Socceroos improve but still long way to go
THE Socceroos have regained a modicum of pride, holding South American powerhouse Colombia to a 0-0 draw in London in the second match under new coach Bert van Marwijk.
A late penalty save from the debutant Danny Vukovic ensured parity for van Marwijk's side, a welcome progression after the 4-0 defeat to Norway on Saturday.
Though Australia created little in attack, there were flashes of quality from Massimo Luongo and a shift of industry on the wing from Andrew Nabbout.
It was hardly enough to alarm their World Cup opponents but coming from such a low base, after the hammering in Oslo last week, any improvement for Australia was welcome.
Certainly there was greater structure in the Socceroos side, though the emphasis remained on standing off their opponent and trying to hit them quickly in transition.
It could, and should, all have been rendered redundant, though, as early as the sixth minute, when fresh question marks arose over the Australian tactical set-up.
The cross from James Rodriguez was perceptive, but Mateus Uribe effectively sauntered into the Australian box without being picked up. As Brad Jones rushed from his line in a belated attempt to close him down, Uribe headed wastefully wide.
James himself got on the end of a chance on 34 minutes, sidefooting wide at the near post after Johan Mojica exposed acres of space behind fullback Josh Risdon and fizzed a low cross in.
Colombia's confidence was no surprise after their defeat of France at the weekend, and even after several halftime substitutions they took the game powerfully to the Socceroos, who faced a mini-blizzard of attacks with the Palmeiras striker Miguel Borja to the fore.
Borja set the tone with an overhead kick soon after the restart that went narrowly over, then finished brilliantly at the far post only to be denied by an off-side flag against Carlos Bacca.
Borja himself was called off-side as he sent a shot flashing wide, then missed most unforgivably with a free header barely three metres from goal.
In the Socceroos goal, debutant substitute Danny Vukovic looked remarkably unfazed by the near misses, but still Bert van Marwijk sought to change the tide with the introduction of Tim Cahill.
Until that point Australia's chances had totalled a meagre number, the best coming when Tomi Juric turned neatly and shot across the Colombian goal but beyond the far post.
But manfully though the Socceroos defence worked to nullify such a free-flowing attack, there was the constant fear that a moment of quality could undo it all.
Borja, seemingly a magnet for the ball, was getting closer and closer, planting a header against the post with 10 minutes left. Five minutes later and the striker thought the moment was his, after he chased down a deflection off Milos Degenek and drew a rash foul from Vukovic.
The former Sydney FC goalkeeper had other ideas though, and some pedigree to offer after his heroics in the A-League grand final last May. On his 33rd birthday, Vukovic duly palmed away Borja's spotkick to ensure the evening ended in satisfactory style for his team.