Despite everything, Australia can still qualify for this year's World Cup.
Yet there was something agonisingly poignant about attendees walking out of Accor Stadium before the final whistle last Thursday, immediately after Kaoru Mitoma's opener. At present, the Socceroos are, at their core, uninspiring.
We have come a long way from Socceroos coach Graham Arnold's initially lofty declaration that this will be "the greatest Socceroos team ever" to the claim pre-match against Saudi Arabia that "a lot of juniors get brought up in a system of no relegation at junior level and so they don't learn to hurt when they lose."
As such, it was inherently fitting that Ajdin Hrustic and Denis Genreau's only start together in this World Cup qualification phase came on Tuesday, in a match that was ultimately meaningless on a results basis. Even then, their use was within the rigid framework of Arnold's system.
Among other things, Tuesday's 1-0 loss to Saudi Arabia provided another definitive example of utilisation being more a prevalent issue than talent in Australian football.
Following the Socceroos' 2-0 loss to Japan last Thursday -- ensuring their fate in the qualification playoffs -- and going into Tuesday's game in Jeddah, it was posed whether Arnold would or even could adjust in implementation.
Australia's phases of set possession over the first 10 minutes in Jeddah went some way to answering that question.
In the first scenario, Mat Ryan has the ball in possession for an approximate 20 seconds when play is restarted. Cue the standard 'Arnieball' rotation from Genreau to left-back as Aziz Behich advances up the pitch.
James Jeggo makes a half-hearted attempt to show for the ball as Hrustic directs Ryan to feed Gianni Stensness, playing this time as a right centre-back. Ryan, instead, maintains possession, drops the ball down, and ponders the next pass for what seems like an eternity. Genreau makes his move up the pitch, essentially knowing he will have to be on hand for the second ball.
The hoof from Ryan up the pitch eventually comes, and the ball bounces out, before Australia reverted to Arnold's 4-4-2 defensive shape, built to contain instead of press.
The next possession is just as illuminative. A quick switch of play from Trent Sainsbury gives Stensness the possibility to progress the ball. Another half-hearted attempt to show from Jeggo could still be relatively counteracted with a pass into the retreating Hrustic's feet, but Stensness feeds Nathaniel Atkinson at right back.
With nothing in front of him, Atkinson has a static Hrustic as his only passing option and when the latter does eventually receive, Jeggo backs off even further while Martin Boyle tries to dart into the space left by Yaseer Al-Shahrani. Facing Australia's goal and on his heels, Hrustic is left to figure it out by himself -- such is the cursed inheritance that comes with being a technically adept Australian footballer.
None of it matters, but it all matters in the continuum of football. Because, notwithstanding the situation, these are merely two among myriad examples of how Australian football teams are ultimately conditioned.
The Socceroos' first entry into the Saudi defensive third comes in transition, while all of Australia's shots in the first half also come via transition or dead ball. As the match progressed and energy dissipated, again, Australia went increasingly longer in possession, which then impacted the team's ability to defend.
This all goes beyond Graham Arnold, though. This past international window punctuated a problem that is deeply prevalent in Australian football and has manifested in this World Cup qualification cycle.
With the less-than-optimal use of Hrustic and Genreau in mind -- as well as Connor Metcalfe and Stensness as a midfield tandem against Japan -- Australia's losses in this window have managed to condense our misinterpretation of the game's tactical evolution over the past decade and a half.
As noted in February, this is not an exclusively Australian footballing problem. Yet given the complexion of games the Socceroos ultimately face in AFC World Cup qualification, Australian football's overriding pragmatism -- in relation to both collective setup and the slanted valuation of individual profiles -- is weaponised within that.
An unprecedented relationship between attack and defence in football now exists, which from a basis of decision-making Australian football continues either to ignore or simply undervalue.
The speed of transition and simultaneous expansion and compression of playing area on the pitch has created a tactical fork in the road. The biggest single distinction in football today is the choice coaches ultimately make in relation to the use of their midfields: Do they provide structure as a perceived safeguard against opposition transition; or do they provide the key improvisational element to collective possession both with and without the ball?
Arnold's implementation and the ideology that underpins it is fundamentally geared towards the former. This has contributed to an overwhelming tactical homogeneity in the A-League Men, through his success with Sydney FC. Meanwhile, the predominant preference of Australian teams not to press further exposes the flaws in that implementation against higher-quality opposition.
But to borrow a quote from Lester Freamon in The Wire: "You follow drugs, you get drug addicts and drug dealers. But you start to follow the money, and you don't know where the f--- it's going to take you."
Arnold's continued inflexibility, especially as the third phase of AFC qualifying has morphed into the proverbial pear, has reflected just how unsuited he was for international football.
Ignoring how it was influenced, Football Australia's hiring of Graham Arnold as Australia's national team coach represented an inherently gross misunderstanding of problems that were evident long before he took the role. That the safety of Arnold's job suddenly came under threat after the loss to Japan only reinforces it. FA's handling of the past week has also helped to reinforce the fragility and martyrdom that always accompanies duress for him.
Because this World Cup qualification phase and the inevitable precariousness of the Socceroos' path to qualification was never about Graham Arnold in isolation. It was always about Graham Arnold as a reflection of everything that is debilitative with football decision-making in the Australian game.
Our fear of space, of the ball, of our youth and on a primary level, of risk at domestic level, has been crystallised over this qualification cycle. It has been quite literally the sum of all fears -- a culmination of everything Australian football has done in the past to shackle itself on the pitch.
It's football, exactly as we have come to know it.