The first game of the Dodoni Series took place in miserable conditions in Sydney, but it did not deter the players from putting on a good show for the crowd that made the trek to Homebush.
After dominating the majority of the game, the Socceroos found a winning goal with the last kick of the game through Mathew Leckie. The series moves to Melbourne on Tuesday night for the decisive second leg, following the Matildas’ win against New Zealand in a double header.
When the team sheets came in…
The Socceroos deployed a back four that was not quite makeshift, but certainly was not first choice. Jason Geria was handed a debut opportunity after a few training spells in the national team squad and given the chance to make the right-back spot his own. Milos Degenek and Trent Sainsbury formed the central-defensive pairing in the absence of Bailey Wright and Matthew Spiranovic, after the 1860 Munich player’s impressive cameo against England.
The midfielders and strikers selected to start were some of the stronger options, with the trio of Mile Jedinak, Aaron Mooy and Mark Milligan asked to hold down the fort. Up front Apo Giannou started up front, with Nathan Burns and Robbie Kruse playing on the wings. Overall it was a team that might not have been the best XI players available, but was certainly strong enough to compete and had a very strong bench on offer as well.
Generally, these international fixtures have a bit of a corporate feel to them and both sides tend not to go all out. When these games take place at the end of the European club season, most players want to get them out of the way and begin their holidays. Tonight was an exception, as both Australia and Greece seemed genuinely invested in the game and wanted to get something positive from it. The Greeks were desperate to turn around a poor run of form which saw them miss the upcoming Euro 2016 tournament and the Australians are preparing for the start of the next phase of World Cup qualifiers.
Right from the outset there were rough challenges as everyone tried to leave a mark going for the ball. Giannou was on the receiving end of some rough treatment from his one-time compatriots, getting knocked to the ground with concerning regularity. It was not one-way traffic though, as Degenek and Jedinak handed out their share of tough tackles as well. The Australian skipper took out the Greek goalkeeper going for a corner, but thankfully players from both sides recognised that specific challenge was not malicious, as it could have provided a flashpoint in a more emotional outing. It was good to see the players invested in a game that could have turned out to be a light training run.
More Sterile Domination
For 89 minutes, it appeared to be the same story of the Socceroos against a semi-talented opposition – dominate the stat sheet but fail to make it count on the scoreboard. Very early on, Greece settled on a tight back five and challenged Australia to break them down. From the 20th minute the home midfield took over, in particular Mooy, but even he could not hit that incisive final pass to unlock the defensive unit. Breaking down a deep lying, organised team is a something that the Socceroos will need to continue to work on. In the first-half they held 58% of possession and managed 18 balls into the box, but did not register a shot on target until stoppage time.
We saw Giannou dropping deep trying to release his wingers, but it did not always come off due to the Greek pressure on the ball. As the Socceroos played around the box they often resorted to Jedinak, Mooy or Milligan taking a long range shot from over 20 yards out, which was then blocked or flew over the bar. They are still trying to find a way through when teams invite them to attack and hold the ball, while trying to catch them on the break. The goal at the end was certainly deserved and it was something that fans would love to see more of from the rest of the Australian forwards not named Cahill. Leckie took the ball, found some space and managed to get a quick shot off between the defender’s legs.