Friday, August 18, 2006


Lessons from the Gulf

The performance of Graham Arnold’s makeshift Socceroo side has been amply commented upon and analysed during the last couple of days. Let’s take a look at the Kuwaitis.

They’re not a bad barometer of competition in Asia. Far from one of the powerhouses of the region, they nevertheless have a respectable football history, having qualified for the World Cup in 1982, and, famously, knocked China out of the reckoning for the 2006 tournament (much to FIFA’s chagrin, one suspects).

On Wednesday night, they exemplified many of the virtues of the western – read Arab – Asian nations, while revealing some of the archetypal deficiencies.

Perhaps the most surprising, and notable, facet of their play was that they were not short of pace. The early balls launched in the direction of Archie Thompson on the left indicated that Graham Arnold perhaps hoped to use Thompson’s speed off the mark to catch the Kuwaitis out at the back. It didn’t work; the mobile and intelligent Yaqobu Abdullah ensured that Thompson rarely reached the by-line.

There were some impressive displays of individual skill from the side in blue. The understandably defensive posture of the Kuwaitis meant that these were generally displayed on the break, but on occasion they looked moderately dangerous. Individualism tended to take precedence over teamwork at times, however, and with the exception of a delicate move around the 18-yard box early in the second half, there was little evidence of effective combination in attack.

Their penchant for tricks extended itself to the defence as well, and I often felt that the defenders were being unnecessarily elaborate. One or two of the defensive back-heels and shimmies in the first half came within a whisker of setting an Australian attacker clean through on goal. Having said that, it was heartening to see a few of the Kuwaiti players trying a few runs out of defence; the adventurous left-sider Fahad Shaheen will be one of the players to keep an eye on in the return leg.

Australia clearly expected to make something out of their numerous set-pieces and long throws, but with one or two exceptions the Kuwaitis did fairly well in their own mixer. Perhaps their chief deficiency in defence was a tendency towards hesitancy and confusion when two players had the option to go for the same ball, a fault which was superbly exploited by Brosque and Carney in the move which led to Travis Dodd’s goal.

Up front, it was noticeable that Al-Hamad, supposedly one of the star players, rarely got into the game (he barely had a kick in the first half). A more physical player than his fellows, he was simply cancelled out by the strong Australian back three for much of the evening. Clearly, as expected, Australia will have the edge in the physical department against the west Asians.

Lastly, mention should be made of the fine goalkeeper, Nawaf Al-Khaldi. He produced a couple of excellent saves and dealt adequately, if not entirely convincingly, with crosses. One of Kuwait’s best players of the night, without doubt.

There is a part of the FIFA that loves China to qualify for reasons attached to TV, and there is another important part of FIFA that wants to see China pay for the lack of effort it has put into promoting a game with a huge latent popularity in the country.

Interesting. I've been to China twice now myself, and I know how keen they are on football, so it's surprising that the domestic game's still in such a mess there. Maybe they need a Crawford and a Lowy. ;-)
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