Olyroos with a late blow against Spain

As far as matches go, this was about as regulation as they come. Spain unsurprisingly dominated possession for the whole match on their way to a 1-0 victory over the Olyroos.

Spain had 74 per cent at full time, and for much of the game their possession was futile, unable to break down an Australian backline that was willing to absorb wave after wave of pressure. 

But pressure can only be withstood for so long before it causes cracks. It took 80 minutes and a glancing header, but the pressure finally got to the Australian defence, and they cracked. 

Real Madrid’s Marco Asensio, who was brilliant for the 25 minutes he was on the pitch, delivered a well-weighted cross into the area from the right flank, and, rising above Kye Rowles was Spanish captain Mikel Oyarzabal, who’s glancing header broke the deadlock and gifted Spain a crucial three points.

Australia had been resigned to defending for the whole game. They gifted Spain possession right from the start of the match. But, defending in a 4-4-2 shape, the Olyroos were able to marry up the perfect mix of pressing and sitting deep that forced Spain into playing down the flanks or launching long-balls, both uncharacteristic of any Spanish side.

And for the first half, and much of the second, this appeared to be a winning (or drawing) formula, as Spain were limited to a series of half chances, such as Oyarzabal’s strike against the bar, that never really tested Thomas Glover in the Australian goal.

When it came to chance creation for Australia, Daniel Arzani had two bursts in behind the Spanish defence in the first half, but his cutback was met by Spanish defenders rather than Australian attackers, and the Olyroos were consigned back to absorbing pressure.

At the heart of Spain’s brilliance in possession was Pedri, who was equally brilliant defensively as he was offensively, winning one tackle and three interceptions to partner with an 81% pass accuracy. It was Pedri’s game, and everyone else was just playing it. 

Another standout player for Spain was left-back, Marc Cucurella, who whirred his way down the left flank for the whole match, hair bobbing along behind him as he nullified Australian attacks and then quickly bombed forward to offer an extra dimension to the Spanish attack.

Equally as brilliant was Cucurella’s opposite man, Nathaniel Atkinson, who was defensively superb. Winning three tackles, blocking one shot and producing two clearances while also winning five of his nine duels. 

It was yet again another stellar performance for Atkinson, and for all of Australia’s starting defence. They were brilliant in their organisation and positioning and desperate in their cover defence, combining for three blocks, seven interceptions and 16 clearances between them. Unfortunately for this quartet and substitute defender Rowles, their efforts were not enough and the quality and skill of the Spanish side, which featured several La Liga stars.

It was a valiant defensive effort by the Olyroos, and their ability to tactically restrict a very creative Spanish side for 80 minutes, forcing them into long-balls and limiting the influence of Pedri and Dani Olmo, should be seen as a massive plus for the Olyroos and Australian supporters alike.

In the end it was not another historic night for the Australians, instead it can be seen as a learning curve for the rest of the tournament.

Both sides are now in pole position to progress out of their group and will now turn their focus to their final group matches, against Argentina and Egypt respectively.

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