Friday, July 07, 2006


Saint Guus, Part 4

In my previous three sets of musings, I've given my impressions of some of Guus Hiddink's contributions to Australian football, and our World Cup performance, in a broad sense.

Now down to the mechanics. First, the pre-World Cup period.

To deal briefly with his pre-World Cup tactical schemes: he made two significant changes to the Australian setup familiar from the Farina era. One was the deployment of Lucas Neill in central defence, and the other was the switch to a three-man back line (although he did employ a back four on occasion). Both of these adjustments were mostly successful.

In Montevideo, I feel he was lucky to get away with the puzzling step of using Harry Kewell on the right wing for the entire match. Kewell has always looked more threatening on the left, and failed to generate many attacking possibilities at the Centenario on the opposite wing. In addition, he clearly tired towards the close, and the subsequent bluntness of the Australian attack in the second half allowed Uruguay to take the initiative completely. In truth, Australia was very lucky to leave South America with only a one-goal deficit.

In Sydney, Kewell started on the bench. However, Hiddink threw him on after 32 minutes, sacrificing a defender in Tony Popovic. Kewell took up a position on Australia's left wing, and the team took wing. Most pundits declared (probably correctly) that we would not have seen such a vigorous step from Frank Farina.

In the wake of that joyous night, it seems almost churlish to suggest that Hiddink's decisions were anything other than masterly. But I believe he missed the chance to clinch the tie without recourse to penalties, and this missed chance had a curious echo in Australia's second round match with Italy in Kaiserslautern.

For much of the second period of normal time, Australia were enjoying long spells of possession in the opposition half. Kewell was making regular inroads on the left, although, as in Montevideo, he did tire. Mark Viduka, however, found himself regularly crowded out once the final ball arrived.

From about the 70-minute mark on, many of those sitting or standing near me at Telstra Stadium were clamouring for the presence of John Aloisi. As was I.

Aloisi finally replaced Marco Bresciano six minutes into extra time, but by then Australia's momentum had whittled away, and penalties were already looking likely. In Hiddink's defence, it must be added that he had taken the possibility of penalties into account in his pre-match plans; but, even with 83,000 fans cheering the home side on, they are a chancy business.

In the end, Aloisi became the hero of the piece.

Hiddink placed a great deal of faith in Viduka as the lone central striker throughout his time as Australia coach. This was one case in which I believe a different approach was required; and it was not the last.

To be continued...

Neill also seems to share in the job of distribution, at least when he can. This was quite apparent as early as the first leg against Solomon Islands in Sydney, when about 90% of the game was spent in SI's half. Neill also (excuse the cliche) matured under Hiddink. As well as changing the line-up of the defence, each man was also knew specifically his responsibilities, as well as each of his team-mates. This made our three man defence better even than when it was made up of four.

Something that just occurred to me about Kewell: maybe he played on the right in his comeback because the emphasis on the opposite side of his body was friendlier to his injury? I dunno.

Finally, I think about 85% of Socceroos fans wanted a starting Aloisi-Viduka partnership ;-)
....Finally, I think about 85% of Socceroos fans wanted a starting Aloisi-Viduka partnership ;-)....

You wouldn't have known it mags...from what I heard (and read) at the time, everyone had more or less implicit faith in Guus's tactical schemes. Inlcuding the lone striker thing (of which more in my latest piece ;-) ).

Thanks for the continuing interest in the blog BTW!
Wow, this new look is wow. I really loved it.
Thanks for a awesome article.
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