Thursday, January 07, 2010
Decline of the Second String
An instructive comparison can be made with another second-string Socceroo performance, against Bahrain in 2006 (our first game as a member of the Asian confederation, in fact). Then, Australia rose from the ashes in the second half, playing with verve, invention and determination to carry off an important win.
Last night's second-half effort could hardly have been more different. Pim Verbeek showed once more not only that is he committed to his dreary 4-2-3-1 system, but that he is painfully slow to make effective substitutions when the system is no longer working so well.
The Socceroos tired badly in the second period, and yet the only change prior to the last minutes was the replacement of an ineffective Mile Sterjovski with an out-of-position Nikita Rukavytsya. True, the FC Twente man did drift infield now and then, switching positions with Archie Thompson, but the combination between these two had looked awkward even at the 2008 Olympics.
Luke Wilkshire and Mile Jedinak had bossed the midfield convincingly for most of the first period, but they ceded this area to Kuwait as the game dragged on, with Jedinak looking weary almost from the second half kick-off. And nothing was done to counter the Kuwaitis' tactic of getting in behind Dean Heffernan on the left, which allowed them to penetrate time and again in the second 45 minutes.
Cast your minds back to that Bahrain game: there, a crucial half-time substitution gave the 'roos fresh ideas, a new shape and much greater impetus in the final third. Brett Holman gave probably his best performance ever for the Socceroos, providing excellent movement and fine link-play.
It was just that mobility which the Socceroos so badly lacked last night, after the break. The Kuwaitis' off-the-ball movement in the second period was smooth and effective; Australia's was vertical, one-dimensional and easily countered.
Will Verbeek show any more imagination, or courage, in South Africa?
Pim has damaged the game in Australia.
Kuwait set up asymmetrically, providing more space on the left flank for Heff and Vidosic to exploit. Unfortunately, they were outpositioned in the Kuwaiti offensive transitions. This gave rise to effective Kuwaiti accelerated attacks.
In the second half, Kuwait tired and defended more compactly. The midfield, apart from Jedinak who tired, gained more possession. Kuwait's pressing was far less intense and Australia had more possession overall as a team. Kuwait gained more territory from direct play, with effective ball carrying and longer passes in the first half. They achieved quick movement from defence to attack.
The back four's unfamiliarity was a problem. Only Moore was an experienced defender. Cohesion problems were the cause of the goals. The midfield also missed the defensive running of Culina and the muscle of Grella (Jedinak is more combersome and slower to recover).
The lack of midfield defensive pressure enabled the Kuwaiti midfielders to take too many touches on the ball and to set up dangerous balls down the flanks. Jedinak was dribbled around on 4 occasions and Wilkshire suffered the ignominy on 3 occasions. This occurs to Culina once every three matches. Maybe Verbeek should have subbed Jedinak for Burns or McKay?
Once again, Australia passed the ball 110 times more than Kuwait over the course of the match, and won 19 more one on one duels, with the ascendancy being achieved primarily in the second half. One has to credit a couple of the Kuwaitis with extraordinary ball carrying and dribbling qualities.
Kuwait are a good side, particularly at home.
Some good came from the match. The offensive performances from Vidosic and Heffernan were encouraging. Archie also defended well from the front, disturbing build ups. The problem was Carle constantly receiving the ball facing his own goal. He was frequently also too far from Thompson, forcing Archie to have to try and hold the ball up, not his strength.
For mine Verbeek is a successful coach.