Physical Cameroon puts Socceroos' cup run in jeopardy
SOCCEROOS coach Ange Postecoglou refused to concede that his side's chances of progressing in the Confederations Cup had all but disappeared after a 1-1 draw with Cameroon, in which Australia saw most of the ball but conceded the vast majority of clear chances.
A similar result in the day's other fixture, between Germany and Chile, means Australia must beat the South American champions by two clear goals to progress.
On the evidence of the first two matches for the two teams, that seems unlikely.
"We're still alive in the tournament, the point tonight keeps us in it," Postecoglou said.
"We have an opportunity to take three points in the final game and see how far that takes us."
Beating Chile would rank as a stand-out achievement of Postecoglou's reign.
The stalemate with Cameroon was consistent with Australia's recent form.
The Socceroos had authority in spells, but failed to find enough penetration to convert that to victory.
"It was a pretty even game. I think we controlled large parts of it," Postecoglou said.
"They were very dangerous on transition and a couple of times got in behind us. Overall I thought we worked our way in to the game really well.
"We lacked a little bit of composure in the final third to get some meaningful chances. But we still had chances, particularly in the early part of the second half.
"Credit to the players they worked incredibly hard. We were out on our feet at the end but they still kept going forward."
Socceroos striker Tomi Juric also insisted there was still reason for optimism heading in to the final match of the group.
"It's our biggest challenge yet," he said. "I don't see any reason we should change [our approach].
"They're the best side in this tournament for me. They're going to come out and play their football.
"I'm looking forward to it. I know it's going to be tough now because the odds are against us to qualify. The best we can do is put our mind to this game and get three points.
"Our mind is to go as far as possible. It's not to come here and see what happens and enjoy the three games."
Australia could reasonably point to the referee failing to reward them with several with a robust, physical Cameroon aggressive with and without the ball.
It did not change the result, but both Postecoglou and Juric questioned the usefulness of the much discussed Video Assistant Referee (VAR) if it was unable to offer them protection.
"With the VAR they did say to us that stuff like holding in the box was to be stamped downed. I thought there was a bit of that tonight," Postecoglou said.
Juric, who was well marshalled by Cameroon in a fruitless 70 minutes before he was replaced by Tim Cahill, was even more critical of the referee and Cameroon's approach.
Juric had a reasonable shout for a penalty when it was still goalless. He was prevented from converting a teasing cross from Robbie Kruse.
"The referee didn't pick it up. Seeing this new video referee I thought maybe they'd look back on it and maybe see something," Juric said. "But obviously not.
"All the time they were on you, touching you. It just makes it really difficult. Especially the way we play.
"They're really tight on you and so physical. They can run all day and they're a quick, quick bunch of boys."
Perhaps the biggest positive to come out of the match for Australia was the performance of Alex Gersbach, who was not in the original 23-man squad.
He was drafted in to replace the injured Brad Smith and then promoted to the starting line-up after Aziz Behich struggled against Germany.
The 20-year-old Rosenborg defender was impressive at both ends of the pitch.
"I thought Alex was excellent," Postecoglou said. "We've got some good young players coming through.
"It's a young team. These guys will be together for the next four to six years. There's a couple outside this group who are younger.
"We'll keep exposing them at this level. Alex performed really well tonight up against some good opposition."
He will undoubtedly retain his place against Chile, and will be worked even harder against the South Americans when Australias face a monumental fight to avoid an early plane home.