The Socceroos’ Asian Cup defence is over after falling to host nation the United Arab Emirates 1-0, in a match which was decided by one mistake.
Milos Degenek had been one of the better performed Socceroos to this stage of the tournament, but now his 2019 Asian Cup will be remembered for his one moment.
A horrid backpass saw Ali Ahmed Mabkhout and round Mat Ryan to guide his country to their first ever victory over Australia.
As the hosts celebrated, Australian players protested with the referee that Degenek had been clipped by Mohamed Abdulrahman, with replays clearing showing the slightest of contact.
The slight contact did unbalance Degenek and as he played the ball of his opposite foot the hearts of Australian supporters were in their mouth.
Perhaps the trust the Socceroos have in Mat Ryan’s footwork played a part in Degenek’s decision to play it back instead of clearing it.
In the end, it proved to be the most critical of mistakes as it brought the title defence to a crashing end.
Although credit must be given to Degenek for facing up to the media to answer the hard questions following the match.
A familiar tale
It almost feels like pundits are writing this every time the Socceroos, put in a solid performance and get nothing to show for it.
Once again the lack of creativity in the final third was telling as the Socceroos failed to create enough clear cut opportunities.
Although Arnold’s did create enough chances to win the match, in particular in the first half, they were left ruing their opportunities.
In comparison to the first 45 minutes, the Socceroos became too cross happy during the second stanza but continually the host nation looked more than comfortable dealing with the high ball.
That comfort came despite the men in green and gold looking very likely to score from corner routines.
Plain and simply, the defending champions were not good enough in the final third.
Not scoring from 210 minutes of open play in the knockout stages does not deem you worthy of a place in the semi-finals and that’s what the Socceroos copped.
The national team is crying out for a regular goalscorer and it must be asked where that person will come from.
Perhaps an out of the box option could be the key.
Over the past several years, Australian football fans have been warned that their Asian rivals are drastically improving and this tournament has proven that.
But for some sections of the supporter base, they continue to believe that the Socceroos should be sweeping some of these nations aside.
That is no longer the case. Our Asian rivals are quickly catching up and those in higher places need to find ways to ensure that we stay ahead of the pack.
Yes, there still will be matches against the continental minnows where we should score an abundance of goals but teams like Jordan and Uzbekistan, who both troubled us, are quickly catching up.
At a time where our place in a World Cup almost feels automatic based on previous qualification campaigns, the Road to Qatar 2022 may be the toughest yet.
Don’t just expect the Socceroos to be there because things need to improve for that to happen.
Although there were injuries to key personnel prior to the tournament getting underway, and those players will return for the qualifying campaign at some point, questions still must be asked.
A missed opportunity
Following this result, you would think the winner of the Iran and Japan semi-final would go onto win the tournament.
When South Korea suffered their own shock defeat earlier in the evening, it would be fair to suggest many Socceroos fans saw it as a golden opportunity to reach a third consecutive Asian Cup final.
But rather it turned out to be a night of frustration as the team returned home earlier than expected.