The gap between Asia’s two giants

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The much-anticipated final hit out for Australia against Japan before the Asian Cup ended in a 2-1 loss for the Socceroos. There were positive moments in the game, but the gap between the two footballing nations was present for all to see.

Creativity in the final third was a problem throughout, while with the continual reliance on Tim Cahill is endemic of the issues the Socceroos’ face going forward.

The lack of defensive discipline is another issue that the Asian Cup hosts face less than two months away from the showpiece event. Conceding from a set piece with a man unmarked isn’t the way to solve those concerning defensive woes and the newest member to the Socceroo back four, Aziz Behich wasn’t pleased with the “lack of concentration”.

Australia’s top goal-scorer of all-time, Tim Cahill, was high on Japan’s current position in world football, commenting on the changes made since he’s faced them during his career.

“Since I’ve played against Japan, they used to be a team that were technically unbelievable, a little bit weak and didn’t finish the games off,” the former Everton man said.

“Now in the last six years they have the power, they have the physique, they have the skill and they can finish, and you can see that time and time again.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Japanese football because they concentrate on what’s coming through.

“Overall, I think Japanese football’s growth is amazing.”

The midfielder cum-forward wasn’t the only member of the Socceroos to be taken-a-back by the performance of the Samurai Blue, especially their ability to switch gears in the game. Teammate Massimo Luongo “didn’t expect” Japan to be as strong and eager in the press.

“I didn’t expect that. We watched videos of [Japan before the game], they sort of half pressed and they weren’t as eager to get up the pitch,” the Swindon Town midfielder conceded.

The first half exploits were forgotten as Luongo recounts the issues the Socceroos’ faced in the restart, and the former Tottenham youngster was adamant on where the Socceroos need to be to challenge opposition of Japan’s calibre.

“That’s the standard we’ve got to keep, [Japan] came out on a different level,” he said.

“[The] second half [Japan] came out and the pressure was on the midfielders to get the ball,” Luongo added.

“Next time we might need to be a bit clever and look for another option.”

The process of regeneration has been a contentious topic and with competing nations making strides in development Australia still seems to be in a perpetual “transition”.

“It’s hard because we’re in a transition stage where we’re bringing through young kids,” Cahill said regarding the gap between the Socceroos and Samurai Blue.

“[The] Japanese team has a lot of players playing all over Europe at some of the biggest clubs and a lot of influential players – Kagawa, Hasebe, Honda, Yoshida.

“So for us, you know slowly but surely we’ll get there but we have to really concentrate on what’s coming through and for everyone to bear with us and understand that this takes time.”

Patience isn’t the issue, but rather a semblance of progress. A little more than twelve months ago, Massimo Luongo was eligible to play for the Young Socceroos in the under-20 World Cup — but wasn’t called up.

The decision was questioned at the time by England based Australian scout David Margone.

“Take the example, Massimo [Luongo]. He’s good enough to play in the Socceroos midfield now. It’s a no brainer. He’s been in one camp for his country since he has been in Europe,” Margone told SBS.

Twelve months on Massimo Luongo was called up into the national team, and picked for the World Cup. If Luongo is good enough to play for the senior team now, why wasn’t he good enough to play for the youth side a year ago?

The foresight shown by the nations top brass in using under age sides to bring through the next generation is lacking, and with Australia’s history of using youth sides to bridge the gap between youth and senior football the change is perplexing.

Ahmed Yussuf

ahmed mag pic Ahmed is a Melbourne-based writer, and one of the founders of Football Central. He's written in football culture magazine Thin White Line and others, and along with writing puff pieces, he hosts and produces podcasts in association with Football Central.  You can follow him on Twitter: @ahmedyussuf10

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