Analysis: Van Marwijk's evolution, Rogic's role in thumping win
The Bert van Marwijk era finally has its first win, just two weeks out from game one at the FIFA World Cup.
Mathew Leckie, twice, Andrew Nabbout and an own goal was the big difference as the Caltex Socceroos sealed a 4-0 win over the Czech Republic at the NV Arena in Austria in a performance that showed progress from March friendlies against Norway and Colombia.
For the first 12 days in the pre-Russia training camp, van Marwijk has drilled home the message of defence – compress the field, block passing lanes in our own half and to move the ball quickly once a gold shirt is in possession.
Yet it wasn’t just without the ball where van Marwijk’s adjustments were clear – so too in attack.
Against Norway and Colombia, it was noticeable how reserved both Caltex Socceroos fullbacks were when a teammate was on the ball. But against the Czech Republic, Josh Risdon and Aziz Behich on the right and left respectively were constant outlets for centre backs Trent Sainsbury and Mark Milligan in build-up.
By pushing higher up the field, Risdon and Behich allowed their wingers in front of them – Leckie and Robbie Kruse – to take up slightly more narrow positions. It proved to be a key attacking theme for Australia in the opening stages, particularly from Kruse who made repeated forward runs to get in behind a compact and high Czech defensive unit – the same Czech unit who made life difficult for attacking maestro Tom Rogic.
With 15 minutes gone on the clock, Rogic had touched the ball three times. By 25 minutes the Celtic star’s tally was up to six touches – one of which was a clearance in his own box, one a tackle and one a misplaced pass.
“In the first 20 minutes we couldn’t find our free man – Rogic was free all the time but we didn’t have the right solution,” van Marwijk explained after the match.
By 30 minutes, the average position of Rogic was in his own half as the former Central Coast Mariners man toiled without the ball, and tried in vain to have an influence on the game.
But, bang. Just like that, the Caltex Socceroos saw the Tom Rogic fans know and love, the Tom Rogic who needs to shine in Russia for tough Group C tasks against France, Denmark and Peru.
WATCH ANDREW NABBOUT'S DEBUT GOAL IN THE VIDEO BELOW
With just his second offensive touch of the match in the front third, 32 minutes into the game, Rogic found Risdon advanced on the right. In the box were both Kruse and Leckie who combined for the opener.
A minute later it was Rogic again who found space in a central area outside the box, this time to rifle a shot on target.
“When Tom Rogic plays, you have to find a way to get him involved or else he’s pointless,” said Fox Sports commentator Andy Harper.
“Crucially, he was the man to split them apart for this goal … Australia, to put pressure on opposing defence, need Rogic in full swing.”
The Czech defence, stretched from the first half, allowed more space for Australia in the second half, where Rogic could also have added an assist to his performance when, in the 55th minute, he overhit a pass from the edge of the box which would have seen Kruse through 1-on-1.
By the time the fresh legs of Jackson Irvine, Jamie Maclaren, Dimitri Petratos and Daniel Arzani had entered the fray, the spaces that Rogic had worked to find were now readily available.
With another block of training in Antalya and Kazan to follow, and one more preparation match against Hungary, the strides taken are clear. And if the Caltex Socceroos can continue to evolve and create space for their key players in attacking positions, belief will be high come the test of France.