A shock 2-1 loss overnight to an impressive and spirited Jordan side, has left Australia on the ropes in a battle to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The Socceroos left the Jordanian capital, Amman, on two points from three games, and equal bottom of Group B in the final round of AFC qualifying.
They trail group leaders Japan by eight points, and second-place Jordan by two points in the battle for the last automatic qualification spot.
Following a dominant performance less than a week earlier, (albeit against lowly ranked Lebanon) Australia were expected to romp home after seeing Japan destroy Jordan 6-0 earlier in this qualifying section. This lofty expectation seemed to get the better of the Socceroos, as they struggled to gain any foothold in the game. It was the Jordanians who settled first, visibly more confident in front of their own parochial support packed inside the King Abdullah Stadium.
Australia had the best chance of the first half; in the third minute, the ball rolled through to Tim Cahill on the penalty spot following a fluffed Alex Brosque effort from a Luke Wilkshire cutback. Cahill’s shot was rushed however, with limited connection and straight into goalkeeper Amir Shafia’s arms.
A substitution at the half from Coach Holger Osieck replaced the injured Mark Bresciano with the more defensive minded Mile Jedinak, who would have an eventful half at both ends.
He first missed a gilt-edged free header from only six yards out, followed by being judged to have felled Odai Al-Saify inside the box. Replays showed that Al-Saify had made the most of any contact from Jedinak.
The ensuing penalty was converted, the Jordanian support erupted, and Australia needed to refocus. Their passing lacked rhythm, lacked pace and even accuracy at times. It was a performance that Australian fans see only too often against a side the Socceroos expected to beat. The battling, 10-man performance that deserved more than a draw against Japan three months earlier seemed a far cry away throughout these 90 minutes.
Manager Osieck was desperately trying to transfer his game plan onto the pitch, but to no avail. The Socceroos bombarded long ball after long ball to a mostly non existent target. Tim Cahill advanced further forward, but created little hope of an equaliser.
The Australian defence crept up to an increasingly high line, and a crucial lack of assurance in passing created Jordan’s second goal. The Middle-Eastern side broke at pace with intelligence, Al-Saify continuing his impressive night by dancing around a flat-footed Lucas Neill just five-yards out and squaring for captain Amer Deeb to tap home. It looked as if Neill lacked respect for his opponent in this one on one battle, and paid for it with maximum consequence.
Substitute striker Archie Thompson provided hope for the Australians, with a good finish late on following a one-two with Brosque, and suddenly a nervous ending was in store. Jordan retreated, and looked half the side they had as the game stretched into four minutes of injury time. There was another fantastic chance for Australia, Robbie Kruse couldn’t have asked for a better cutback, only to roll a tame strike at the goalkeeper. The perfect ending for a desperately disappointing performance from the Socceroos.
Speaking to Foxsports post-match, Holger Osieck didn’t hide his anger at the performance served up from his players.
“The disappointment is enormous, We played a lot of long balls and I don’t know why that happened. There was not enough movement in midfield. It was definitely a very poor showing in the first half,” he said.
“In the second half we tried very hard, we could have scored but when we can’t capitalise then you can’t blame anybody else but us.”
The task of qualification does not get any easier for the Socceroos, with an away game in neutral Qatar, against an Iraqi side that will now hold more confidence following this result.
This campaign can still be salvaged, with three home games to come against the lesser sides in the Socceroos qualifying draw. However based on last night alone, it looks as if the high hopes of Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 cannot be carried into Brazil 2014, regardless of whether qualification is achieved.
Luke Sale is a first-year Bachelor of Sports Journalism student at La Trobe University. Follow him on Twitter @lukesale1.