Australia’s Asian Cup defence has begun with embarrassment, losing to the AFC’s 19th-ranked nation Jordan 1-0 in Group B’s matchday one in Al Ain on Sunday.
Anas Bani Yaseen’s goal proved the difference for a Jordan team that appeared well prepared from the offset and secured the nation of some nine million people one of its most famous football nights.
The Socceroos endured a nervy start to their title defence and soon their sluggishness was punished. Twenty-seven minutes in, Anas Bani Yaseen broke free from set piece shackles and thumped a header beyond Mat Ryan.
Already in dreamland, the Chivalrous almost doubled their money just three minutes later. Baha Abdel-Rahman connected sweetly with a free kick but Ryan was equal to it, tipping the effort onto the crossbar.
Having fashioned just one chance to that point, Australia were in need of some luck and that deserted them. A cross appeared to strike Feras Shelbaieh’s outstretched arm, but the penalty shout was waved off.
Awer Mabil went close to scoring for a second time in the 78th minute when he crashed a strike off the post, yet there was no rebound forthcoming and ultimately no goal at all as Jordan recorded a famous win.
Different tournament, same problems
A new beginning in Asia did not bring a change of fortunes in the front third for Australia, with the same old issues persisting against a dogged Jordan outfit. That, coupled with a distinct lack of quality, proved a fatal pairing.
The likes of Jamie Maclaren and Robbie Kruse were mere spectators at the best of times and struggled to get themselves involved in the game. Even Awer Mabil was not his electrifying self and Tom Rogic was both tame and wayward.
Chris Ikonomidis’ introduction shortly after half time brought with it some attacking impetus but even thereafter, it was difficult to see where the cherished equaliser was going to come from.
Mabil was a coat of paint away from finding it but alas it was not to be, and even in that instance the FC Midtjylland flyer had to fashion his own opportunity.
Deliveries into the penalty area were coming thick and fast for the effectively anonymous Maclaren, but the Hibernian man could not connect and Jordan were proving superior in the air.
Socceroos domination in the second stanza was a picture of what we might expect to see more of in the Asian Cup and in fact in Asia more broadly. If whipping balls into the mixer is the plan, perhaps omitting the taller Tomi Juric – though horribly out of form at club level – was the wrong option.
Even using the attacking machine that is the Premier League’s Liverpool as a template – a counter-attacking force to be reckoned with – seems wide of the mark too considering the type of tactics the Socceroos are likely to encounter.
A poor performance on matchday one has to be met as a wakeup call by Graham Arnold and co. after what was an international friendly fizzer against Oman a week ago, which resembled nothing more than a pre-tournament training run.
Palestine is the next challenge and is likely to present more of the same.
Bani the brick wall
Jordan’s No.13, Khalil Bani Attiah, resembled something of an impassable object right through the opening 45 minutes and reflected a well structured, disciplined side that entered the game having done its homework.
Attiah covered plenty of ground and cut off key passing lanes. Like many of his teammates, the 27-year-old was unafraid to get in the faces of the Socceroos players and that was integral in Jordan’s course to the lead.
Vital Borkelmans had a plan: remain compact, keep things simple and press relentlessly. Al Faisaly midfielder Attiah epitomised the plan and executed it to a tee.
When ‘smaller’ football nations grab the spotlight, attentions tend to turn to that team’s most dangerous player – naturally, the attackers – and it tends to come with the ‘Messi’ tagline. Perhaps Attiah resembles Jordan’s own Ngolo Kante?
With the Socceroos out of the way, the platform is set for Jordan to find their way out of Group B. Their next fixture against Syria will be telling.