Grahame Morgan.

THE TURF