Socceroos, Matildas reflect Australia's flawed attitude to football

More than its aesthetic beauty, the most profound thing about football is that it is an expression and reflection of self. In both collective and individual terms, football tells our story in the most vivid of ways. The game can reveal our intellect and cunning, capacity and resilience, or even history, outlook and mindset, if one looks deeply enough.

Before our very eyes, Australian football's story on the pitch, and how the Australian football public impacts that, is currently being told. Even by Australian footballing standards of discontent, though, this week has been an abnormal one.

On Sunday in India, the Matildas were knocked out of the AFC Women's Asian Cup by South Korea in unsurprising circumstances, despite internal and external expectations.

Then the Socceroos slumped to a 2-2 draw with Oman on Tuesday, effectively confirming their path to Qatar will be via the inter-continental playoffs. That pressure on Graham Arnold has intensified after the draw, when the eventuality of the playoff seemed just as likely before this window, says just as much about the Australian footballing public as it does the Socceroos.

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Because there are two inescapable parallels between the Australian men's and women's national teams. The first is how an intrinsically one-dimensional and pragmatic approach to possession has been exposed, amid the previous decade's dramatically changing tactical landscape.

It has ultimately reflected the type of football Australia values at both domestic and international levels, the perceived personal, physical and technical qualities that are required, and the consequently differing levels of scope to players who perceivably can and can't perform within that framework.

Though some might be inclined to revisionism on Ange Postecoglou and Alen Stajcic, this existed before Graham Arnold and Tony Gustavsson took their respective positions. But it has only approached a kind of nadir under the latter two, given the body of footballing evidence, their incapacity to identify and attempt to solve problems, and the potential implications of that both on and off the pitch.

The starkest aspect of the Socceroos' return games against Vietnam and Oman was Jackson Irvine's shift to a more natural position in midfield, and the effect it had on Tom Rogic and the collective. But also in relation to that, a coaching staff that seemed at odds with itself in following through.

The first 45 minutes against Oman were among the best Australia had played in years, but that's only within this overwhelming context of pragmatism. Witnessing any glimmer of functionality from Australia's national teams, in relation to the volume of possession it holds in Asian competition, is akin to suffering from Stockholm syndrome.

This underpins another culture war in the Australian game -- decades long, on the pitch, and still undeclared.

Tuesday's reliance on Rogic was a reaffirmation of his place in Australian football -- far from complete but having to carry the burden of an overall distrust in technically adept footballers, practically since he first wore a Socceroos shirt. The varying levels of impact Rogic had between the first and second halves was a repeat of the Vietnam game, borne of his own capacity and Irvine's impractical and eventual shift deeper on the pitch.

The reality of this "sokkah syndrome" meant Arnold's side would be in a precarious position once they faced higher-quality opposition in this third phase of Asian qualifying. The inevitable question was, how would he, his staff and the team respond? The answer is, not well. Six points out of the last 15 available isn't ideal, much like the Matildas losing a quarterfinal they expected to waltz through. Both teams have clearly defined ceilings in this respect.

For the Socceroos in this window, it is particularly pertinent in the context of Ajdin Hrustic returning for and not starting in Muscat, Marco Tilio's selection for this squad because of perceived X-factor but not seeing minutes when it actually mattered on Tuesday, or Denis Genreau sitting on his couch in France while an Irvine-James Jeggo defensive midfield tandem played out the final 10 minutes.

Because it's here, we arrive at the second parallel. Eventually, both teams are hyped and condemned by an Australian footballing media and public so blinded by results that it is unable to see past the surface level of those results. We are just as outcome-dependent as those within Australian footballing operations. As mentioned after the Matildas' exit in India, the narrative shifts once performances and results suddenly don't align, but the core issue in this respect is really a flawed perception.

The football we eventually produce is correlated to the way we interpret and frame football. Outside of how it creates a gross lack of accountability for and transparency from those who actually make high-level footballing decisions, Gustavsson and Arnold's comments this week were deeply relevant.

Their defence of their team's performances were primarily framed by the level of effort. Which is applicable and reasonable, because there was no shortage of effort, and effort can be reflective of character. In football, character is everything. However, there are other qualities that reflect character in football, such as intelligence, guile, confidence, resilience and bravery in relation to risk, because bravery in football isn't solely defined by one's effort and desire in the duel.

Ultimately, Australian football must understand that as vividly ever this week; Australia's footballing story on the pitch is being defined by its full heart, but also its empty soul.