Thursday, July 06, 2006
Laza was always a great favourite of mine during the Farina years, and before. He rarely missed an Australia game, and he never failed to run his socks off for the Socceroos. He copped some criticism from the fans over the years, chiefly on the grounds that his running and dribbling was not matched by reliable crossing of the ball. He also, it was often remarked, ran into dead ends on the left flank.
This was far outweighed, for me, by the fact that we actually had a man who could regularly beat his opponents on the left. In the all-too-regular absence of Harry Kewell, Laza was the man to charge past the opposition right-back and heave the ball towards the centre. Not infrequently the ball sailed over the eighteen-yard area, or went straight to an opposition central defender; but on the occasions when Laza got his delivery right, chances often followed.
One of the fondest memories I have of Laza in the green and gold is the opening goal of the Oceania World Cup playoff with New Zealand in 2001. It was a perfect example of how useful he could be. Josip Skoko fed the ball to Laza on the flank; he rushed to the by-line, leaving his man for dead, and pulled the ball back deftly into the path of Brett Emerton, who finished neatly.
Against less than pacy opposition, Lazaridis could be devastating.
Most people remember the opening thirty minutes of the traumatic Iran playoff in Melbourne in 1997 as being an absolutely stunning display from Terry Venables' Australian team, lacking only the finish that the lead-up play deserved. And it was the quick Lazaridis, bullocking past the ordinary Iran defence, who was at the heart of things. "Stan carved Iran apart," commented his team-mate Craig Foster afterwards.
Laza was always a dab hand at set-pieces, too. His stunning free kick against Scotland in 2000, which pinged off the bar, might jog some memories. I felt that Australia posed less of a threat from corners when Marco Bresciano, whose delivery could be described as hit-and-miss, largely took over the mantle from Laza.
He was never a Hiddink favourite, but one hopes that he will continue to play a part in the Socceroos' Asian campaign. Fittingly, our first Asian Cup qualifier on home soil is against Kuwait - the opposition for Laza's first Socceroo outing, in 1993. I wonder if Stan will be there on August 16.
you forgot to mention that he had his entire neck removed in an operation early in his career.
Cheers for the comments Christian!