Friday, June 29, 2007
The Pioneers, Part 4
Australia v. Chile
Australia's only "result" at the tournament was also their most enthralling game. It is odd that it has generally gone down in the annals of football history as a dull scoreless draw in a dead rubber, a game in which the heavy conditions made anything resembling football more or less impossible in any case.
Time to dispel a few myths.
First: it was emphatically not a dead rubber. The Chileans still stood a good chance of progressing if they could beat the Australians, and the West German hosts could defeat their Communist neighbours by a couple of goals. In the event, of course, East Germany beat the eventual champions 1-0 in the biggest shock of the tournament. Although this did indeed render the result of the Australia v. Chile game academic, bear in mind that the clash between the two Germanies took place after the supposed "dead rubber".
Second: there was indeed heavy rain in the second half, but there was also plenty of exciting football. Neither the Chileans nor their allegedly unsophisticated opponents were prepared to abandon all attempts to play the ball along the carpet, however sodden it may have been.
Third: Although the first half was relatively insipid, the second period was awash with chances. It was hardly a "game with 0-0 written all over it".
And so to the game. Rale Rasic decided not to rest Adrian Alston, despite his injury in the West Germany game; he again started at centre-forward, but this time Atti Abonyi was handed a possibly overdue start on the right wing.
Chile had their stocky, elusive little right winger Carlos Caszely back after his suspension against the East Germans, and the 23-year-old would prove a considerable handful for the Australian defence with his mesmerising runs and sudden bursts of pace. Otherwise, the Chilean manager Luis Luque kept faith with the team that had held the East Germans.
With Chile playing a more patient, less forceful game than the West Germans, Australia started far more confidently than in their previous match. Peter Wilson now had the time to pass the ball out of defence rather than loft it, and with Abonyi full of energy and Jimmy Rooney effective in midfield, Australia had the better of the opening exchanges.
Yet Alston's injury was clearly hampering him; he was quite unrecognizable from the powerful striker who had twice embarrassed the world's greatest defender in the previous match. Had Rasic made the right decision?
The first 20 minutes was barren of chances, with each defence having the measure of the opposing attack, and the final balls from both sides lacking wit. Caszely, on the first of a few memorable sorties, nearly burst through at the halfway point of the first period, but eventually found a crowd of yellow shirts too much for him. A half-chance for Elias Figueroa at one end, Alston at the other...the game needed a shot in the arm.
It got it, inevitably from Caszely. A marvellous slalom on the right saw him glide past three men before planting a perfect cross onto the head of Carlos Reynoso. Jack Reilly's brilliant point-blank save rebounded to Reynoso again, and the latter's attempt to palm the ball into the net failed.
Chile began to take over. Reilly did well again on the half-hour, holding onto a low cross from Chile's left winger Leonardo Veliz, despite being badly unsighted by Wilson. Then, on 37 minutes, Ray Richards reacted to the award of a free kick to Chile by kicking the ball away angrily. The unimpressive referee, Jafar Namdar, produced a yellow card. Just slot that into your memory bank for the moment...
Australia came back into the game towards the end of the half, and Branko Buljevic was the man responsible. Making a number of purposeful, sinuous runs from his deep left-wing position, he inspired the Australians to start passing and pressing again; one fine move shortly before the interval ended with a powerful shot from Jim Mackay, which was fortuitously blocked.
At the other end, Caszely again tore past Colin Curran and headed for the by-line, only to be nastily upended by Wilson, who was fortunate to escape without a caution.
As the players emerged for the second half, the rain was pelting down in the Olympiastadion. The pitch, already not in the best of states, began to break out in large puddles. It would be easy to assume, then, that the second half was an unwatchable war of attrition, with long balls and aerial challenges predominating.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It was, on the contrary, a vibrant, exciting 45 minutes, in which both sides, to their great credit, tried to play football despite the atrocious conditions.
Australia might have had a penalty when another superb run from Buljevic - taking up where he had left off in the first half - was halted by a sly elbow from Figueroa. Then Alston, coming to life at last, slipped the tireless Abonyi through in the inside-right channel; sadly, the St. George man slipped at the vital moment. Abonyi turned provider a few minutes later, storming forward on the right before giving a neat infield pass to Mackay, who shot just wide.
The struggling Alston was replaced by Peter Ollerton on 65 minutes. The sequel, however, was a renewed Chilean onslaught; first the centre-forward Sergio Ahumada, having a distinctly quiet game, turned away from Manfred Schaefer in the box but shot wide; then a misplaced header from Buljevic put the ball at the feet of Alberto Quintano twelve yards from goal, but his audacious attempt to chip Reilly was unsuccessful.
On 74 minutes came Australia's best chance of the night. Curran, breaking splendidly from defence as he did so often during the tournament, hit the by-line and cut the ball back sharply for Mackay; the blond midfielder, with no time to react, sent the ball over the top from five yards out...
After another headed chance for Figueroa following a rare misjudgement from Reilly, Curran badly injured himself in a challenge with the Chilean right-back, Rolando Garcia. As he received treatment by the touchline, Ray Richards came across to take the Australian free kick. Now, the plot thickens.
Ruud Doevendans has told the story in admirable detail here, so I won't repeat it. Suffice to say that the confusion of the Australians when Namdar did eventually flash the red card at Richards was indescribable. Hands flew everywhere, faces wore expressions of complete bewilderment. Yet off he went.
Amazing that (to the best of my knowledge) only two World Cup games have featured instances of the referee forgetting to send off a player who had received two cautions - and that both games featured Australia!
Meanwhile, Harry Williams had come on for Curran, and the young Aboriginal defender did a superb job in the frantic final minutes. He made a number of important clearances, including a magnificent last-ditch tackle on the rampant Caszely.
The Chileans now came forward in droves, but the resolute defending of the Australians, with Wilson unbeatable in the air, kept them at bay. The side in red were reduced to long shots, and three of them whistled past Jack Reilly and out for goal-kicks in quick succession.
Then, an extraordinary moment of late drama. A straightforward long ball from Reynoso produced a moment of potentially disastrous confusion between Wilson and his goalkeeper. The latter, running the risk of eternal execration in his adopted country, dropped the ball. It fell to the feet of Ahumada, whose reflex shot...was stopped by Wilson's head on its way to goal.
As the final whistle sounded, Wilson the captain raised his arms to the heavens in a gesture of triumph. The part-timers and first-time participants had held the World Cup veterans, semi-finalists in 1962, to a richly deserved draw.
Colin Curran - An early Oz World Cup version of Chipperfield (a durable, quiet achiever) perhaps?
He wasn't as good defensively as Chippers (caught out of position very often), but he was one of Oz's most dangerous players going forward, oddly enough. He worked some nice one-twos with Buljevic (who I reckon was easily the most skilful player of the 1974 crew) on the left flank.
Now that I've seen all the games a second time, though, I reckon that "Socceroo MVP" award actually belongs to Jack Reilly instead. He really was fantastic - quick off his line, positionally aware (although occasionally he punched when I reckon he could have caught), and he made a couple of stunning saves. Like I said though, he got verrrry lucky at the end of the Chile game!
TBH I think he did better than Schwarzer (or Kalac) did in 2006, all things considered.
Hi Mike, tell that Rale and he will love you .-)
But you are so right, Andre ZehGerman