What might have been: Socceroos valiant in defeat as missed chances, not Arnold, to blame


The Socceroos went down 2-1 to South Korea in the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, just minutes away from holding on to a slender 1-0 lead after a 42nd-minute Craig Goodwin goal.

Substitute fullback Lewis Miller brought down Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min in the final minutes of injury time, resulting in a penalty. Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Hwang Hee-Chan smashed the spot-kick past Maty Ryan and then the unfortunate Miller fouled Son again in extra time.

From the edge of the box Son curled in a superb free-kick up over Australia’s wall and down into the top left corner. After Aiden O’Neill was given his marching orders with a straight red card a few minutes later, the way back for Australia was insurmountable and South Korea ran out deserved 2-1 victors.

Graham Arnold relishes being the underdog against higher-ranked opponents and this game was made for classic Arnieball. Australia’s possession dropped as low as 20 per cent in the first half at one point, Australia often could not keep the ball, and South Korea repeatedly won the ball back, showing their technical superiority by keeping it for extended periods despite the Socceroos’ press.

Although South Korea did have a goal chalked off for offside, Australia’s backline held firm, the whole team working extremely well together in unison, restricting South Korea to zero shots and one corner for the half.

The result could have been very different had Australia taken their chances. Arnold’s side, despite having only 31 per cent possession, 367 to 1012 total passes, and a pass completion rate of 68 per cent versus 88 per cent, actually had more shots (13-12) than the Taegeuk Warriors, but tellingly, only five of their 13 shots were on target.

Connor Meltcalfe had two great chances to score but fluffed his lines, as did Mitchell Duke in the 53rd minute after Martin Boyle had two attempts saved. The ball fell to Duke chest high and he blazed over in front of an open goal. Duke was guilty of heading wide of an open goal again in the 83rd minute after a deflected cross Jordan Bos cross put the ball on a platter for him.

Much has been made recently of Arnold’s lack of cattle, especially compared to the “Golden Generation” where most of the team were playing top-level football in Europe.

(Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)

South Korea have players in the Premier League with Son at Tottenham, Hwang at Wolves and Kim Ji-soo at Brentford, Kim Min-jae at Bayern Munich, and Lee at PSG, whereas the Australia squad currently only has only one player in any of those leagues: back-up goalkeeper Joe Gauci at Aston Villa, who only signed for the Villains a few days ago.

There has been quite a bit of moaning in the media, as well as here on The Roar, about the Socceroos “winning ugly”. Prior to the quarter-final, Australia were undefeated with eight goals scored and only one conceded.

It was the style and manner of these victories that upset some people.

Ange Postecoglou’s national team exploits, winning the Asian Cup and again more recently at Tottenham, has fans longing to see the Socceroos play a more expansive, possession-based style, but arguably the current players available to the national team simply aren’t good enough, they don’t have the technical ability to play that way, and would get cut to pieces by better teams if they tried to.

Sports opinion delivered daily 


The Australian public needs to decide whether results are the most important thing, or if a more attractive style is. I believe most Socceroos fans would be more upset going down 5-3 or 4-2 trying to match the technical, possession-based style of better teams, than this narrow 2-1 loss to South Korea, only minutes away from a famous victory against a clearly better team.

And so Socceroos fans are left again with dreams of what might have been. I believe in this match Arnold mostly got his team selection, tactics, and substitutions right, which allowed Australia to come within a whisker of an upset, and if the clear-cut chances had been taken it could even have been a 2-0 or 3-0victory.

There will still be those calling for Arnie out, but if Football Australia were actually to sack Arnold, who would replace him?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.