Wednesday, February 06, 2008


First Step

Inamidst all the fuss surrounding tonight's game, it's worth taking a step back for a moment and savouring the novelty of the occasion: this is the very first time that we will undertake a proper, sustained World Cup qualifying campaign as part of Asia. No Oceania subgroup as in 1978 or 1982, no pointless preliminary games against pathetic opposition...this is the real thing.

All the more important, then, to start off with a confidence-building win.

Pim Verbeek has stated that he has more or less decided on 10 of the 11 starting positions for tonight's game, and it's a fair bet that the team will have a familiar look. No Mark Viduka up front, of course, and no Harry Kewell, but the other mainstays of the Hiddink/Arnold era will surely be there.

Verbeek employed a 4-3-3 of sorts with Korea at the Asian Cup, and although the prevailing view seems to be that he will again use a lone man up front, he should at least consider a front pairing, in my view. There is, as usual, a dearth of good wide players in the squad (especially given the absence of Kewell), and a narrow approach, combined with a lone striker, might produce another night of frustration.

I'd go for a Kennedy-McDonald axis. Although the latter has been less than impressive in his Socceroo outings to date, he has rarely been used appropriately (that is, in tandem with a taller, more powerful striker), and Josh Kennedy seems a potentially congenial partner for the Celtic man. Both players have been in pleasing form of late.

In midfield, there are plenty of options. The "two holding midfielders and two wide players" referred to by Branko Culina in the article linked above will probably include his son, but in truth, Jason Culina has done little in his recent Socceroo outings to justify a continued place in the first team. There are those - his father included - who feel that he has been deployed too deep, and needs to be given more licence to get forward. Perhaps so, but there are other members of the squad who have shown some bite in an attacking midfield role.

In the holding positions, it would be good to see Carl Valeri and Luke Wilkshire reprise their partnership that served Australia well during the 2004 Olyroo campaign. These two complemented each other nicely in Athens and just before.

Out wide - but tucking inside most of the time - Mark Bresciano and James Troisi would be my choices. The former has not always shown his best form in a green and gold shirt, but appears to be in decent form at present. The latter showed good penetration on the left during the Olyroos' run to Beijing, and with few other genuine left-sided players in the squad, I feel he's worth a run.

Tim Cahill? A substitute early in the second half. Verbeek needs to keep some of his powder dry, and Cahill has proved so effective as a substitute in the past that it's logical to use him in such a capacity again.

Given the relative narrowness of the midfield, the fullbacks are going to need to get forward effectively and often. Brett Emerton and David Carney are the obvious choices here. And in central defence, it's hard to go past the duo of Moore and Neill.

The goalkeeping position is actually a bit of a head-scratcher. Does Ante Covic's form, and familiarity with the conditions, outweigh Mark Schwarzer's experience and class? The Middlesbrough man will be struggling with jetlag, and has not been in the best of fettle in recent weeks. It will be a difficult choice for Verbeek, but I suspect he will stick with Schwarzer.

So then, the team I would like to see:

Schwarzer; Emerton, Neill, Moore, Carney; Bresciano, Wilkshire, Valeri, Troisi; Kennedy, McDonald.

The team I think Verbeek will pick:

Schwarzer; Emerton, Neill, Moore, Carney; Wilkshire, Culina; Bresciano, Holman, Cahill; Kennedy.

Your team looks a helluva lot more dangerous and effective than the second team I must say.

More than anything tonight, I'd like to see a front pairing for a change rather than someone pushing the proverbial uphill without assistance, while being battered and clattered by three Qatari defenders.

The back four picks itself, and I like the idea of Cahill coming off the bench. His history in the Green and Gold shows that he's most effective in this role, and is not the best starter. I'm still perplexed with Carle's ommission (even with his new move in mind) as we simply lack a touch of creativity IMO, but we'll wait and see.

My biggest worry is that the likes of Carney have been talking about how much we'll win by, further reinforcing the stereotype of footballers and their IQ levels....
I like your squad as well. When an Australian coach has the balls to pick two strikers to play from the start It will mean we know longer fear any team. However the Arnold era still lingers like a silent but deadly fart over the Austrlian football landscape. I hope Holman doesn't start after his dreadfuil performance in the Asian Cup.
I expect a scrappy game with the Socceroos to win. Only after two strickers are on the pich after 80 minutes and Tim Cahill to pop up and score in the last minute.
Well, who picked that first half, eh? looks like Pim was thinking like you Mike, except with the added benefit of a switched on Cahill, Bresh and Emerton. That first half was on song - there wasnt a passenger to be seen really (well Schwarzer), but pity in the second they reverted somewhat to asian cup style long/killer balls, but there you go. The legs would have been going by then. Cheap shot by Kone too - a frustrated player in a game mostly bereft of late challenges or too much play acting.
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