Thursday, June 24, 2010



When it comes to exiting a World Cup, there are ways and ways.

You can do it in disarray, disharmony and dishonour, as the French did on Wednesday morning. You can do it in heartbreaking fashion, as Slovenia did (unbeknownst to themselves) this morning. Or, you can do it with immense pride and a reaffirmed belief in your own abilities, as the Socceroos did.

This morning's effort against Serbia was far, far and away the finest Socceroo performance of the Verbeek era, and in fact one of the best of the last twenty years. Australia defeated a strong European nation, despite getting no help from the referee and little from Lady Luck.

If nothing else, the game was a stark reminder that the traditional virtues of Australian football - an aggressive approach backed up with impressive fitness levels, constant pressuring of the opposition and shrewd use of our physical attributes - can still succeed at international level. It took a desperate situation for Pim Verbeek's team to shake off the negativity of the last two and a half years, but shake it off they did, and in emphatic style.

A shame that, thanks to the catastrophic result in Durban, it wasn't quite enough.

Michael Beauchamp deserves great credit for stepping so ably into Craig Moore's shoes; in his first World Cup appearance, the Melbourne Heart stopper did a sterling job, putting in a number of key tackles (especially when Luke Wilkshire had become stranded upfield) and never losing his composure.

Although Milos Krasic caused havoc on the right in the early stages, something that the commentators didn't really acknowledge was that David Carney gained the upper hand in that little battle as the game wore on. He was given plenty of help on the left by the diligent Carl Valeri, who had another fine game.

Wilkshire was probably Australia's player of the tournament, and he was typically tireless again, ultimately running himself into the ground. With so many of the old brigade likely to make their way to the exit door before the Asian Cup, it's comforting to know that Wilkshire will probably still be around in 2014.

The Serbs would probably have run away with the game had they converted their three good chances in the first half, but on each occasion it was Mark Schwarzer, man-mountain incarnate, who did just enough to blunt the opportunity. It was a great shame that Serbia's consolation goal, which held more importance than most such animals, was partly down to Schwarzer's fumble. Certainly, he can be spared any castigation for that.

Verbeek has attracted plenty of criticism for the drubbing by Germany, so it's only fair to afford him some praise where it's due. His substitutions were well-timed again, although perhaps Jason Culina, rather than Valeri, should have been removed to make way for Brett Holman; perhaps Verbeek was hoping for one of Culina's long-range specials, which are becoming somewhat rare. As it was, it was Holman who provided the thrust from midfield, getting back to basics and simply running at the defence and letting fly. Sometimes, football is indeed a simple game.

So then, to the future. The new coach, whoever he may be, will have a bit of dead wood to clear out. The first names on the list should be Messrs. Grella and Culina, neither of whom have much to offer the Socceroos in the lead-up to 2014. Scott Chipperfield has been a magnificent servant of the side, but I'm sure even he would admit that it's time to say farewell.

As it is, sadly, for Harry Kewell. The temptation will be to keep him on, to hope for some of the same brilliance that he used to produce in his Leeds days (and once or twice at Germany 2006), but the world has moved on. There are other options on the left coming up fast, and Kewell is even less suited to a striking role in his dotage than he was in the Frank Farina era.

The 2006 generation will take some replacing, and the current crop of twentysomethings are finding it hard to establish themselves in Europe. But national teams need constant renewal, and the 2011 Asian Cup (in which the Socceroos will surely be under less pressure than they were in 2007) represents an ideal rehearsal space.

Briefly, to the other match in Group D overnight. It was a dramatic game without being a particuarly impressive one; Germany showed none of the panache they had evinced against Australia, and Ghana patently didn't do enough to win. The Ghanaians, for the second World Cup in a row, have been very, very lucky to make it through to the knockout phase: without Michael Essien, they are a callow, brittle unit, and the USA must be favoured to overpower them in the second phase. The Americans will be out for revenge, too, since it was against Ghana in 2006 that they suffered some abysmal refereeing decisions that killed their hopes of making the second round in Germany.

A review of the overnight action in Group C coming up...when I've had time to catch up with it!

Grella gone Mike but surely Harry can be the new Ryan Giggs.

If he's fit who better, who has more skill to play a deeper role.

shades of Giggs or even Dwight Yorke.

Unfortunately we are so bereft and Harry skills are so technically above many coming thru that to discard him now may be short-sighted.

As good as Luke Wilkshire was/is any self-respecting football nation should hope we have better younger players who are so good the 32 year old Wilkshire in 2014 can't get a gig. He'll probably be there..if we are. A big if as the dearth of talent becomes increasingly apparent.

Here's my next squad, competitive in Asia?? Certainly at home but could they get past Japan/Korea or even China? Fans could be screaming for Pim ot come back!


Wilkshire, Beauchamp, Williams, Jedinak/Milligan/Neill/North/Carney

Emerton/Vidosic/Valeri/Culina, Bresciano/Holman/Kewell (Don't write him off yet)


Kisnorbo, Kilkenny, Rukavystya, Holland, Djite, Burns Nathan, Oar/Danning/Leckie, big hopes in four years maybe, but not yet!

Wasn't much in the last Olympic squad was there?

Be nice to see a few A-League boys pushing in but not too many around it seems.
Fair to say that the two best halves of football under Verbeek were, strangely enough, just about the first and last? (1st half against Qatar in Melbourne in February 2008 and now the 2nd half this morning). Wouldn't be far off anyway.
...Fair to say that the two best halves of football under Verbeek were, strangely enough, just about the first and last? (1st half against Qatar in Melbourne in February 2008 and now the 2nd half this morning). Wouldn't be far off anyway...

Quite true!

Eamonn: plenty of possibilities of course, but a lot will depend on chance/club choices/injuries etc. in the next couple of years, as to who steps up and who doesn't. Very much hope that Nathan Burns can have another crack at a Euro first division club.
Eamonn That's practically the same side Pim had. I'd like to see the Griffiths brothers, Oga, Kilkenny Lowry, Jones and Williams play in the the next friendly as preparation for the Asian Cup. A win at the Asian Cuo means a berth at the Confederation Cup in 2013 more exposure to the Australian public on SBS.

I'd like to see experimentation immeadiately with an interesting team of say Kewell or Holman upfront, Vidosic, Cahill, Wilkshire & Bresc(rotating with each other), Valeri, Williams, Oga/Beauchamp, Neil, Carney, and Jones with replacements from Lowry to debut for Carney or Neil, Kilkenny for Bresc, Burns for Cahill, or J Griffiths (despite being a tool) upfront.

I agree about Grella, Culina, Chippers, Moore, and add Garcia, North, and sadly Carle. I imagine they would be guest players at best in the squad from now on. Emerton might lose his starting spot too. Kewell is too big a marketing opportunity to ignore at this stage. Even if he becomes a supersub and plays the grand old man with Bresc. We need to find a dribbler who can make one touch attacking passes and finish before we show him the door. It's downhill for Lucas Neil too. I would prefer to keep the four of them for their experience and leadership but dont expect any of them to play in Brazil. I really hope Spiro can actually string a few dozen games together next season.

Wilkshire is highly motivated, a fighter and has been to two world cups. His qualities are crosses & set pieces (he's no Endo but he's good), tight marking man-to-man, comfort on the ball and experience at major tournaments. He doesn't rely on physical attributes. When Bresc, Emerton, Kewell and Neil are gone and Cahill gets slower who else will we have with those qualities? Wish he was at a bigger club. He's a potential captain.

It's a nice surprise to see Holman finally not embarrassing the shirt.
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