After an alarming 4-1 defeat to Norway on Friday, the only way was up for Bert van Marwijk and Australia.
Van Marwijk’s first game in charge of the Socceroos in Oslo proved to be one to forget, as the reality of how unprepared his team were for the World Cup became abundantly clear.
But Tuesday’s entertaining 0-0 draw with Colombia suggested positive strides have already been made.
Van Marwijk replaced Ange Postecoglou in January – the former coach leaving his post despite guiding Australia through World Cup qualification – but has had limited time to work with his players.
In the wake of the Norway hammering, some Australian players pointed to the team’s poor interpretation of Van Marwijk’s tactics. Both Massimo Luongo and Tomi Juric made similar comments, suggesting they were too literal when it came to adapting to a more direct style than they had been used to under Postecoglou.
Luongo felt Australia’s players followed Van Marwijk’s directions too closely, relinquishing any creativity in favour of playing direct and on the counter attack.
Against a considerably more talented Colombia side on Tuesday, there was plenty to indicate the interim period on the training pitch had been put to good use.
While they were by no means outstanding, Australia looked solid at the back for the most part and had more about them in the final third – a lovely move involving Luongo and Andrew Nabbout at the start of the second half evidence of this.
— Caltex Socceroos (@Socceroos) March 27, 2018
Luongo, brought into the midfield on the day, made a significant difference with his craft and energy, while Tom Rogic added some creativity.
There was also far more adventure on display out wide, with left-back Aziz Behich getting forward well and often, and the direct approach from Friday less obvious.
Colombia were praised by France coach Didier Deschamps for their “aggression” when coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at the Stade de France on Friday, but Australia certainly matched Los Cafeteros in that respect at Craven Cottage.
Jose Pekerman’s side increased the pressure during the final 35 minutes and really tested Australia, going very close late on when Miguel Borja hit the post with a towering header and then seeing an 85th-minute penalty saved by Danny Vukovic. They also highlighted a few areas in which Australia will need to improve.
Josh Risdon at right-back had supreme difficulty with Carlos Bacca and Johan Mojica, while their transition between defence and attack needs work, particularly in terms of passing out from the back.
But even then, with Colombia pressing hard for a winner, a moment of Luongo inspiration created another Australia chance, as he danced past a couple of tackles inside the box and shot at David Ospina.
Granted, for Australia to make a lasting impression at the World Cup they will need to be more clinical, but holding a talented Colombia side is certainly a step in the right direction following the Oslo debacle.
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