Spain midfielder Juan Mata has praised Australia’s eye-catching 2014 World Cup campaign, suggesting they have the potential to become a bigger force in the future.
Despite a lively burst from Ange Postecoglou’s side in the opening 10 minutes, La Roja gradually wrestled control of possession and prevailed 3-0 at the Arena da Baixada in Curitiba yesterday. Going into the clash with no points under their belt, Spain ended a dismal campaign with a consolation victory thanks to well-taken strikes from Mata, David Villa and Fernando Torres in what was the final match at Brazil 2014 for both nations.
Mata, who tucked away the third goal for his country, applauded the Socceroos’ typical ‘never say die’ attitude, particularly during their unfortunate 3-2 loss to the Netherlands last week.
"Well they fought, they tried until the end," he said.
"I think they played very well against Holland - they almost won.
"I think their football is growing and improving and they have very good players.”
Mata lamented the absence of suspended Australian talisman Tim Cahill; a player he admires having enjoyed numerous battles during his time at Chelsea before the ex-Everton striker jumped ship to the United States.
The 26-year-old believes that although the New York Red Bulls veteran is an essential cog in the Socceroos machine, Australian football and its next generation of players are on course for a bright future.
"Sadly today, Cahill couldn't play; he's the best player,” Mata said.
"But I think it's a good team and, in the following years, they will get better.”
The Manchester United playmaker made a special effort to approach Cahill in the dressing rooms after the match to congratulate him on scoring his fifth World Cup goal and wish him luck for the forthcoming Major League Soccer campaign.
"I just said congratulations for the goals in the World Cup,” the midfielder said.
"He's done a lot of goals, a lot of good things in the Premier League. He's an example for young players in England and I wished him the best in the States."
Mata’s compatriot David Villa, who bid farewell to international football in yesterday’s clash, will follow Cahill to the MLS in March, but not before heading Down Under to join Australian club Melbourne City as part of a 10-game loan stint next season.
Although his presence will only be temporary, the capture of Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer is arguably the greatest signing in the A-League’s 10-year history, ahead of former Sydney FC marquees Alessandro Del Piero and Dwight Yorke in years gone by.
Melbourne City (previously known as Melbourne Heart) and New York City FC are both franchises of Premier League champions Manchester City. The other Group B fixture in Sao Paulo saw Holland and Chile face off for top spot with both countries already qualified for knockout stages.
A 2-0 win for the Dutch meant Louis van Gaal’s men ended the group stages with a perfect record to set up a last-16 meeting with Group A runners-up Mexico, while the Chileans will take on first-placed Brazil.
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