Australia’s Asian Cup title defence suffered a huge blow on Sunday when they were stunned 1-0 by Jordan in their worst ever start to the competition.
Graham Arnold had confidently predicted victory in their Group B opener but they were undone by Anas Bani-Yaseen’s powerful first-half header. With the Socceroos in transition and coming into the tournament on the back of a dismal World Cup campaign, they are already under pressure to retain their title.
Our Hero of the Day – or in this case, heroes – is naturally Jordan.
The only goal came from a corner on 26 minutes, when defender Bani-Yaseen escaped Massimo Luongo’s marking and powered his header into the top corner.
In the second half, the Socceroos pressed for an equaliser, with Celtic forward Tom Rogic’s stinging shot was kept out by Amir Shafi, before substitute Chris Ikonomidis’ attempt at a follow-up was smothered by the defence.
Rogic passed up a golden opportunity for the equaliser when he was free in the box but scooped his shot well over.
South Sudanese refugee Awer Mabil then smashed one off the upright with Shafi beaten, before Ikonomidis’s header was scrambled off the line.
With three minutes to go, Jamie Maclaren had a goal chalked off for offside and with the last action of the game, Shafi pulled off a superb double save to deny Ikonomidis and Jackson Irvine.
Team spirit – As is the case when David meets Goliath, the minnows were reliant on a vital mix of rigid defence, goalkeeping heroics and an insatiable appetite and focus. Stopper Shafi pulled off a clutch of fine saves, most notably from Rogic, Ikonomidis and Irvine.
Concentration levels needed to be at their highest for Vital Borkelmans’ men, who often had to feed off scraps and make the most of their 23 per cent possession, but their six shots on target was the same amount as their illustrious opponents.
The majority of the focus will of course be directed at the misgivings of the reigning champions, but take nothing away from a sparkling team performance that now gives Jordan a real shot at making the knockout stages.
Ball retention – Seeing less of the ball is always to be expected against an elite opponent at a major tournament, yet the fact only three players recorded a pass completion over 80 per cent against the Socceroos will worry Borkelmans.
Midfielder Khalil Bani Ateyah led the way with 82.6 per cent success rate, with defender Tareq Khattab (81.8) and striker Mousa Suleiman (80) the other two players who kept the ball well.
Elsewhere, figures of 56.3, 55, 44.4 and 41.2 perhaps explain why so much pressure had to be soaked up by the Middle East side. Against sharper opponents, or without the heroics of skipper Shafi, this sloppiness might well have been punished.
They will be rightly proud of their performance in humbling the champions, but a nation and coach Borkelmans will hope Jordan have plenty in reserve for tricky tests against Palestine and Syria.
Syria were unlucky not to make the 2018 World Cup after losing in a play-off to the limited Socceroos – who are a team in transition under Graham Arnold – and will provide another stern test in their next fixture, while
“They were running like they had three lungs,” said Borkelmans after the victory. There is plenty more running to be done if rarefied air of the knockout stages is to be achieved.
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