Sunday, June 20, 2010


The Strength of Ten

The contrast between the Socceroos' performance against Germany and their efforts against Ghana, particularly in the second half, could not be greater.

After Harry Kewell's sendoff (for which the referee had no other option) and the subsequent penalty, escaping with a point would have been considered a godsend at the time. In fact, Australia went awfully close to taking the full three points against a Ghana side that went into complete psychological meltdown in the second period.

It was the second successive game in which the Ghanaians lost their heads after going eleven against ten, and although they scraped through with a penalty against the Serbs, they barely deserved it: Serbia should have opened the scoring by then, and the foul that gave away the penalty was inexplicably trivial.

The phenomenon of African sides panicking after going a man up is nothing new in the World Cup, in fact. Think of Italy v. Nigeria in 1994, or even more pertinently Germany v. Cameroon in 2002, a game in which the Germans looked much the poorer side...until Carsten Ramelow was sent off.

But back to the Socceroos.

Luke Wilkshire was a miracle of perpetual motion, contributing substantially at both ends (although he bore some of the reponsibility for Ghana's goal), and it was a great pity that his late shot was saved; there could have been no more deserving scorer. Mark Bresciano's drive in midfield was a welcome addition to the side, and Brett Holman performed the lone ranger role with admirable selflessness, running himself ragged and never allowing Ghana's inexperienced defence too much rest. Lucas Neill and Craig Moore were back to their 2006-era best in central defence, and Scott Chipperfield's efforts as substitute suggest, once again, that he is often better employed in midfield (in short bursts, at least). Carl Valeri, too, had an excellent game, although his partner in the engine-room, Jason Culina, looked vulnerable.

Pim Verbeek's substitutions were, for once, perfectly timed and well-considered. The battling Bresciano and the tireless Holman patently needed breathers, and just at the point when the initiative was shifting irrevocably in Australia's favour, Josh Kennedy arrived to terrify young Messrs. Mensah and Addy.

Talking of Lee Addy, referee Roberto Rosetti's failure to dismiss the youngster for that horrible studs-up lunge on Bresciano was a disgrace, and Australia can certainly complain of being harshly-treated by the refereeing in this game.

A final thought: the superb save that Mark Schwarzer made from Kevin Prince-Boateng just before the break was an absolutely crucial moment, not only in terms of keeping the scores level, but of giving the team renewed confidence as well. It really is impossible to overstate Schwarzer's importance to the entire World Cup campaign, both in the qualifiers and now at the tournament itself.

And so to the Serbia game. The best hope of progressing is surely for Ghana to pull off an upset against the Germans, since three unanswered goals against Serbia would surely be beyond Verbeek's men. With Moore out, the best choice for Neill's partner would probably be Michael Beauchamp, who showed some form in the lead-up to the tourament and would probably be the best-suited of the reserve defenders to deal with the height of Nikola Zigic.

David Carney deserves to keep his spot at left-back, as does Bresciano on the left side of midfield. With plenty of goals required, a Kennedy-Cahill combination up front is indicated...with plenty of service on the right from Wilkshire and Brett Emerton.

Briefly, the other games:

Netherlands v. Japan

Takeshi Okada's men were punished for taking an unduly deferential approach to the game. Holland are a fine team, without doubt, but that was surely no reason to reduce the likes of Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe to the status of static midfield water-carriers, while sticking young Keisuke Honda up front as an inadequate lone striker.

Nevertheless, they stifled the Dutch effectively until Wesley Sneijder's thumping goal, which was helped on its way by another piece of dire goalkeeping. From that point, the Japanese caused their opponents a fair few problems, not least the talented and incisive Yoshito Okubo, but it proved too hard to reverse the game's momentum.

Denmark v. Cameroon

A very entertaining but error-strewn game which has set up the Denmark v. Japan game very nicely. Morten Olsen had an attack of nostalgia, picking a midfield five who had all played prominent roles in Japan and Korea eight years ago. Initially this looked like a blunder, with Christian Poulsen's lazy pass gifting Cameroon their opener. But Dennis Rommedahl showed some of his old quality to make, then score, a good goal.

It was ironic that Benoit Assou-Ekotto, easily Cameroon's best player against Japan, was culpable on the occasion of both goals. For the first, he allowed Rommedahl to slip past him far too easily, and his insouciant jog back through the midfield in the lead-up to the second doomed his team, with Jean Makoun forced to cover for the out-of-position fullback, and being comprehensively beaten by Rommedahl.

Japan have the quality to beat Denmark, let alone get the draw they need, especially with the talented if mistake-prone Simon Kjaer suspended. But European sides often find an extra gear (or a measure of extra toughness) when the chips are down, and ruthlessness has not always been a quality associated with Japanese sides. I get the feeling that the Danes might squeak through, for all their mediocre play in the group stage thus far.

Serbia's main tactic seems to be to just fall on the floor at any opportunity. Australia is going to get very frustrated by them... how many red cards until a team has to forfeit a match? It might happen to Australia against Serbia.

It still appears that FIFA policy is to referee harder against Australia and less against their opponents. It is a shame Australia may never get a fair go at a World Cup.
First, that was an awesome performance by Australia. I'm really proud by the effort and it's a shame that Wilkshire couldn't finished the job and get our deserved victory. Although I'm worried about the form of Culina though.

2nd, yeah I agree that was a red card. However I do believe there is a need for a rule change. Red card should be there for unsporting behaviour. It's hardly against the spirit of football to have a ball smashed into your shoulders. There needs to be a provision in that situation where you can get a penalty but no red card.

3rd, about the referee, I believe it's the case of the friendly against New Zealand came back to bit us in the arse. Referees do actually watch matches of the teams involved to prepare for the game. I assume they saw Cahill and Grella x-rated challenge and concluded that Australia are an overly physical team.
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