‘One of those days’: Arnold vows to learn from Jordan shocker
Al Ain: Socceroos coach Graham Arnold has described their disastrous Asian Cup defeat to Jordan as a "wake-up call", while his counterpart Vital Borkelmans hailed his players for carrying out his tactical plans to perfection.
Australia were stunned 1-0 in the first Group B match in Al Ain on Sunday, with a first-half header from Jordanian defender Anas Bani-Yaseen enough to secure all three points and leave the defending champions at risk of an early exit from the tournament.
Arnold has plenty to ponder ahead of Friday's clash with Palestine, who suddenly have a brilliant blueprint to work from. The Socceroos had an incredible 77 per cent of possession but looked slow and sluggish with the ball and had no idea how to break down Jordan's compact defensive shape.
"You've got to give full credit to Jordan," Arnold said in his post-match press conference. "They made it difficult for us, they gave us no space. They had a lot of energy, a lot of fight. It was one of those days, a frustrating day when the ball just didn't seem to bounce.
"When you lose, you learn. We'll go home and we'll have a look at the footage of it, but if you're going to lose a game it's better to lose the first game.
"It's a wake-up call at the same time because you get three games in the group and when you get to the knockout stage, when you lose, you go home. It's more about where we can improve. We will get over it very quickly and move forward."
Already without first-choice players Aaron Mooy, Daniel Arzani, Martin Boyle and Mathew Leckie, the Socceroos were dealt yet another injury blow before the match with Andrew Nabbout ruled out with a groin strain.
Jamie Maclaren started up front as striker in his place, but there was very little rotation or movement as promised from their new-look front three system in attack. It appeared Robbie Kruse and Awer Mabil played as traditional wingers.
Arnold said Josh Risdon – who had a torrid time in the first half – came off at the break because of injury, not because of his performance. A Socceroos spokesperson said Risdon had a groin issue which will be assessed in the next 24 hours.
But Arnold did not want to use injury as an excuse, nor the lack of experience in the players he sent out onto the park, saying they had enough chances in the second half to win the game. Jordan's veteran custodian and captain Amer Shafi repelled the best of them.
"We got the ball in position, we hit the post, their goalkeeper had a great game," he said. "It's a matter of believing in what we're doing and I'm pretty sure that will come. It's the first game and we'll show a lot of Australian character, Aussie spirit and we'll fight back."
Meanwhile, Borkelmans opened up on how he pulled off the victory, saying he spent days on the training paddock explaining to Jordan's players which Socceroos had to be shut down.
"I must say thank you to my players, they did everything I asked," the Belgian said. "It was the No.5 (Mark Milligan) and No.8 (Massimo Luongo) and also when No.22 (Jackson Irvine) come inside and No.17 (Mustafa Amini) – they make always the same movements.
"I say to my players when these guys have the ball, make pressure on these guys. When they're coming inside, we have a lot of space behind the back. All my team made a big, big, big tactical performance."
Borkelmans also suggested the Socceroos underestimated them and said it was "very, very dangerous" for Arnold to have talked so confidently about his team's chances and expectations of victory.
One journalist broached that topic with Arnold, who said it was a "translation difference" and that the words he used weren't perceived as arrogance in Australia.
"It's also dangerous when you are the famous country," Borkelmans said. "When you see the World Cup, big teams lose to small countries. It changed everything.
"When you put this (thought) in your players, they get so mentally strong that the performance is going up every minute in the game."
Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.