Socceroos give Chile big scare in Moscow
THE Socceroos made good on coach Ange Postecoglou's claim that his team is capable of mixing it with the very best in world football.
The 1-1 draw achieved against the world's no.4 ranked team and current South American champions saw the Socceroos exit the Confederations Cup at the group stage.
But they will carry pride and belief with them back home after a much changed side put in a stirring, high energy performance in Moscow, their most complete 90 minutes in recent years.
The performance was a timely boost going in the two vital World Cup qualifiers later this year. The trip to Russia, though winless, has to be considered a success for that.
James Troisi had given Australia a first-half lead they had earned through graft and guile, before Chile substitute Martin Rodriguez levelled the match from close range on 67 minutes.
Postecoglou made six changes from the team that drew 1-1 with Cameroon, leaving two of the side's best players, in Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic, benched for a game they needed to win by two clear goals to progress. In the end they weren't missed.
Chile made five changes of their own but retained their main attacking weapons from the start in Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and midfield force of nature Arturo Vidal.
However, if they thought they were in a for an easy evening at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow, they were swiftly disabused of that notion by some rugged Socceroos challenges, as well as incisive passing and bravery on the ball.
Chile carried a threat throughout, but the back three of Trent Sainsbury, Mark Milligan and Ryan McGowan were immense. They had to be. Sanchez was electric.
But so too were the Australians.
Massimo Luongo and Jackson Irvine were snapping in to tackles in the holding roles, the former rightly booked on 20 minutes when going through the back of Vidal.
Troisi and Aziz Behich followed him, as did Cahill, making his 100th appearance for the national team, following a particularly ugly foul on Charles Aranguiz on the half hour mark.
Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi heaped praise on the Socceroos, liking the quality of the match to that of "a World Cup quarter-final”.
"We weren't able to develop our game,” he said.
"They closed every gap. Somethings maybe they were too physical, I don't know.
"The way they played allowed them to recover the ball often. They managed to stop us. I wouldn't say it was a poor performance from us.”
Half-chances came and went for both sides before a dramatic final 10 minutes of the half.
Australia was first to threaten.
Troisi, named man of the match after being central to Australia's creative force, had a shot blocked, but chipped the rebound in to the box to pick out Luongo's run.
He could only shoot first time at goalkeeper Carlos Bravo.
Australia would not be denied for long.
Robbie Kruse and Trent Sainsbury double-teamed to pick the pocket of Vargas in the centre circle before surging forward.
Sainsbury was in unchartered territory and couldn't get his shot away, but did enough to work it to Kruse whose angled drive through a crowd scene found Troisi in space.
His cool, delicate dink over the diving Bravo was exquisite. Early hope was being nurtured in to belief by force of performance.
Chile responded, as champions do.
Sanchez demonstrated his class once more, wriggling free of three challenges on the left touchline to launch an attack that eventually was repelled on the Australian line, just, by first Milligan's knee then McGowan's sliding clearance.
As the clock ticked in to added time at the end of the first half, Sainsbury had a glorious chance to double the lead, ballooning over the bar from close range when clear in space.
His blushes were spared by the linesman's flag. Though, had it been put away, that ruling would surely have been overturned on VAR.
Australia began the second period with fire still in their bellies, Massimo Luongo and Tim Cahill winning battles, Kruse pushing on, a succession of crosses testing Bravo in the Chile goal without managing to quite hit their mark.
Postecoglou sought to keep things fresh. Trusting his squad. Cahill was replaced by Mathew Leckie, Kruse moving inside.
Vidal was booked soon after. Chile continuing to endure a more uncomfortable evening than most had predicted.
Sanchez bustled in to the box and stabbed a shot straight at Mathew Ryan. The partisan crowd tried to rouse their team.
Ryan McGowan slid in to cut out a ball through the centre Vargas was set to exploit.
With both sides needing a single goal to ensure progression to the semi-finals, the game opened up late on.
Troisi fired a thunderbolt that only cleared the crossbar by a few inches.
But then, a sucker punch.
After a Chile cross wasn't cleared, the ball helped on from the head of Vargas, substitute Rodriguez showing a poacher's instinct to get to the ball before Sainsbury to stab is inside the post off Ryan's thigh.
Jamie Maclaren had a glorious chance on 70 minutes to restore Australia's lead. But, played in to the box in space he sliced his first time effort wide.
He almost made up for it six minutes later, exchanging smart passes with Kruse to put his team-mate in on goal but another, more taxing chance went begging.
In the final 20 minutes Chile grew more commanding in to the game as Australia tired, justifiably - though continued to harry and hunt in packs in search of turnovers and an avenue to goal.
There was to be none. The point they take from this fixture seems scant reward for the effort and guts Australia showed in going taking the game with one of the world's best and not looking out of place.
Postecoglou struck a downbeat mood follow the match after leaving the competition early, though was rightly proud of the effort and quality his side produced.
"We didn't get through the group,” he said.
"That was our objective and so we're disappointed with that.
"We needed to be at our best today and we were going to need energy for that and that's why we made the changes.
"Credit to the guys who came in. They certainly brought that and more. From our perspective it was a good performance
"I thought we were the better side and deserved to get something out of it.
Anything close to a repeat performance in Japan in August would go a long way making sure Australia is back in Russia in 12 months.