Thursday, June 28, 2007
The Pioneers, Part 3
Australia v. West Germany
The encounter with the hosts and eventual champions was the only game in which Rale Rasic’s side was comprehensively outclassed from start to finish. Although the West Germans won 3-0, it could easily have been a couple more. Having said this, a few slack moments in the German defence might just have given Australia a reward for their dogged efforts during the game, as we shall see.
The man of the match, in every respect, was the outstanding West German playmaker Wolfgang Overath. His raking, pinpoint left-footed passes from his deep midfield position constituted an absolute masterclass in the art of midfield generalship, à la Andrea Pirlo.
Other stars for the hosts were the young, skilful centre-forward Uli Hoeness, occasionally over-elaborate, popping up everywhere in the best traditions of Total Football, and the tricky winger Jürgen Grabowski, who posed constant danger on the right flank.
And the Australians? None were remotely disgraced, but Jack Reilly, in goal, deserved particular commendation for his efforts in keeping the Germans to three. Although at fault for the third goal, his handling and positioning were generally excellent, and they needed to be.
In the only change to the Australian side, the injured Johnny Warren was replaced by Ernie Campbell on the right flank. The West German side was unchanged from their game against Chile.
The hosts went on the attack immediately, with Australia ceding them the lion’s share of the park from the outset. Overath made his presence felt early with a fine ball through to Grabowski on the right; his cross found the prolific Gerd Muller in the centre, but Doug Utjesenovic managed to block the shot. Muller had another chance a few minutes later, when a clever backheel from der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer, put him through. He failed to trouble Reilly.
It seemed only a matter of time, and sure enough, Australia were breached on twelve minutes. A neat West German passing move on the right flank left the Australian defence in disarray, and the ball broke to Overath in an acre of space in the middle. Calmly picking his shot, he airmailed the ball into the top corner with his formidable left foot.
The one-way traffic continued. A free kick was touched off to Hoeness on 15 minutes, but he couldn’t find the target; a minute later, a cross from Berti Vogts found Muller unmarked in the box, but the latter’s header pinged off the bar. It was his best chance of a half in which Peter Wilson, marking him (as Muller later complained) very aggressively, kept him reasonably quiet.
Colin Curran was having a torrid time at left-back, up against the superbly resourceful Grabowski. The West German winger had already beaten his man on a couple of occasions when he finally placed a cross on the head of a team-mate, the left-winger Jupp Heynckes. Reilly saved well.
Meanwhile, the Australians were doing what they could. Long balls out of defence proliferated, the determined pressing of the Germans often leaving the overawed Australians with little choice. After one such “clearance”, the ball broke to Overath again; his gem of a pass found Muller, who set up Hoeness for another near miss.
As in the previous game, it was Adrian Alston who provided the Socceroos with some hope. Finally receiving the ball in an advanced position, he burst past Vogts and cut inside Beckenbauer to create a shot for himself, but failed to keep it down.
Soon afterwards, Australia went further behind. With Curran upfield and out of position, the ball broke to Hoeness on the right; evading Wilson, he crossed, and this time it was the midfielder Bernhard Cullmann who nipped in between Utjesenovic and Manfred Schaefer to head in.
The home team might have gone in even further ahead but for a splendid save by Reilly after a German corner reached Vogts, who sent a blistering cross-shot at goal.
Alston was getting precious little support from the flanks, with Branko Buljevic rarely advancing into the opposing half and Campbell ineffective on the right. Yet, towards the end of the half, Australia finally began to put together a few pleasing passing moves; at the conclusion of one of these, Jim Mackay’s adroit pass found Curran, who had slipped unnoticed into the box. Sepp Maier, the West German goalkeeper, had to plunge at his feet to save.
At half-time, Campbell was replaced by Atti Abonyi, and Australia rallied. Not least because the Germans clearly slipped down a gear in the second period, content to maintain possession and threaten occasionally.
Alston had the first good chance of the half, again proving that he could be a handful to even the finest defences. Sweeping past Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, he again managed to get goal-side of the great Beckenbauer…but his eventual shot was a disappointing one.
Although the Australians were looking far more composed and confident, Curran in particular handling Grabowski far better after the interval, they conceded a painfully soft goal on 53 minutes. A straightforward corner from Hoeness on the right found Muller, who had snuck ahead of Schaefer and Utjesenovic. Reilly, for once, was caught in no-man’s land, and Muller collected his eleventh World Cup goal.
With their heads down, the Socceroos were extremely lucky not to concede a fourth moments later. A superb run down the left by Bernd Hölzenbein, a half-time replacement for Heynckes, ended with a neat cross to Hoeness in the middle. An open goal faced him: he headed over the top.
The centre-forward Peter Ollerton replaced a tiring Buljevic, and Alston withdrew to the left flank (somewhat to his relief, one suspects). From his new secluded position, he sent a lovely diagonal ball through to Abonyi, whose cross nearly gave Ollerton a goal within minutes of his arrival. A fine clearance from Berti Vogts thwarted the danger.
Sadly, the game was to turn sour for Alston. Injured in a tackle midway through the half, he was forced off the field for several minutes, and played only a peripheral role thereafter, limping wretchedly along the left touchline.
The West Germans came to life in fits and starts. Another move initiated by Hölzenbein created a chance for the Germans’ second substitute, Herbert Wimmer. Wimmer would have another chance shortly before full-time, when another sublime long pass from Overath just eluded him in front of goal.
Out of the blue, there came a golden opportunity for Australia to open its World Cup account. Jim Mackay, having a mixed game, ended a sudden burst through the midfield with a perfectly-weighted pass through to Abonyi, on a diagonal run into the centre. The substitute held off Paul Breitner, prodded deftly past Maier – and the ball came tantalizingly back off the inside of the far post.
There was time for one last Australian chance, when Curran’s clever pass put Alston clean through; the Alston of the first half might have gone all the way, but the hard-working Vogts got back in time to make a crucial tackle.
Although the Socceroos left the field comprehensively defeated, they had again clearly gained the respect of the crowd, who applauded Rasic’s side off the pitch, and had even taken to booing the home side as they became somewhat languid in the second half.
Next: Chile, and Australia’s first, treasured point at the World Cup.
I hope whoever the provider is has a couple of copies of these, just to be safe.