Australia have been somewhat unfortunate to suffer two defeats and subsequent elimination, and as they round off their tournament in Curitiba against a Spain side who must just want to go home, Tom Smithies and Dermot Corrigan are on hand with their expert previews.
Tom Smithies on Australia: Injuries are starting to catch up with the Australian squad, as both Mark Milligan and Mark Bresciano will start from the bench following hamstring and hip flexor issues respectively. It means coach Ange Postecoglou has to put out a side with an average age of under 25, and eight of them share an average age of under 23. The impressive Mathew Leckie looks likely to move inside to central striker to replace the suspended Tim Cahill, with Ben Halloran taking Leckie’s place on the wing.
Dermot Corrigan on Spain: The five Spain players yet to feature in this World Cup - Pepe Reina, Juanfran Torres, Raul Albiol, Juan Mata and David Villa - are all tipped to start. Gerard Pique has an adductor problem, while David De Gea is still unavailable with a hip muscle issue. Coach Vicente Del Bosque was annoyed by Cesc Fabregas’ attitude during training on Saturday, so he may also miss out. Xavi Hernandez could get his last start before retiring from international football, and Andres Iniesta his 100th cap.
Tom Smithies: The fact that football is a results-based business can be very cruel at times, for Australia produced one of the matches of the tournament against Holland. But the Socceroos are still going home after this final group game. The 3-2 loss to the Dutch came despite taking the lead, and the Australians know they had golden opportunities – or even Oranje opportunities – to go on and win the game, instead gifting the Dutch a win through defensive mistakes. But they have played their part in such an attacking World Cup, and will be motivated to produce one more spirited display against Spain.
Dermot Corrigan: Two games, two defeats, seven goals conceded and just one scored - and that a dubiously awarded penalty. Plus the overall downbeat feeling from the holders’ inexplicable early exit from the tournament is even worse than the stats. Spain’s form could not really be any worse. Maybe the new players who come in tonight, playing without any pressure, will want to give La Roja’s fans something to cheer before they head home. Or the general gloom and doom around the camp will lead to yet another really flat performance. The Spanish FA have booked a plane to leave for Madrid just a few hours after the final whistle, which is not a good sign.
WHAT THE MANAGER SAYS
Australia’s Ange Postecoglou: “Our job is not to dampen expectations but raise them and then try and meet them. If we fall short then we deserve to be caned.”
Spain’s Vicente Del Bosque: “We want to say goodbye in the best way possible. We have done badly in this World Cup. I need time to think about what happens next.”
Tom Smithies: Mile Jedinak – the Australian skipper must be exhausted after playing in all but half an hour of Crystal Palace’s entire Premier League season and now a World Cup, but his dominating presence and clever positional sense is vital to breaking up Spain’s intricate passing moves – and to starting Australian attacks.
Dermot Corrigan: With all the focus now on Spain’s ‘new generation’ Koke is expected to be given the midfield reins of the team for this last game. The 22-year-old Atletico Madrid player looked sharper than his colleagues when he entered at half-time against Chile, without ever really looking likely to spark a complete turnaround. His likely battle with Mile Jedinak in the centre could decide the momentum of the game.
Tom Smithies: Mathew Leckie has enjoyed such a stellar tournament that his new club in Germany, for whom he has yet to train let alone play, is already receiving enquiries from higher-ranked teams. The one thing missing for him here has been a goal and stands at 4.20 to rectify that at any time.
Dermot Corrigan: Were Tim Cahill playing I’d maybe fancy the Australians more, as without him it’s difficult to see them scoring too many. But Ange Postecoglou’s young side are still likely to show more spirit than those Spanish players who just want to go home. Australia to win at least one half at 3.55 looks good value.
Tom Smithies: Australia 1-2 Spain at 8.50
Dermot Corrigan: Australia 1-1 Spain at 9.00.
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