Socceroos fail to break down a stubborn Macedonia
In a match of very few clear-cut chances, Australia was easily the better side but lacked the same cutting edge they showed against Germany last week.
It was a fifth game in a row without defeat for the Socceroos and their final hit-out before the road to Russia – the AFC World Cup qualifying campaign – begins in June.
Australia lacked the same energy and quality they did against the Germans – especially in midfield - with the home side making it hard by sitting deep with most players behind the ball.
The small crowd also didn’t help theirs or the match’s cause, with no real atmosphere inside the Nacional Arena Filip II Makendinski Stadium. Ange Postecoglou made six changes to the side which drew 2-2 with the world champions, including handing a debut to Adelaide United’s Tarek Elrich at right-back.
Adam Federici started in goal, Aziz Behich, Aaron Mooy and Asian Cup heroes Trent Sainsbury and Massimo Luongo also came in the eleven.
After a scrappy start it was the Socceroos which created the first real chance on 12 minutes, with the front three all involved.
Mathew Leckie found Nathan Burns on the right and the Wellington Phoenix attacked burst into the box and finding James Troisi, but his snap shot took was deflected wide of goal.
The bumpy surface was making it difficult for the Socceroos to play their quick tempo, passing game and the quality of the contest suffered as a result.
Federici wasn’t tested in the first half while FYR Macedonia gloveman Martin Bogatinov was only called on once to deny Burns on the half hour mark.
After winning a free-kick on the left wing, Burns picked himself up to get the ball short before turning past a couple of defenders and surging into the box, only to shoot straight at Bogatinov.
The second half started in a similar vein to the first, with the Socceroos enjoying most of the possession and trying to unlock FYR Macedonia’s compact defence.
Leckie almost did that 12 minutes after the break, getting on the end of Burns’ cross but his far-post header sailed just over the bar.
The FC Ingolstadt man went even closer midway through the half, turning brilliantly on Behich’s ball into the box, with Leckie’s powerful low drive forcing substitute ‘keeper Krlstijan Naumovski into a smart save.
With nine minutes to go, impressive teenager Chris Ikonomidis was brought on for his international debut, becoming Socceroos No.579 in the process.
But not even the Lazio winger’s youthful exuberance could spring the contest to life late on as both sides were content to play out a stalemate.
Now it’s all focus on April 14’s World Cup qualifying draw in Kuala Lumpur before taking the first steps on the long road to Russia 2018 in June.
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