Australia’s World Cup campaign was cruelled by rotten luck and lack of a finisher but another early exit from soccer’s showpiece shouldn’t be classed a failure, coach Bert van Marwijk says.
After hitting a roadblock in a 2-0 loss to Peru in Sochi, Australia depart after the group stage for the third consecutive tournament.
The Socceroos couldn’t score a goal from open play in three games in Russia – a 2-1 loss to France, 1-1 draw with Denmark and the sapping defeat to Peru.
But van Marwijk believes the Socceroos outplayed their three opponents.
“We don’t have luck in all three games,” he said.
Even the belated injection of talisman Tim Cahill couldn’t save the Socceroos.
Cahill played the only 41 minutes of his fourth World Cup against Peru.
After the final whistle, the 38-year-old looked at his family in the crowd and tapped his wrist as if to signal the end of Timmy time, perhaps at all levels of football.
The usually motor-mouthed Cahill refused to speak to reporters post match.
He didn’t enjoy the faith of van Marwijk, who lamented poor finishing despite ignoring Cahill completely for the initial two group games.
“In all three of the games we couldn’t really make the difference in goals, something this squad misses on this level,” van Marwijk said.
“If you play like that and you create chances, then you have to score; that was our problem.
“You need individual qualities to decide games, because we have to play in a way that we score a goal with 11 (players) and I couldn’t find the solution.”
Van Marwijk’s short-term contract as Socceroos coach now expires, with Graham Arnold to take over on a four-year deal.
“I loved to work with Australians and the players. But I am also very happy that I am free again,” he said.
The Dutch boss was reluctant to succinctly classify Australia’s overall campaign in Russia.
“Not a success but also not a failure,” he said.
“I think everybody saw that the way we performed and play, that we get a lot of compliments.
“Only with compliments you don’t win win games. You win games when you score … again, that is our problem.”
Even if the Socceroos defeated Peru they would still be leaving Russia after Denmark drew with France in a simultaneous fixture, meaning those two nations advanced from the group.
But van Marwijk took some solace from squeezing the best from his unheralded players.
His squad featured just three from top-flight leagues – English Premier League duo Aaron Mooy and Mat Ryan and the Bundesliga’s Mathew Leckie, arguably Australia’s player of the tournament for a second consecutive World Cup.
“They way we worked, I think we showed everybody that when you don’t have the best players of the world, everybody knows where our players are playing, at which level, we can compete with France, Denmark and also Peru,” van Marwijk said.
“And we played in the same level and I think sometimes even a little bit higher (than opponents) so that means that you can reach a lot when you work very well.
“I like the period I worked with these guys and I learnt from them, I learn from their mentality.
“And the way they improved, you don’t see that often at this level.”