Sport

Gallant, you are kidding

By Alex Mitchell

Once again on the world stage, Australia masqueraded as a competent footballing nation — and failed to deliver.

The word that comes up in regard to the Socceroos time and time again is ‘‘gallant’’ and, boy, was it relevant at this year’s World Cup.

Gullible Australian fans were sucked in by a gallant performance against France — by the way, the Socceroos lost that game 2-1, and it easily could have been more.

Then they ‘‘dominated’’ Denmark to a gallant 1-1 draw, before Peru, literally with nothing but pride to play for, hammered them 2-0.

Gallant is the worst word in sport.

It means you tried hard and did not look quite as bad as first thought, yet ultimately failed — a truly stinging back-handed compliment in my eyes.

In this sense, feel free to call the Socceroos as gallant as you want.

They looked organised against France and conceded twice — blame technology all you want — then got beaten by an excellent finish against Denmark, and looked as open as a cheap nightclub against Peru, with centre-back Trent Sainsbury the only semblance of a bouncer.

Before the tournament this column predicted Australia would not score a goal — was that prediction really wrong?

Sure, twice the Socceroos found the back of the net, but from two freak penalties their players did little to earn.

Realistically, Daniel Arzani had one good chance against Denmark and other than that they never looked like scoring.

Fans say Australia created well, particularly against Denmark, but here is a question — if a chance falls to Andrew Nabbout or Tom Juric, was it even a chance in the first place?

In this country, people seem to confuse a side being defensively organised and not getting belted with being competitive.

Australia might not have conceded bucket-loads of goals in any game, but a complete lack of penetration going forward meant winning these games rarely looked on the cards.

Arzani turned heads with the energy he brought to the field when substituted on, purely because his zippiness and ability to make things happen when playing is so badly lacking in the starting 11.

Nabbout was praised particularly for the pressure he put on opposition defences, but as a starting centre-forward did not shoot the ball once in two games.

Australia severely lacked any presence in the box and until this happens it will continue as a truly lightweight nation.

It is important to look toward what is coming next; the Graham Arnold regime.

I am still perplexed as to why Australia needed hired gun Bert van Marwijk to take it to the World Cup — a shrewd move I suppose given he netted all of one point in the group stage.

Arnold is a notoriously defensive and organised manager, but is surely not expected to improve the deficient strike force.

It is great blockbuster match-ups like the Socceroos taking on the might of France that capture the nation’s imagination, but there are only so many gallant losses one can accept before demanding this nation takes an actual step forward.