AUSTRALIA opened their Confederations Cup campaign with a 3-2 defeat to Germany in Sochi, but showed enough fighting quality after the world champions had threatened to overrun them, to take confidence in to the rest of the competition.
First half goals from Lars Stindl and Julian Draxler, from the penalty spot, sandwiched a fine strike from Tom Rogic, with Leon Goretzka extending the German’s lead immediately after the break before Tomi Juric gave Australia hope around the hour mark, setting up a breathless, grandstand finish in which the Socceroos threatened repeatedly but could not quite find a route to parity.
The half time introduction of Robbie Kruse changed the Socceroos’ fortunes, with the side more balanced with Aaron Mooy playing further back, after he had started in one of the two 10 roles in the now customary 3-2-4-1 formation, Massimo Luongo, who made way for Kruse, having started in the defensive spot.
With more pace at the top end of the pitch, Australia were able to force the issue more, though they were aided by a number of German substitutions and a change of formation midway through the second half — themselves switching to a back three after starting out with two banks of four and two forwards — Joachim Low making good on his promise to experiment.
Before the changes to both sides, it was one way traffic in truth, with the Germans simply irresistible in the opening period. Australia largely reduced to damage limitation and desperate defence.
In what was to become a theme of the first half, on five minutes Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Julian Brandt strode purposefully in to the space behind Aziz Behich, eating up ground with the ball at his feet. He found the perfect cut back to pick out Stindl, who made no mistake from 12 yards out.
Brandt was unstoppable down the right, twisting Behich’s blood when the defender could get near to him, using the space between Mark Milligan — captain in the absent of Mile Jedinak — Behich and Bailey Wright to launch probing run after probing run.
A second nearly came 10 minutes later, predictably down the same route. A simple ball down the flank enough to turn the Socceroos defence on their heels, the cross put on a plate for the in-form Sandro Wagner, who dived to head wide when he should have done better.
Brandt’s mastery of the game was underlined when he even had time to get his shot away after slipping in the box when through in on goal unimpeded. In the end Ryan made a fine near post save.
The chances kept coming for Germany. Wagner gave away a golden chance when dragging wide after beating the off-side trap to find space alone in the box. The big Hoffenhiem striker has been in find goal scoring form of late. But his radar was off in the first period when he could have had a hat-trick.
Only Tom Rogic, in truth, showed real glimpses of promise for Australia, but wasn’t on the ball nearly enough as Germany dominated. His pirouette to beat two men midway through the half was glorious, the attack it launched, however, only producing an over hit cross from Luongo that was beyond Juric.
For all that they were on the back foot, Australia should have levelled 10 minutes before the break. Mooy swung in a free kick from the left, finding Sainsbury free in the box. He could only nod wide.
That ushered in an eventful close to the half. First there was a stunning clearance from under the posts from Mathew Leckie when another German goal looked certain.
Then, form nothing, Australia did restore parity — on the scoreboard at least. Rogic was always the man most likely, and he delivered at the second time of asking five minutes before the break. Given space in the middle he strode forward and saw his first shot come back off a defender, the second attempt was truer and found the net.
Three minutes later, however, Germany had returned some sense to the scoreline. Goretzka got in on goal and a desperate sliding tackle from Luongo was rightly punished with a spot kick. Draxler converted coolly, sending Ryan the wrong way.
The second period began much as the first had finished, the sides trading goals in quick succession. Mooy’s lack of pace was exposed by a run behind him from Goretzka, who finished smartly at the near post.
A foul on the edge of the German box handed Australia a free kick 20 yards out on the right. Mooy struck the wall before Rogic fizzed the rebound back towards, Bernd Leno in the German goal able only to parry the deflection off Juric, the Socceroos striker pouncing on the rebound to prod home just before the hour mark, the goal confirmed by video replay for good measure.
Australia enjoyed much more of the ball in the final 30 minutes after that. With the two wide men more able to get forward, assisted by the removal of the game’s stand out player in Brandt, replaced by Nicklas Sule as Germany switched to a back three for the remainder of the game.
Chances came and went for both teams. James Troisi, on for Rogic, and Kruse both strung the palms of the Germany goalkeeper. Between those chances. Goretzka wriggled free in the Australian box but could only find the post with his effort.
It was a frantic end to what had for 55 minutes looked like a stroll towards victory for Germany. Tim Cahill, was thrown on. The kitchen sink was thrown at the Germans. But to no avail.