Thursday, January 29, 2009
The Asian Grind
Once again, some of the deficiencies of the A-League were clearly delineated: the yawning gap between the three lines (particularly defence and midfield), with the consequent inability to engineer any brisk interpassing in the middle third, the woeful shooting from distance, and the lack of movement when in possession (often necessitating a hopeful twenty-yard prod forward to one of the front two, who were tightly marked throughout).
Less typical was the tendency of the midfield to scurry back in numbers when possession was given away high up the pitch, leaving the likes of Hariono far too much space in which to operate. Pim Verbeek's tactics were a little strange as well; Matt Thompson and an out-of-form Dean Heffernan were employed in unfamiliar roles, while Tom Pondeljak didn't quite fit in with the straightforward 4-4-2 system being used.
In short, the game was a bore. And it's perhaps not surprising, given some of the other insipid performances of the Verbeek era, that the Socceroos are not winning many points for style, as far as the fans are concerned.
Frankly, I'm less concerned than most. Craig Moore and arguably Archie Thompson apart, this was a virtual C team, playing together for the first time, with minimal preparation, in stifling conditions. A telling comparison can be made with Sydney FC's dismal performance against Persik Kediri in the 2007 Asian Champions League; Branko Culina's team had, at least, spent a fair bit of time playing together prior to the match.
The fact is that the move to Asia, which has so often necessitated scratch squads and scant preparation time, has meant that qualifying for tournaments will often be a grind rather than an exhibition. In the context of the Asian Cup qualifying series, last night's result was an acceptable one, even if the entertainment value of the game was close to zero from an Australian perspective.
It's perhaps worth reminding ourselves that, while there will inevitably be more matches like last night's, there will be a few like our thumping win over Qatar in October, in which the team - the first team, in this case - played confidently and well.