Sunday, July 08, 2007
The Chief Obstacles
This evening's game should give Graham Arnold and his players considerable confidence.
Neither side looked likely to cause a full-strength Australia too many problems. Although Iraq had an excellent period during the first half, in which their movement and interplay were smooth and dangerous, they appeared to lose the thread of the game towards the end of the half, and completely wilted in the second period. The conditions are already playing their part.
If there is a concern for Australia regarding Iraq, it is surely their set-pieces, the most impressive facet of their play. Australia's defence from set-pieces against Uruguay was mediocre (not quite as mediocre as their delivery from set-pieces, it must be said), and in Iraq's side there lurks a poor man's Recoba of sorts in Hawar Mohammed, whose left-footed inswingers from the right caused the Thais problems at times.
Nashat Akram seems an able midfield organiser, and Salih Sadir a player capable of occasionally producing the unexpected. But the rapidity with which the Iraqis fell into despond after Sutee Suksomkit's powerful shot late in the first half had roused the Thais was remarkable. They barely threatened from open play from that point.
Thailand, too, even in a second half which they dominated, rarely looked like scoring. The men in red were painfully laboured in their movement off the ball - the midfielder Datsakorn Thonglao appeared to have his boots glued to the turf at times - and unimaginative in their methods of attack. The right-back, Suree Sukha, was an honourable exception, but his upfield excursions received little support.
The Thai defence coped fairly well on the whole, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Iraq surprisingly opted for a lone striker approach, which made their task easier. Younis Mahmoud, in fact, fed on scraps throughout, with the exception of Iraq's period of domination in the first half.
In short: Australia must show tonight's combatants respect, but Arnold's men have no need to fear them particularly.
Though it is a danger to be overconfident and underestimate the opponent, I think Australia's youthful and frankly jittery defensive line is more cause for concern. Against Singapore with our 'first choice' defensive line in place, we looked ponderous, incoherent and a bit naive. Conceding even a single sloppy goal come the knockout phase of the tournament could prove disastrous, and I believe that a lot of the teams at the cup have the speed and guile to really run rampant, getting in behind the line.
If we fail to make opponents respect us, and they come out with an aggressive plan of attack against us. Australia needs to impose their presence in the minds of their opponents before even stepping on the pitch, in order to be able to dictate the play of the match.
Also, the dismissal of Oman as easybeats is worrying - they really aren't that bad at all. I guess we'll see tonight.
I'm so excited that the matches are finally kicking off! I can't believe how good a move it's been for Australia to move into the Asian cup, for all involved.
I get the feeling that most sides will set out their stall fairly defensively against us.
If the ACL is anything to go by: Urawa Reds, at home, before tens of thousands of partisan fans, basically played come-and-get-us (admittedly in a game where they were looking to keep a draw in hand).
Tonight will be very interesting.