Jean Beausejour’s goal at the death was a harsh reflection on Australia’s strong second half turnaround.
Arturo Vidal was surprisingly fit to start and operated from a left-of-centre midfield position, with Jorge Valdiva upfront as a false nine in a 4-3-3 formation.
After Mark Bresciano was declared free of his back troubles to start, Ange Postecoglou’s side was as predicted in a 4-2-3-1 formation, spearheaded by Tim Cahill upfront.
Chile start strong
Chile’s emphasis on attack was obvious from the obvious minute. As detailed in the preview, both Eugenio Mena and Mauricio Isla push up at the same time from full-back to ensure the side retains good width down both sides.
The deepest midfielder, Marcelo Diaz, often dropped into the defence to create a back three to receive possession unchallenged and distribute intelligently towards the flanks, but predominantly wandering laterally in that space just in front of Gary Medel and Gonzalo Jara. With Jorge Valdiva dropping deep between the lines in a hybrid false 9/number 10 role, Chile had a narrow diamond midfield through the centre of the pitch.
Furthermore, thanks to their extreme attacking width, they had lots of opportunities to quickly switch the play from side to side, dragging Australia’s compact defensive shape across the full width of the pitch.
The problem was accentuated by the wont of Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak to move forward and close down Charles Aranguiz and Vidal respectively – meaning Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas, the wide forwards, were able to cut inside into that problematic empty space between the Australian central midfielders and full-backs, and just in front of the centre-backs.
Chile’s complex interchange caused real problems for Australia in the opening twenty minutes. The Socceeroos were simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of players Chile committed forward, and were constantly overloaded down the sides by the full-backs – particularly Jason Davidson, who was overwhelmed twice in the opening five minutes by the combined threat of Sanchez and Isla, who have a good partnership dating back to their days together at Udinese.
While Chile’s early dominance was more about their commitment to attack than anything Australia did poorly defensively, Ivan Franjic was clearly struggling with Vargas’s runs in behind. He was twice dragged incredibly narrow when the Napoli attacker darted across the face of Franjic into that space between the right-back and Alex Wilkinson, and was eventually culpable for marking Vargas too far infield, leaving Valdiva free to score Chile’s second.
Australia regain momentum
The simple by-effect of pushing so many players forward, though, is that Chile inevitably left themselves short at the back. Australia’s attacking gameplan was obvious from the opening minute, as they looked to counter quickly and directly down the flanks. Largely because of Chile’s bias towards the right in the opening twenty minutes, Tommy Oar initially looked more dangerous with his runs in behind. Although his delivery was poor, his threat was enough to force Gary Medel into a very cynical handball to break up a counter-attack.
Oar and Matthew Leckie on the right were sporadically supported by their full-backs, who sometimes had freedom to get forward given that Chile were playing a narrow diamond midfield – with Sanchez and Vargas staying fairly central in the defensive phase of play, meaning there was no-one to mark Davidson and Franjic when they moved forward. Davidson in particular was dangerous with his delivery from very wide, deep positions, while Franjic tended to hit straight balls down the line for Leckie to chase, but provided the assist with a fine cross.
Cahill’s goal was actually one of the first times Australia had been able to cross into him, but it was fitting of the general strategy Ange Postecoglou has implemented in his short tenure – embracing Cahill’s obvious strength in the air, and instructing his wide players to cross early and quickly into him. All of Australia’s chances came from simple balls into the area, where Cahill had a clear advantage over the Chilean centre-backs. Gonzalo Jara or Medel are 5″10 and 5″7 respectively, and simply couldn’t cope with Cahill’s incredible leap, and as well as goal, Cahill had a header disallowed for offside, and two seperate penalty shouts for being dragged back in the area.
Australia’s turnaround after the two early concessions deserves particular praise: they were brave enough to continue pushing players forward despite the threat of Chile on the break. Defensively, too, they were much stronger – able to push back the Chilean full-backs more and thus close down more easily in the centre of midfield without that being bypassed by simple long balls towards the flanks. They were still, though, vulnerable to counter-attacks, with both Milligan and Jedinak booked for tactical fouls to stop Chilean breaks.
The pace and power of Leckie down the right was also a crucial factor going forward. He collected possession near the sideline and drove forward purposefully, helping transition Australia’s attacks into the Chilean half. Bresciano was also more influential, drifting laterally in his playmaker role to facilitate Australia’s attacks out wide, but also popping up in the box for a couple of chances – coming particularly close with a sharp volley that Claudio Bravo just saved at his near post.
Postecoglou used his bench to up the attacking tempo – Ben Halloran and James Troisi provided more directness and pace for Oar and Bresciano respectively.
Sampaoli was demonstrably furious on the touchline with his side’s performance, and thus turned to his bench to replace Valdiva with a completely different player, Jean Beausejour – swapping a classical playmaker for a versatile, energetic wing-back. He also switched to something of a proper 4-3-3, asking Sanchez to play more definitively on the right, thus occupying Davidson and Franjic with two ‘natural’ wingers.
Beausejour drove forward powerfully on the left, with Ryan McGowan, who’d replaced the injured Franjic, clearly uncomfortable, and somewhat fittingly, the Chilean substitute settled the game with a fine finish in the ninetieth minute.
It wasn’t entirely reflective of the match, however, and Australia did well to turn the game around after a poor start and expose Chile’s obvious weakness at the back. The sense of relief from a Chilean perspective was clearly palpable by the manner in which they celebrated their third goal, demonstrating how dominant Australia had been in the second half, at least until the introduction of Beausejour.
Still, Australia had put themselves in that position with a shaky opening twenty minutes. This game effectively had three alternating periods – Chile’s dominance, Australia’s dominance, and the relatively even final 10-15 minutes – that when considered as a whole made this a fairly even match, even if the scoreline exaggerated the reality.