Neither Australia nor Jordan have played particularly revolutionary football during this World Cup qualification campaign.
They both use 4-4-2 formations they could also be termed a 4-4-1-1, or 4-2-3-1, play with great width in attack, and defend with a narrow shape. On paper, Australia has the far stronger squad, but in tactical terms, there was no particular zone either side should have had an advantage.
However, just by looking at Robbie Kruse’s stats – a goal and two assists – you can understand his impact on the match, but his influence ran deeper, helping to ascertain an Australian advantage down the right flank.
Almost immediately from kick-off, Australia threatened down the right, with Brett Holman dropping into a pocket of space just to the side of Jordan’s left sided central midfielder, Saeed Al Murjan, and just failing to find Robbie Kruse in space with an under-hit pass. Moments earlier, Bresciano had won the ball in deep midfield, and without even looking, tried to switch the play across to the right flank, illustrating Australia’s key tactic – to isolate Jordan’s right full-back, Basem Fathi, against the pacy Robbie Kruse.
The key was Wilkshire carrying the ball forward from right-back. Generally (and frustratingly) in these situations, he would look to cross from deep (particularly prominent against Oman), but here he instead occupied Jordan’s left winger, Odai Al Safiy, drawing him forward before playing a ball in behind Fathi for Kruse to chase.
Kruse’s movement was clever, coming deep towards the play, before quickly spinning in behind the full-back. The Bayer Leverkusen winger had the beating of Fathi for pace, and frequently found time in behind Jordan’s defence to cross the ball both for Cahill in the air, and to cut it back for midfield runners.
The ninth minute was the first serious sign of Australia’s potency from this attacking move, as the images below illustrate.
Kruse’s cross was poor, but it was a sign of things to come. Barely two minutes later, Wilkshire again time in a deep position, looked for Kruse who came short towards the centre, let the ball roll through his legs and quickly turned and chased Holman’s pass.
Again, the delivery is underwhelming, but Australia wins a throw-in, from which Kruse first threads a good pass that just escapes Holman, before whipping in a cross that just clears the jump of Tim Cahill. The game was barely ten minutes old, and he was already clearly the key player, with the most space in a dangerous position.
Kruse also benefitted from the fact that Fathi took up some very odd positions at full-back – sometimes he was drawn extraordinary wide, meaning Kruse could simply dart into channels and receive simple square balls, and other times he was drawn too far up field towards Wilkshire, opening up room in behind.
The problem was compounded by the fact that the left-sided centre-back, the wonderfully named Mohammed Ali, rarely moved into a covering position, and instead was also drawn up field towards Holman, whose positioning between the lines was an understated but intelligent part of Australia’s game-plan.
He missed a chance here, but Australia were creating a stream of chances from the right flank – Holman wasted a good chance by firing straight at Amer Shafi…
…but eventually Australia found the breakthrough, albeit from an exaggerated example of Kruse’s freedom, which in this particularly play stemmed from Jordan unforgivably switching off, thinking there was a foul – but Abdul Bashir played the advantage rule excellently.
“Timmy (Cahill) or Bretto (Holman) came back for the cutback and I was going to pass but they drew all the players and Bresh made a wonderful late run, we work on that all the time and it worked beautifully and it set the platform for the rest of the game,” Kruse said.
There were countless examples of this throughout the match. A few minutes after the goal, Wilkshire again fed Kruse into space, but Fathi got the better of him then, while later Kruse got in behind again thanks to an incisive Holman pass, but Cahill scuffed the finish. Holman frequently dropped into that aforementioned space besides Murjan, trying to fire passes into the right channel, as the diagram to the right shows.
In some ways, it wasn’t at all surprising that Kruse was so influential, given that he had been their most promising attacker in the away fixture with his direct dribbles down the right flank (and had set up Cahill for a volley remarkably similar to the one the striker missed here).
Lucas Neill was at great pains to emphasise Kruse’s good performance. “Robbie was very, very good,” said the captain.
“We knew if we could get good possession and play some combination passing, we can get him and Tommy Oar down the wings. Robbie was great down the right getting in behind and set up a few cutbacks and crosses including the early goal.”
A simple explanation for a simple tactical issue – but the key one, as it established Australia’s dominance, and created three goals.
If Australia’s strength was down the right, then Jordan’s was down on the left, primarily because they naturally countered down this flank, given Wilkshire was often further forward, but also because the no.9, Odai Al Safiy, is one of Jordan’s brightest players, as was illustrated in the reverse fixture.
In that game, he won the penalty for the first goal after breaking in behind Wilkshire, then scored the second by dribbling straight past Lucas Neill before finding Amer Deeb inside the box – and also scored in last week’s friendly against New Zealand.
His attacking forays down the left flank into the space behind Wilkshire looked like Jordan’s most viable threat, and like Holman, the central attacker Ameer Deeb drifted out to that side to help – but Lucas Neill was comfortable coming out into the channels to cover, and mopped up in behind the full-back excellently.
Sometimes, tactical issues can come down to simple one v one battles, and as Neil’s failure to deal with Al Safiy the first time around illustrated this, so did the captain’s strong performance here. It also didn’t help Jordan that Milligan was situated on the right side of Australia’s midfield pivot, and so provided an extra layer of protection in that zone that Al Safiy was trying to cut into.
Australia’s midfield partnership was very good, operating within a deviation of roles: Mark Milligan stayed deeper and scrapped for loose balls, while Mark Bresciano had more freedom to get forward and main role was to set the tempo with clever, positive passes sideways and forwards.
The former Palermo midfielder has mainly featured as a wide player in the national team, but has been used almost permanently in a deeper role by Oseick, which suits his excellent technical skills and calm distribution. He’s also stronger defensively than he’s given credit for, winning a number of tackles during that period between half-time and the second goal in which Australia sat deeper and invited Jordan forward.
More importantly, the Socceroos pivot was given more freedom to get forward and contribute to attacks, unlike against Japan in which they had to stay in deep, holding roles to protect the defence. Bresciano commented on this in the build-up, and both he and Milligan got forward to support attacks to great effect, most obviously when Bresciano met Kruse’s cross for the first goal.
Although Bresciano got forward regularly, as the more ‘creative’ of the two, Milligan also found room to fire in some long-range efforts, as well as flashing a close-range effort over the bar. Jordan didn’t seem at all equipped to deal with this threat, with a simple forward run from one midfielder enough to cause great trouble at the back, and also unable to pick up the deeper midfielder, who often had great freedom to knock the ball around.
It appeared that the instructions were for Shadi Hashhash to close down Bresciano in deep positions, but the veteran Australian midfielder was clever, moving deep towards the centre-backs to initiate attacks (particularly towards Wilshire) before moving forward to collect possession. It didn’t help that the front two didn’t offer much defensively – Ahmad Hayel stayed high up the pitch, while Amer Deeb only sporadically dropped back to pick up a midfielder.
A bigger concern was Tommy Oar’s quiet game down the left. Part of Oar’s problem was that he seemed to be under strict instructions to always go around the outside of his man and whip crosses in for Cahill – a perfectly practical strategy that suits the strengths of the New York Red Bulls man, but doesn’t necessarily work for Oar, who impressed at FC Utrecht this season with his great variety in attack, able to both dribble in wider positions but also drift inside into central playmaking zones – so much so, he was switched into a central attacking role for part of the campaign.
It became obvious that Jordan’s right-back, Khalil Baniateyah, had the beating of Oar when he went down the outside, especially because he could outpace Oar in simple one-on-one footraces. Australia’s gameplan is that classic coach’s mantra of making the pitch as wide as possible when attacking, and as narrow as possible when defending, and in this sense, the starting selection of Oar and Kruse is perfect – both are hard-working players who can track back to protect the full-back, before springing forward as outlets on the break.
It is a demanding role, however, and it was no surprise that both were eventually withdrawn before the end of ninety minutes. Oar was the natural choice as the first sub, having been underwhelming down the left – and his replacement, Archie Thompson, was an even natural fit, able to provide fresh legs and sheer energy down the flank.
His first contribution was to drive directly at Jordan defence, pushing their line back towards goal – and thus opening up acres of space for Kruse (again!) down the flank, who crossed for Cahill .
His substitution was well-timed, had the desired impact, and from that point on, there was little progression from a tactical point of view, as Australia simply counter-attacked against a desperate Jordan, with Tom Rogic enjoying the great space in midfield.Jordan’s changes weren’t particularly inspiring. In the sixty-sixth minute they made a double change that was simply about putting ‘more’ attacking players on, and then the final change was to substitute the goalkeeper – hardly an intimidating sign of intent.“Everyone has to work well together and I think tonight we did that,” said the man of the match, Kruse. “The defensive structure laid the platform for the attacking to come into play. I think we played some wonderful football and we created numerous chances where we could have got more goals.”
This wasn’t an overly ‘tactical’ battle, and Australia simply became more proactive within the same structure that battled to a draw against Japan. In fact, the key issues were awfully similar for both sides, all occurring down broadly the same flank. Australia were strong down their right thanks to Wilkshire bringing the ball forward, and Holman dragging away defenders and midfielders, whereas Jordan didn’t have this fluency in attack and struggled to capitalise on their strength down the left. In fact, it’s almost impossible to think of any moment in which the Jordan right winger, Adnan Adous, was actually involved.
The contrasting performances of Milligan and Murjan are interesting – whereas Milligan confidently cut out any of Al Safiy’s dribbles inside, Murjan just didn’t cope with either Holman or Kruse. Defensive midfield might be the one position in which Australia are best stocked, with Mile Jedinak, Carl Valeri and James Holland all options, but Milligan has done well in showing he might be the best suited to that role.