Saturday, July 21, 2007
Australia, of course, hadn't done enough to win tonight's game, but then neither had Japan.
Sadly, just as we seemed to be playing our way into the tournament, just as we appeared to have sorted out most of our defensive problems, a calamitous mistake from an otherwise excellent Mark Milligan and a ludicrous red card for Vince Grella forced Australia to grasp for the lottery of penalties - and, though we got there, it wasn't enough.
It might have appeared that the Japanese were approaching the game too timidly right from the outset, but one shouldn't take credit away from the Socceroos. They started brightly and aggressively, as they did against Thailand, and the effect was the same: they managed to put their opponents onto the back foot.
Indeed, the Japanese defence kept a very, very deep line throughout the first half, which meant that switching the play was something of a chore for them. As a result, Australia were not put under sufficient pressure in defence.
It was a pity, however, that Brett Emerton and David Carney did not get forward a little more often. Australia's lack of width meant that our attack, too, lacked variety.
Australia's general rhythm of play, on the other hand, was good. In contrast to the opener against Oman, in which the Socceroos simply put their opponents under no pressure at all, there were brief periods of pressing in between "rest periods" in which the ball was shuffled around the defence. Andante rather than adagio this time, and suitable for the conditions.
The set-pieces of the Japanese, which might have been a considerable worry had Shunsuke Nakamura's radar been functioning properly, were mediocre. Their delivery from the flanks was ordinary. Shunsuke Nakamura, perhaps in an effort to escape the attentions of Grella, dropped deep and popped up on both flanks in an effort to get into his erstwhile groove. He rarely did so.
At the half-time break, although they had played rather the better football, it was hard to see how the Japanese would break through; Naohiro Takahara's ability to find space for himself in the box seemed the most likely route to a goal...and so, ultimately, it proved.
What a pity that, just when Australia had reaped the reward for their patient, canny play, they were hit with a massive double blow. Vince Grella had easily his best game of the tournament (not that this was any great achievement), and he will never receive a softer red card.
It was very strange that Graham Arnold withdrew both the strikers and left Harry Kewell to thrash around alone up front, but Japan's refusal to really take the game to a ten-man Australia - there were still four defenders looking after Kewell even at the final whistle - meant that their own chances to score were limited. I don't feel that either coach emerged from this game particularly well.
Where to now, then, for the Socceroos?
The experience of the Asian Cup has been invaluable. They will surely approach the World Cup qualifiers with greater knowledge, greater respect for their opponents and a greater awareness of how to "play to the conditions". Tonight's game, I feel, showed that they have already made some progress in the latter department.
I stated before the tournament that anything less than a semi-final berth could be considered a relative failure; I still believe that's a fair assessment. We played abysmally in our opening two matches, were somewhat lucky in the third, and finally started playing to our potential when we had already drawn perhaps the toughest possible opponent in the knockout rounds.
Graham Arnold should probably be replaced, but his reign has not been the unmitigated disaster that it will no doubt be considered hereafter. He has perhaps clung too fondly to the tactical schemes of Guus Hiddink, and has not always reacted appropriately to changing game situations. But he deserves credit for rallying the side, and making some necessary changes, after our dismal beginning in the Asian Cup.
Now for the challenge of getting to South Africa.
I was a little disappointed that the second coming of Maradona didn’t single-handedly win the cup for us in his 40 min cameo. Now off to Turkey to see if he deserves the levels of fanboydom that he is currently receiving.
The qualifying for the World Cup will certainly be interesting, particularly once the smoke has cleared in regards to international retirements post Asian Cup. I’m going to light a candle that John Aloisi is the first to retire. I appreciate his contribution over the years, but would prefer to see the long term replacements for him and Mark Viduka integrated into the side. He’s done a reasonable job at the Asian Cup, but is a shadow of the player he was at the Confederations Cup in 2005. As far as the longterm replacements go, well I’m all out of ideas. McDonald, Kennedy, Burns, Djite, Holman?
The international career of one of my all time favourite players in Josip Skoko will surely be ended ASAP or at least after a swansong vs Argentina a la the Paraguay game last year. What about Craig Moore and Scott Chipperfield?
Arnold has never really convinced. Results/performances talk in friendlies and in tournaments.
He shouldn't be risked. More, he should do the right thing.
After every major tournament coaches reassess themselves. Few win, therefore most resign or are sacked.
Arnie can not be proud of what he achieved and how he achieved it.
Secondly, Viduka! Great player and he has a role for his country,mainly from the bench.
Removing the reliance on him and Aloisi allows us to face up to what we have in the forwards.
Young hopefuls. Who may or may not do it for us.
But Takahara is hardly Pele and he's Japan's best and has got them to World Cup's
We need a more mobile forward line. Removing the great Duke would enable a coach to change the way we play.
The time has come. Can we really play Viduka for the next two or three years leading the line on his own.
Change the man, change the syle of play and at least give us pace and therefore hope.
enjoy your posts
As usual, I agree with the majority of your analysis Mike, so forgive me for disagreeing with one small paragraph. ;o)
The reason I've highlighted this one is that we were only one fortuitous (and totally undeserved) equaliser away from a first round elimination. Therefore, it would have to be considered a somewhat disastrous tournament as a whole. Perhaps not unmitigated to be fair. ;)
We've gone from being one of the top 16 teams in the World Cup - not only results wise, but our football made that achievement a fully deserved one. Now I see at least a dozen teams being ahead of us in Asia ATM, so it would be fair to say the coach has to put his hand up to some degree.
To be fair though, the FFA are the biggest culprits in this whole mess IMO, and they have got away with this almost scot-free in the wash up. As you've rightly said in the other blog, it's easy to put all the blame on the coach in the greatest traditions of football fans, but I find it almost scandalous that very few are blaming the FFA for not getting behind Arnie. If they didn't want him, then why the hell was he the coach when it's clear that there are far better candidates? This tournament has shown that plenty of experienced 2nd and 3rd tier international coaches can perform reasonably well without charging the FFA millions. The FFA have been lazy, complacent and completely disrespectful to Asia, Graham Arnold and Australian football fans.
I wish the journalists in the dailies would point the finger at them instead of GA and the players.
What a dull world it would be if we agreed on everything! :-)
...To be fair though, the FFA are the biggest culprits in this whole mess IMO, and they have got away with this almost scot-free in the wash up. As you've rightly said in the other blog, it's easy to put all the blame on the coach in the greatest traditions of football fans, but I find it almost scandalous that very few are blaming the FFA for not getting behind Arnie. If they didn't want him, then why the hell was he the coach when it's clear that there are far better candidates? This tournament has shown that plenty of experienced 2nd and 3rd tier international coaches can perform reasonably well without charging the FFA millions. The FFA have been lazy, complacent and completely disrespectful to Asia, Graham Arnold and Australian football fans.
I wish the journalists in the dailies would point the finger at them instead of GA and the players....
Agree wholeheartedly. Shades of the pathetically incompetent SFC board last year managing to shift all the blame onto Butcher (with some help from certain agenda-driven columnists).
Mike Cockerill has been the only media voice (here in Sydney, at any rate) to back Arnold and criticise the FFA, but his defence of Arnold is actually getting so shrill that it's becoming hard to take it seriously.
They've obviously decided to penny-pinch for now (preparation for this tournament, among other things, makes that quite clear), and in the broader picture, who knows, they might have been right to do so.
But IMO it's typical of the abysmal standard of analysis in the Oz football media that pretty much ALL of the focus post-Hanoi has been on Arnold.
Eamonn: I agree Arnold should go (for many reasons). But I also think the deficiencies in preparation need to be pointed out in the tournament wash-up. We can't go into a tournament like this with just one warm-up game against pretty trivial opposition again.
Thanks for your interest!
Not only Arnie, but I read an article yesterday from Phillip Micallef which once again blamed the Brits for our ills! Some of what he said was correct. ie our skill levels are a major weakness, but we already know that anyway.
But I just love it when so-called analysts totally miss the point on other equally important (perhaps less tangible) fronts and blame a convenient scapegoat.
Yeah, saw that article. Absolutely cringeworthy, and full of the usual gross generalizations which are fast becoming an SBS specialty.