Thursday, August 10, 2006
Let's Get Physical
This annoyed me somewhat at first. After all, the Socceroos had showed tactical flexibility, some good passing movement and commendable defensive organization at the World Cup. But all the comments of World Soccer’s correspondents seemed to overstate the old, if not entirely inaccurate, stereotype. To wit:
“[Australia’s] physical, organized approach was always going to go down well in a European World Cup…”
“Australia, appearing at only their second finals…played to their physical strengths…”
“[Guus Hiddink] has often said Australia’s principal asset is their physical strength, and sure enough they were aggressive and direct from the off [against Japan]…”
“Brazil, faced by an Australian team prepared to graft and grind their way to a draw…”
“Direct play” is often used as a synonym for long balls towards the strikers. And for “graft and grind”, read fouls aplenty. Somewhat unfair on Australia; the fouls did stack up during the Australia v. Brazil game, but trust me, I was there, many of the fouls given (and that is the proper word) to Brazil during that game were, in fact, perfectly legitimate tackles.
So should we be up in arms about this characterization of Australia’s performance?
Well, yes and no. For one thing, our two “results” at the tournament might have owed something to defensive organization, fitness, and the finishing ability of certain players, but it was the addition of some tall and strong timber up front which really turned the games against both Croatia and Japan. In other words, the “physical” tag, when applied to Australia’s successes, is partly justified.
Secondly, there is something of an advantage in being dismissed as a “physical” team, particularly when there are other, unacknowledged virtues possessed by the team in question.
In Les Murray’s recent autobiography, he told the amusing story of Frank Arok’s successful mind games before a crucial World Cup qualifier against Israel. Arok had hinted, or rather threatened, that the Socceroos would play a fearsomely combative game, shoving their way to victory if they couldn’t prevail by skill and enterprise. The Israelis, duly “warned”, picked a team of hard nuts, thereby failing to play to their strengths.
The strengths of our new Asian rivals are chiefly speed and skill, the latter applying particularly to the Arab nations. Saudi Arabia may still be a little green – if you’ll pardon the pun – at international level, but they possess players of delightful skill, such as former Asian Player of the Year Nawaf Al-Temyat, a playmaker of great elegance and sure touch.
If our future AFC opponents were induced to field teams of greater strength and less subtlety against us, in the hope of fighting perceived force with force, they would probably be playing into our hands.
So let’s embrace our physicality, up to a point. As a reputation, it has its benefits.
Going into this World Cup, I had high hopes for the style of football we would play. I thought the 4-2-3-1 we played after Kewell came on in Sydney in November had a lot of potential (or a simple 4-4-2, with Aloisi in place of Culina). Bresciano's goal against Uruguay, for instance, finished off a wonderful move (apart from Kewell's miskick ;-) ).
In the end it never really happened, at least not with a goal to show for it. Had Bresciano been in better form (a goal from Viduka's superb lay off against Japan would've rounded off a great move) and Kewell been better deployed in the first two games, than perhaps things would have been different.
Personally I would've traded a beneficial reputation for Oz scoring some of the better team goals in a World Cup.
Despite trying to read the article with a horrible Olivia Newton John song going through my head, that's a very perceptive insight.
I've seen three Hiddink sides in the past 5 years, and they've all had a physical element to them. The skill and speed is sent to the wings in his sides.
The real shame was that we never got to see the Kewell that we had a glimpse of against Uruguay.
My deepest sympathies... :-)
...I've seen three Hiddink sides in the past 5 years, and they've all had a physical element to them. The skill and speed is sent to the wings in his sides....
Yeah, very true, although TBH I reckon that's partly just a Dutch thing. The way the Koreans played in Germany under Advocaat was quite similar, and Holland under MVB used the sort of Ajax 4-3-3 as well, with Robben and van Persie the ones given the most licence to roam.
...The real shame was that we never got to see the Kewell that we had a glimpse of against Uruguay....
Ya know, I was sure after what he'd shown in Sydney that he'd be used on the left wing in Germany (since, for one thing, Hiddink showed at PSV that he likes using true wingers anyway). Shane and I couldn't believe it when we saw the way the guys lined up against Japan - glad he changed it eventually, because it really didn't work.