Socceroos suffer fifth straight defeat in Belgium
The Socceroos have again come up short against top-class opposition as Belgium inflicted a fifth straight defeat with a 2-0 friendly international win in Liege.
Goals in either half to midfielders Dries Mertens and Axel Witsel proved the difference at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne on Thursday night (Friday NZ time) in what was both sides' first post-World Cup outings.
Just as they did in Brazil against Chile, Netherlands and Spain, Ange Postecoglou's men gave a good account of themselves at times against the world's fifth-ranked side but ultimately paid the price for defensive errors.
''It was obviously a very challenging game for us, they're a very good side,'' Postecoglou said.
''For the most part I think we grew into the game ... but we're having our moments where we're making fundamental mistakes and getting punished.
''Having said that, there aren't going to be many countries that come here and dominate a game of football.''
Classy veteran Mark Bresciano was Australia's best, rising winger Mathew Leckie continued on his encouraging form from Brazil, while all-time leading scorer Tim Cahill had the best chance but didn't see much of the ball.
An internationally inexperienced backline was exposed at times by Belgium's attack but Postecoglou paid tribute to the defensive efforts on debut of Trent Sainsbury and Chris Herd.
''We're exposing these guys to the highest possible level and some real pressurised situations,'' Postecoglou said.
''I think Trent Sainsbury for a debut against some quality was very good.
''He's not going to come to many more difficult places than here.''
Liverpool youngster Brad Smith also made his Socceroos debut off the bench, completing his change of eligibility having represented England at junior level.
Australia are still searching for their first win since November, but they are sure to benefit from testing themselves against some of the world's best teams.
The Socceroos will get a realistic chance to return to winning ways when they face Saudi Arabia in London on Monday (Tuesday NZ time) to continue the build-up to next year's Asian Cup.
Postecoglou could opt to experiment slightly more with his squad at Craven Cottage, after fielding his strongest available starting side against World Cup quarterfinalists Belgium.
Only Robbie Kruse (knee) was unavailable while Belgium were missing some of their big stars, including Chelsea's Eden Hazard, but there was a surprise start for captain and Manchester City star Vincent Kompany (calf).
The game began at a high tempo and Australia needed the impressive Mat Ryan to make a great save to deny Mertens in the 12th minute as Belgium continued to make inroads down the right, with Jason Davidson having a tough time at left back.
The opening goal came in the 18th minute after Kevin de Bruyne was afforded too much space and hit the crossbar with a powerful shot.
The Socceroos failed to clear from the rebound and Napoli winger Mertens hit his shot into the ground and over the head of Ryan.
Australia squandered a golden chance to equalise in the 23rd minute after some brilliant lead-up work from Leckie, with Cahill's side-footed shot hit straight at Thibaut Courtois.
The Socceroos started the second half brightly but could not fashion any real chances and Belgium sealed the win when Witsel doubled the advantage with a cracking half-volley in the 77th minute.
Massimo Luongo, Ben Halloran, Carl Valeri and Tomi Juric all saw time off the bench in the second half, while Herd was replaced by Josh Brillante due to a leg injury that has him in doubt to face Saudi Arabia.