Valiant in defeat has become a common catchphrase when Australia face superior opposition. On an overcast Monday evening in Sochi, the Socceroos showed touches of brilliance to ensure a respectable 3-2 score line without ever truly threatening their inexperienced German opponents.
Ahead of the Socceroos’ first game of the 2017 Fifa Confederations Cup, the surrealism of Fisht Stadium suggested that anything might be possible in Sochi. Legacy infrastructure from the 2014 Winter Olympics, the 47,659 seater is nestled on the shores of the Black Sea alongside a turrets-and-all castle hotel and brightly-coloured rollercoasters. Optimistic Australian fans could be forgiven for imaging a wonderland where victory against the world champions was possible.
It took Germany just five minutes to shatter those illusions and highlight the frailties of Australia’s three-man defence, a system staunchly defended by coach Ange Postecoglou in recent months. A break from Julian Brandt on the right flank caused Australia’s defensive trio to scramble, inadvertently leaving Lars Stindl alone in the box. After controlling a slicing cutback, the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder calmly converted past Mat Ryan to record his first international goal.
For a moment, it looked like Australia would crumble. Die Mannschaft continued to wreak havoc past Aziz Behich on the left wing, and a repeat of the Socceroos’ recent 4-0 trouncing by Brazil seemed imminent. But with a host of stars absent – Mesut Özil, Mario Gómez and Thomas Müller are not in the squad – Germany’s inexperienced attack was profligate in the final third.
Following an extended period of anonymity, Celtic’s mercurial playmaker Tom Rogic put the Socceroos level as the clock ticked towards half-time. The Canberran fired off a shot reminiscent of his wonder-strike against Saudi Arabia last week, only to have it blocked by a German defender. Unfussed, Rogic regathered and tried again, the ball squeezing under a diving Bernd Leno.
A 1-1 half-time scoreline would have flattered Postecoglou’s side. But in the closing moments of the opening stanza, an ill-advised lunge saw Tottenham academy product Massimo Luongo concede a penalty. German captain Julian Draxler had no trouble at the spot, dousing Australia’s hopes of entering the break with an upset still on the cards.
Three minutes after the restart and it seemed once more that the floodgates would open. A sublime aerial pass from Joshua Kimmich found 22-year-old Leon Goretzka, who showed deft skill to control and finish. But again Australia responded, striker Tomi Juric pouncing on a Leno fumble in the 56th minute to narrow Germany’s advantage.
Despite a number of fluid exchanges and several half opportunities, an equaliser never came for the Socceroos. Germany showed experience beyond their years to close out the encounter, concluding with almost 60% possession.
The Socceroos fly to Saint Petersburg overnight, where they will begin preparations for a crunch clash with African champions Cameroon (1am Friday AEST), while Germany head to Kazan ahead of a meeting with Chile.