In football, as in so many things in life, it's better to excel at the end than the beginning. As such, a relatively comfortable 2-1 win for Australia felt, at the final whistle, quite encouraging from a Welsh perspective, as they ended the stronger of the two teams. As the swathes of substitutions that do so much to render friendlies irrelevant disrupted Australia's hitherto impressive organisation, a Gareth Bale corner passed across the box, missed by everyone until Darcy Blake made a potentially tricky header on the bounce look simple, and tucked home his first goal in senior football.
His smile illuminated a drab summer evening, and suddenly, for a giddy few minutes, Wales were first to everything, and the less-than-a-quarter-capacity crowd sounded like they thought an improbable result was on the cards. But it would have been a grotesque injustice, and in truth Wales made just as many clear goalscoring opportunities in the brief period they were playing well as when they were poorly: none. Blake's header was their only shot on target of the match, and the closest an equaliser came was from an awkward header from Matthew Spiranovic, which landed on the roof of his own net with Mark Schwarzer scrambling.
And when Gary Speed and his staff look back on the game, there will be little to smile about. While Australia - 89 places higher in the FIFA rankings, and a vastly more experienced side - were always going to be tricky opponents, Wales emphasised this gap through defensive shoddiness. On 44 minutes, Luke Wilkshere, in splendid isolation on the Australian right, advanced with the ball. Tim Cahill, by some distance the classiest player on the field, ducked his run inside a teammate, a simple trick that nevertheless threw the Welsh defence. Stealing almost a yard of space, he was able to direct a neat volley past Wayne Hennessey, who could only look in plaintive bafflement at the red shirts in front of him.
It had been a poor, rusty, pre-season of a first half until then. Wales were dominating possession by the simple expedient of passing the ball around the back four, but had never threatened to construct anything progressive; Ramsey and Ledley were disappointing in midfield, the Arsenal man in particular lacking sharpness. He was later withdrawn with a slight calf strain. Though Bale was finding some space behind the defence on the left, more often than not the ball wasn't finding him, while Bellamy was spending as much time shouting at the referee as he was running at defenders. Australia, for their part, were happy to wait for the Welsh to make a mistake, and one Wilkshire post-thumper aside, were comfortable, well-organised, and almost entirely unruffled.
In the second period - two changes apiece at half-time - and 'Strahlya had clearly realised that the Welsh were prone to the heebie-jeebies. As the pressure increased, the chances came. Newly-introduced Robbie Kruse forced a save from Hennessey, and the Welsh defence watched the rebound roll across their own box. Carl Valeri cracked the ball against the post, much to the home side's relief, but the second wasn't far away. Again, Australia broke through down the right, and Scott McDonald - a mobile and willing frontman all evening - pulled a low cross into the six-yard-box. Hennessey, who had previously been either helpless or competent, went down but could only palm the ball away; Kruse, again unmarked, tucked home.
Speaking after the game, Gary Speed identified the individual errors as being akin to those that blighted Wales' loss against England, and expressed disappointment that such lapses in concentration had resurfaced. Yet his own use of Wales' two most potent attacking options was questionable. After half-time, Bale was moved into a central position behind a striker, with permission to drift right; Craig Bellamy took up station on the left-wing. The temptation to use Bale as an inverted or a central winger must be enormous for any manager, given his finishing ability, yet the effect of the switch here was summed up in the breakdown of two consecutive Welsh moves. First Bellamy burst on to the ball behind the right-back, remembered he wasn't Bale, and scuffed the ball gently across the Australian box; moments later, Bale returned the favour, failing to control the ball as he galloped through at inside-right. Two highly optimistic penalty shouts aside, the Tottenham winger had a quiet, frustrating evening.
Perhaps the real winner of the evening was currently-unemployed Lucas Neill, who collected the man-of-the-match award from Sky after ninety minutes of nearly flawless shop-window self-placing. While this wasn't the most strenuous of defensive evenings, there must be any number of teams in the Premier League and beyond who could use his experience and strength at the back. Australia will leave satisfied with their night's work, albeit with the same caveat about the strength of the opposition.
As for Wales - who had apparently deliberately selected tough opponents with a view toward self-improvement - they will look toward their next two competitive games, Montenegro at home and England away, with apprehension and dread respectively. Ashley Williams stated after the game that Wales had a lot of positives to take away, and Speed has to hope that the solution to the mystery of lapses in concentration is amongst them. When playing from a position of weakness, as Wales will always do, the very least that a football team needs to do is force the opposition to beat them. For now, Wales remain exceptionally generous hosts.