Sunday, June 06, 2010
The Dress Rehearsal
In other words, it's not too bad to have a wake-up call just prior to the big performance, and one could say the same about last night's Socceroo hitout against the USA. Although the Americans created a worrying number of chances and should probably have scored more than three (or rather four), at least Pim Verbeek knows where the problems lie. At least, we hope so.
There were a couple of positives. Given Australia's lack of drive from the centre of midfield, the fullbacks are clearly going to play an important role going forward, and Luke Wilkshire and Scott Chipperfield both look to be in decent form. Not that Wilkshire will remember Edson Buddle's second goal all that fondly, of course.
It seemed at times as if Verbeek was testing out a more attacking approach, with the defensive line pushing a little higher than usual (and getting breached now and then). It resulted in rather more chances for the Socceroos, but the patent lack of pace at the back - Craig Moore came under fire once more - makes such a strategy decidedly risky.
And: Vince Grella.
Verbeek seems to be living on the hope that the Blackburn man will lift for the big occasion as he did in Germany four years ago, when he managed to curb his over-aggressive tendencies and play a pivotal role in the Socceroos' run to the last 16. But to describe his form in the lead-up friendlies as worrying would be an understatement; right now, he looks a serious liability in more than one respect.
The decision to keep Harry Kewell under wraps will no doubt excite more wringing of hands, and Verbeek can hardly blame the media for focusing on the issue. For a team so palpably short of ideas, the readiness or otherwise of Australia's most gifted player is clearly going to provoke comment. And for Kewell to be going into the tournament without any game time in the lead-up is obviously far from ideal.
The Americans? Tough, good on the break, but with some defensive problems that mirror Australia's. They should make it past the first round in what is one of the easier groups, but a place in the last eight might just be beyond them.
We did know that Friday was the peak of the fitness part of their training session - at least I think I read that somewhere. That would at least go some way toward explaining the apparent slowness of defense and even (what looked like) the laziness of Josh.
I would love to see these teams play again, so comparable in so many ways, and both, according to Kuper's Soccernomics, the high table chasers of the future. In fact, if Australia is playing the USA in the round of 16 Kuper's analysis will have a new affirming anecdote.
But I do know how unlikely that is. :)
I guess we must enjoy the dreaming available before grim data begins the attrition of possibilities.
In recent times whenever Valeri makes an appearance the Socceroos look much better for it. It also shows the benefit of regular gametime for Valeri, whereas Grella always seems to be recovering from some sort of injury.