Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Rethinking the Blah

Perhaps the only positive that we can take from last night's execrable Socceroo performance against New Zealand is that many key players were missing. Messrs. Kewell, Kennedy, Emerton, Chipperfield and Schwarzer were all badly missed. But there the silver lining ends.

In a competitive game, the Socceroos would surely have been reduced to nine men before the half-hour mark; Vince Grella's horrific lunge on Leo Bertos certainly merited instant dismissal, and Tim Cahill's uncharacteristically clumsy challenge on the same player minutes later was probably worthy of a red card as well.

Both of these dreadful fouls were probably borne of the frustration that Verbeek's men felt at being completely outplayed early in the piece by a side practising fairly straightforward methods. Worryingly, the New Zealanders were utterly dominant in the air in the first period; the Australian defence never got to grips with Rory Fallon, and there was no excuse for Shane Smeltz to be left all alone in the midst of four gold shirts when he flicked a header on for Chris Killen's opener.

If the defence was a worry, it was in midfield that the Socceroos' painful mediocrity in the first half was most readily apparent. And yet again, it was the Grella-Culina axis of blah which set the tone.

It is becoming blindingly clear that this combination simply provides no drive, no ideas and no fluency in this vital area of the park. Against worthy opposition they can be simply overrun, as we saw in the friendly against South Korea. Against teams prepared to sit back and absorb possession, they are essentially filling up space.

Australia's revival in the second half can be put down to a number of factors, including the canny running of Brett Holman and the aerial presence of Mile Jedinak, but the key change was in the midfield engine-room. Culina was shifted to the right flank, where he has produced all his best performances for his country, and he reminded the fans that he is, after all, capable of doing more than pivoting three times on the ball before prodding a pass back to the defence. Carl Valeri proved far more effective than Grella on the night, and Jedinak, although he gave the ball away needlessly once or twice, did at least help to take the sting out of the aerial bombardment from the Kiwis.

What of the fringe dwellers, then, with a place in the final 23 up for grabs? Despite his well-taken goal, Dario Vidosic didn't do much to suggest that he is of international standard as yet. Neither Tommy Oar nor Nikita Rukavytsya were really given enough time to prove themselves. Scott McDonald suffered in the lone striker role again, but he just looks listless in the green and gold. He will be lucky to make the cut.

Michael Beauchamp, though not put under much pressure, enhanced his chances of a berth, putting a creaking Craig Moore's inadequate display in the first half into sharp relief. And no game time for Nick Carle - Verbeek has clearly not been having enough lattes in Darlinghurst lately.

A final word on Ricki Herbert's team. Although they looked sluggish and one-dimensional in the second half, their efforts in the first were enough to suggest that they won't be complete pushovers in South Africa. Simon Elliott was an efficient leader in midfield, and their tall timber up front could cause the likes of Slovakia and Paraguay the odd moment of concern.

What a brilliant warm-up for the Australians leading up to the World Cup. A decent change from what the Asian teams give us. Hopefully they learn their lessons. If I remember correctly, the Aussies had a shocker in their warm-up match against Lichtenstein, so I am not too worried about their performance just yet.

Positives to come out of it are: Moore has finally been found out (I hope) - he is fine against Asian nations but struggles against more physical strikers. Beauchamp has to to in the side against Germany and Serbia. Grella has all but had it, and hopefully again he won't play, at least against Germany and Serbia (though he may be useful up against some of the younger German midfielders or even Schweini if he replaces Ballack - but I think we will need Jedinak's height). Also, our goalkeeping reserves finally look decent. Hopefully this also gives the players a better mindset of more cautious optimism rather than blind arrogance.

Negatives: We are hopeless in the final third. Also, Pim Verbeek is a terrible tactician. Guus would have had us down to two defenders by the end of the game (When NZ started to move into a 4-5-1) and would have pressed the NZ team hard.

I really hope NZ have a good world cup.

Denmark and USA will be interesting.
Culina was definitely better on the wing. But by the end of the game he still couldn't resist running to the CB's at full speed, taking the ball, turning, looking up, then passing to a full-back.

What's the point? It's not like Cornthwaite is in defence - these guys can still pass decent balls. The only two results from this were that it offered one less player to pass forward to and that it completely frustrated me (both of which should be avoided).
The weakness in the Grella-Culina combination is plain as day to any decent soccer-mind I know, yet it fails to register where it is most important - the NT coaching set up.

One can only presume that Pim now has his hierarchy of the dressing-room, and poor performances/disjointed drive ain't going to get in the way of this. Perhaps the dressing-room is more important that what happens in the field for ye olde Pimms?

I'm hoping it was jittes with Jedi, as that the first time I had 2nd thoughts about him in midfield for a long while. Whilst Valeri was his most effective for a long while. At this stage, it would appear Wilkshere/Valeri is our best hope, and I especially underline Wilkshere.

Culina was a standout in the 2nd half, the first time he has been in a long, long, loooooong time.
Did we ever miss Wilkshire and Chipperfield in the first half!
I don't think we will win a match.

There is no creativity in the midfield and all the teams know what we will do.

Defence is shaky and we used up all our luck in getting there.

Attack looks promising with pace and skill but will Pym use Rutsy or Oar
Is there a section of the field defence/midfield/attack where we are superior to any of the other 3 teams in our group?

A draw against Serbia is fantasy when I look at their team.
Agreed, Serbia is the team I'm most concerned about. They were amazing in qualifying and their players had a great club season too.
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