The Socceroos have suffered a 1-0 loss in their final World Cup hit-out against Croatia, but were far from disgraced against their opponents.
It was an encouraging display from coach Ange Postecoglou’s men who, with only a week before they open their World Cup campaign against Chile on June 13, were looking to build confidence from a stern test against the world No. 20 side.
While it was an energetic and solid first half showing from Australia, the Croatians were the more settled side and Nikica Jelavic’s 59th-minute strike decided the outcome at Salvador’s Pitacu Stadium in a game of very few chances.
Postecoglou was also hoping to get 90 minutes out of skipper Mile Jedinak, who has been recovering from a groin strain, and to give Mark Bresciano some game time with the veteran midfielder fighting to be fit for the Chile game after being restricted to light duties with a back complaint.
Jedinak lasted until the 75th minute before being taken off and Bresciano got a good 20 minutes into his legs.
With defence the main concern for the Socceroos, who will face attacking sides in Chile, the Netherlands and Spain, Matthew Spiranovic was the standout with a stoic display.
The first big test of the defence came in the 20th minute when Brazilian-born striker Eduardo got on the end of Jelavic’s cross to fire a powerful shot.
And while centre-back Alex Wilkinson was out-paced, goalkeeper Mat Ryan passed with flying colours, pulling out a superb save.
Ivan Franjic appeared completely over his knee injury in a physical display, the right-back going in for a tackle on Danijel Pranic, who needed to be stretchered off.
Dario Vidosic, playing on the right wing, had the handful of Australian fans in the stadium cheering when he found the back of the net in the 41st minute – only to be called offside.
Croatian skipper Darijo Srna threatened with a free-kick in the 57th minute, his powerful strike just shaving the cross bar.
It was Jelavic who finally scored, nicely set up by Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, who had been relatively quiet until then, to put Croatia 1-0 up just before the hour.
Australia’s first chance was in the 65th minute, when Tommy Oar, in the playmaker role, hit the post off a free kick.
Oar assumed his usual position on the left wing just minutes later to make way for Bresciano, who came on for Tim Cahill in the 67th minute.
The tempo slowed down in the second half as Postecoglou made a host of changes to give his charges game time and try various formations.
He brought on James Triosi and Matt McKay for Mark Milligan and Oar, and Adam Taggart on in the final 10 minutes but the equaliser couldn’t be found.