Australia will shape up for the Confederations Cup for the fourth time when they face world champions Germany in Sochi on Tuesday.
Qualified thanks to their 2015 Asian Cup success, the Socceroos’ form in 2017 alone has been indifferent. Though they have remained unbeaten through Asian World Cup qualifying, they endured a string of four successive draws and were made to work at home by Saudi Arabia.
Ange Postecoglou’s maligned 3-2-4-1 formation has been at the centre of much of the chatter, introduced in March before qualifiers against Iraq and UAE. The structure was ripped apart by a slick Brazil in a friendly on Tuesday, laying bare its frailties.
Another test looms in the form of Joachim Low’s Germany, who have remained on a steady path since Brazil 2014 and are unbeaten since July 2016, winning eight of their 10 games since then.
However, Germany will enter the Confederations Cup with an understrength squad, missing the likes of Mesut Ozil, Leroy Sane and Manuel Neuer. Defender Antonio Rudiger said that could be a strength; the AS Roma defender hoped Australia would underestimate the youthful Germans.
Key Battle – Mark Milligan vs Julian Draxler
Draxler’s presence in this Germany squad reinforces the fact that there is still plenty of firepower there to trouble any team at the Confederations Cup.
The Paris Saint-German midfielder will act as Germany’s chief creative force. Since moving to Paris from Wolfsburg in January, Draxler registered eight goals and two assists across France’s league and cup competitions.
Without skipper Mile Jedinak alongside him in the dual No.6 positions, much more of the defensive and finger-pointing responsibility will fall to 2IC enforcer Mark Milligan.
The Baniyas midfielder must do his utmost to blanket Draxler and shift the onus off whoever is partnering him – most likely Aaron Mooy – so the ‘Pasty Pirlo’ can push forward.
Jedinak and Brad Smith are the two big outs for Australia. Both were named in Postecoglou’s final squad of 23 but have pulled out due to injury, replaced by Jimmy Jeggo and Alex Gersbach. Wholesale changes should be expected from the experimental lineup which took on Brazil on Tuesday, but the 3-2-4-1 formation will remain.
Germany go into the tournament with a youthful squad, but still boast an abundance of quality all over the pitch. Low’s tactical flexibility could be a problem for Australia; Die Mannschaft have deployed both 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations in recent matches. Against a back three, they themselves will look to create an overload up front.
Australia and Germany have met four times. The Germans lead the ledger 2-1 and in both their wins put four goals past the Socceroos, 4-3 and 4-0.
Their most recent meeting was much more successful for the Green and Gold. Still fresh from winning the 2015 Asian Cup, the very triumph which earned their entry into the Confederations Cup, the Socceroos returned to the scene of one of their greatest ever moments in Kaiserslautern and challenged the world champs. Strikes from James Troisi and Jedinak ensured they would return home with a respectable 2-2 draw.
While the Germans have been virtually faultless in their section of World Cup qualifying, Australia have stuttered and their unorthodox setup, just four games into its lifespan, remains a work in progress. Against Brazil in their final warmup match, the Socceroos were sliced open down the flanks similar can be expected against Germany. Postecoglou was right to dismiss Die Mannschaft‘s lacking of star names as a factor; his team remains with it all to do.
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