Young Socceroos make turkey of both performance and result

29 Saturday 2013

Four years ago, at the U20 World Cup in Egypt, the Young Socceroos returned one of their worse results at any World Cup – losing all three games. The tournament was noted more for SBS’s bizarre response to it as a success because of “performance”, rather the appraising by conventional barometer of results. Stranger than that, the performance was weak anyway – with SBS seeming to have an agenda to support the newly installed Dutch coaching structure right through the game regardless of a results and to vindicate its long established railing against coaches of Australian or British origin. Read more at the website, under “Action > Egypt 2009”

Turkey 2013 was similar. While the Dutch influence has faded thanks to a German (Holger Osieck) now coaching the Socceroos and an Australian (Paul Okon) now coaching the Young Socceroos, it’s still present at a “technical” level and obviously needs to endorsed. Whether your mantra is “results are secondary to performance” or “results are primary to performance”, the Socceroo Realm examines both via posts made to SBS’s own theworldgame.com.au website.

Australia vs Colombia – 1-1

A match in three phases: Colombia started strongly, Australian dominated much of the middle, Colombia the end when chasing a result. Against the South American champions, it was a bright start, and the team looked really good. That got both the fans and Craig Foster in lathers of drool.

The result…

Can we actually reach the group phase before hyperventilating? Remember, 24 teams at this tournament, so knockout phase includes four best third placed teams, so making it is actually minimum standard. If we beat El Salvador then that’s enough for qualification. We want to then win one knockout and see quarter final at least.

The one issue of this match was towards the end. When the match really counted and Colombians applied pressure, we weren’t that good. Before that, the Colombians were lazy (or arrogant), not really closing us down, then they were chasing the game. Colombia’s goal came from appalling defensive organisation too. The match against Turkey will be our real test.

The performance…

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It was one match, at a YOUTH World Cup, against a lazy opposition that didn’t quickly close us down. In the latter stages of the second half, when they did, the boys ran out of options, playing too cute at times, and constantly losing possession, much like the senior team does. In all due respect, that 2009 team was a farce. They played a few patches of nice passing (mostly in the defensive half) and then were hammered. Most of the guys there haven’t progressed, so a lot of good it did them. Fozzie made an embarrassment of himself congratulating a team that displayed little and produced even less.

The U20 WC is also one tournament and is merely the terminal point of a short international youth career of a player’s total career. Players return to their clubs, and that’s where the real development takes place. Still the single biggest factor affecting results at any Youth World Cup is the talent itself, and that’s the area this team seems to have great potential. Of course, we won’t know until the knockout phase or really know for 4 or 5 years, not whether they can knock a few balls around in group matches of this tournament.

Australia vs El Salvador – 1-2

A cracking early goal from Joshua Brillante seemed to portend the win that most expensive against apparently the weakest team in the group. That wasn’t the case. Australia was lethargic and let down by poor concentration to go behind and then lacking any inspiration going forward. Did they believe their own press? Attitude seemed a problem, not paying enough respect to the opposition, as is often the fault of the Australian “bully” sporting psyche when supremacy gathers air. To compound that, Okon waited far too long to make substitutions. It was El Salvador’s first win at any World Cup. Congratulations to them.

The result…

Now, let’s not write off the team. With Colombia beating Turkey in the other match (after Turkey beat El Salvador 3-0 in the first game), that suggests not only is Australia at least equal chance to beat Turkey too, it also confirms the vagaries of the sport. Anything can happen. If Australia win, that then means the next phase as this tournament is 24 teams so the 4 best third placed teams go through.

The performance…

How the tide turns. After Colombia, the tone is hyperbolic and Fozz couldn’t wait to post his blog about all the footballing misconceptions (maybe this was written before even the team played?), and now it’s all doom and gloom. Facts are that Colombia were so lazy in closing us down. Only at the end, with the game on the line, did they bother. Maybe they were pacing themselves, as they then went on to beat Turkey. El Salvador, on the other hand, gave us nothing. Even Fozz admitted this post match in the studio. It was worse than that, as ES had most of the better chances and far more dangerous. Australia were totally useless going forward, and for all the talk of ES’s “cheap” goals, ours was just as cheap – being a long, speculative shot that was helped with the goalie obscured.

Australia vs Turkey – 1-2

This was the quintessential tight, World Cup match. Both teams had chances to win. The problem was that with all teams in the group already having a win, Australia had to win to ensure the next phase. Turkey only needed a draw, or even a loss could suffice. Australia scored first – at the start of the second half – only to be promptly snuffed with a cracking shot from outside the box. Turkey finished it off with an even better effort – a long range chip into the top, left corner of the net.

The result…

A bit of an embarrassment. Australia couldn’t even get the basics rights. They led all three games and finished with one draw. Who cares if you can knock the ball around a bit? Now we know that those bright moments against Colombia were definitely because Colombia allowed it. We get all hyperbolic about, two matches later, Colombia tops the group and Australia the bottom.

Les Murray tweeted: “Young Socceroos outplayed Colombia, copped El Salvador on a very good day and outplayed themselves v Turkey. Overall some very good signs.” It could just as easily be seen as Colombia had an off day or took Australia too lightly, Australia did likewise against El Salvador, and didn’t have the polish of Turkey. What does “outplayed themselves” mean anyway? If they had played a normal, conventional game, they would have won? If that’s the case, yes please.

Thankfully the team did not listen to this SBS nonsense of “results secondary to performance”. It’s a World Cup. If you don’t go for results there, where will you get them? These players now return to their clubs where the true development takes place. Both them and the coach were rightfully shattered. For all the hopes we had with this team, you simply must be critical of the final result. Let’s also remember, it is about the final result. The sport is a game of vagaries of nuances: not just within the game itself, also within a succession of a few games. Analyse tournaments at the end.

Overall, Australia were competitive in all games; they just lacked the killer punch forward (too much messing around as seems to be the hallmark of Australian national teams these days), and lacked in defence. While Australia were unlucky to score more, they were also lucky not to concede more. With some defensive stout, this team could have topped the group. It was that even.

We also need to end this nonsense of slamming opposition goals as “cheap” or “gifted” as coach Paul Okon often did. That’s poor sportsmanship. Most goals in football games are cheap if you analyse them. Of Australia’s goals through the tournament, the first should have been saved, the second was the type from long range that 90% of the time will end in the stands, and the third was a technically tough mid-range volley at pace – again, more often miss than hit. Most of the goals we conceded also could be considered as low percentage chances or could be defended better. That’s football. Don’t whinge. Just get on scoring the next one, or do better stopping them in the first place.

The performance…

Emulate Spain and Barcelona? All great in theory, totally unrealistic in practice. We are not Spain. Not even far more pedigreed and established teams like the Netherlands are Spain. We just don’t have the players. While we can do it in spurts, and usually against opposition of less credentials or against teams that allow us (like Colombia at this WC), when it comes to the crunch, we don’t have the ability – and we are decades away from it. Our players are so sporadic in ability that our national teams should adapt to them for the time. If we have two gun strikers, we play them. If our midfielders are strong, we go heavy there.

This is not club football where you can pick a squad and develop it over years. They are representative teams. You pick your best, and play them in their best positions. We learnt that through the senior team’s qualifying phase. At a World Cup, it’s even more important is it’s the summit of the campaign, so you want the best possible results. The mantra of “results are secondary to performance” is utter nonsense. Maybe it is in warm-up games, it’s not in the real thing. No nation would even contemplating going to a World Cup to disrespect the opposition and the integrity of the competition itself just to experiment with a playing style that they’re ill-equipped to perform. For Australia, it’s even more than that. It’s un-Australian not to fight.

Now done with the World Cup, where to these players go now – A-League, lower Euro clubs, Qatar, UAE? We reap nothing in “performance”, only get embarrassment from the result. If these players infiltrate into the national team in years time, it will be on the back of development at club football, and then within the national team environment itself.

In all sport, the best indicator of performance is winning. At world level, as we’ve just seen in the senior World Cup qualifying, we need to adapt. There’ll be times of grinding out results, stout defending and swift passing. It depends on the opposition. The youth team did one of those aspects reasonably well; failed in all others.

Let’s note: they led all 3 games and left with 1 draw. That exposes glaring faults to be examined, not faux gold medals and congratulations because you liked a few passages of play – or even like the intent to play nice passages of play. At least the boys and the coach saw the importance of results. They were clearly shattered at the early elimination. That will do them far more good than a letter of congratulations from Craig Foster for the “performance” of knocking the ball around when under little pressure.

Long term, the strategy for strong national teams is developing the A-League. When it’s 14 teams with 50,000 crowds at most games, then we’re a mature football nation, and then the flow-on effects to the national teams will be automatic. No top nation has a weak national league. We’re fooling ourselves if we believe we can succeed by any other method. This is the ethos of the “I told you so” mantra by the late Johnny Warren. Too easily have we run away with the sentiment while forgetting its foundations.

GROUP C

22/06 18:00	Trabzon		Colombia	1:1 (0:0)	Australia
22/06 21:00	Trabzon		Turkey		3:0 (1:0)	El Salvador
25/06 18:00	Rize		Australia	1:2 (1:2)	El Salvador
25/06 21:00	Rize		Turkey		0:1 (0:0)	Colombia
28/06 21:00	Trabzon		Australia	1:2 (0:0)	Turkey
28/06 21:00	Gaziantep	El Salvador	0:3 (0:2)	Colombia
Team		P	W	D	L	GD	Pts
Colombia	3	2	1	0	4	7
Turkey		3	2	0	1	3	6
El Salvador	3	1	0	2	5-	3
Australia	3	0	1	2	2-	1

Full site: socceroorealm.com

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Kennedy’s silver goal a golden moment – Australia off to Brazil

Sydney: Australia 1 – Iraq 0

Remember FIFA’s silver goal system? Probably not. It was a softening of the golden goal. It was a device used that would turn extra time into sudden death. First goal scored, you win. It proved anti-climatic and – given the capricious nature of the sport – often unfair. Euro 96 was the first major tournament to use it, with Germany winning the final over the Czech Republic by such a method. Australia benefited most prominently in the Confederations Cup of 1997, beating Uruguay in the semi finals. In order to appease dissenters, FIFA tried the silver goal. A goal scored will still see the match continue until either half time or full time of extra time to allow the opposing team a chance to rescue the game. Greece was the most famous to use the rule, winning Euro 2004. Really, it was as silly a method as it sounded.

Last night’s qualification was a match over two games. Failing to beat Iraq meant Australia had to rely on Oman not winning in Jordan. Approaching half time of the affair, at the 83rd the minute of Australia’s match, up pops Josh Kennedy for the most golden of goals. It felt golden. Of course, it was silver until “half time”. Then it was truly golden and Australia was off to Brazil. For the record, Jordan, beat Oman 1-0 to have sent Australia through regardless of Iraq, potentially with just two wins from their 8 group games. While struggling to win, Australia were still difficult to defeat. It was the 5 draws in total, the two against Japan in particular, that made the difference for Australia. Whereas the remaining teams, except for Jordan at home, all lost their matches to Japan. Japan proved a great ally for Australia in the end. Jordan’s effort gets it third spot and a place in the playoffs against Uzbekistan.

Kennedy’s strike continued the trend of actual strikers, brought late onto the field, to score the goals. Yes, football is that simple. Until Kennedy was brought on, Australia played with no recognised strikers. Tim Cahill – most dangerous as a late running attacking midfield – was again marooned up front, out of his comfort zone. Outside the 15 seconds of play that brought Kennedy’s goal, Australia’s attack was woeful. While credit must be given for the tough opponent of Iraq, the bumpy pitch and Sydney’s rain, there was simply no cohesion or ideas. Too often Australia would try inter-play in cramped space along the wings. Runs were rarely made to good space in the centre of the field, something coach Holger Osieck noted after the game. Had this match ended 0-0, or heaven forbid a loss had Iraq not fluffed a very late chance, the match synopsis would be so damning. So match reviews should look at that first 75 minutes, rather than the ebullient fog of the last 10.

For all the trumpeting of the “settled starting eleven” of the last 3 games, they scored only one of the 6 goals scored in these matches. When actual strikers were brought on, the Socceroos were a different beast. It’s just the strikers’ presence that makes all the difference. Harassing the last line, which in turn creates more space. With Cahill so-called leading the line, he would drop back, allowing Iraq to play higher and compressing the space, also meaning any fast break down the wing would often see no one in the box. Let’s not forget the match that really saved Australia’s bacon in this campaign – away to Iraq. A goal down, Archie Thompson on, and Australia grab the 3 points. Had Iraq won that, they enter last night’s game a chance to qualify directly, meaning they’d not have sent a primarily U21 squad preparing for next week’s Youth World Cup in Turkey.

Credit to Osieck for making the switch to Kennedy. The Socceroo Realm expected he might use such a tactic to pinch a win in Japan had the scored remained 0-0. After Thompson’s impact last week in Melbourne, he’d have been the easy choice again. No, it was Kennedy, and off went a churlish Cahill. That Kennedy was the saviour did wonders in quelling the return of any divine right Cahill might have with his place in the team. Facts are that Cahill was mostly ineffective, so Kennedy replacing him allowed a different focal point – especially in terms of style of play. Kennedy has no interest tracking back for balls. It’s all about positioning and losing markers for potential crosses. That he was so unmarked for his goal was testament to his ability and strategy of the substitution.

Osieck was also right to persist with the older, experienced players. National teams are representative by nature, so the best players available are selected. You don’t experiment in key matches. In Osieck’s defence against criticism of not using younger players, he has tried them. They haven’t work. Dump Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenokvsi, who replaces them? Thwaite, Spiranovic, North? No one has stepped up. Also in Osieck’s defence, Tom Oar has made his way into the team, while Tomas Rogic was brought on after 60 minutes to break open the game. Then there’s Robbie Kruse – now a permanent fixture. It’s about evolution, not revolution.

Looking to Brazil, Australia has key concerns. This penchant for midfielders as strikers must stop. Remember the outrage Australians felt when Pim Verbeek tried this away to Japan in the qualifiers for 2010 and in the disastrous World Cup match against Germany? It was felt as un-Australian. The “have a go” mentality was sacrificed for no real benefit. So what’s change? Problems are not erased by persisting with them. Two weeks ago against Japan it mostly worked, simply because Japan were on the attack and allowed Australia the space and a counter-attacking game. Against Jordan and Iraq, teams that chose to sit back, the balance then must be skewed forward. At least provide the adaptability. Remember Guus Hiddink’s early substitution of Tony Popovic, a defender, for an attacker in the Uruguay Game? This is not even astute awareness, it’s obvious. Osieck should have gone to Kennedy and co much earlier. There will be times Australia will need to take on high calibre opponents, like at the World Cup itself, even from the start of a game, when Australia would hope to reach the second phase. For Holger not to have Australia as sufficiently prepared, that would be un-German.

It would be remiss not to mention the true bonanza of this campaign – being in Asia! Even if not qualifying, it’s a success. We always wanted a fairer shot, not so much an easier one, and with the Asian teams improving and Australia slightly declining, that’s the shot we got. If the future sees us miss one out of three World Cups, that’s good. That means Asia is improving, so we must improve. I hope Australia is never like Mexico or USA dominating a weak region – then doing little at a World Cup. I want to see Asia carried forward with us. The day we beat Japan in a World Cup final, and after beating Iran in a semi, that’s the day we can say we’ve made it.

In this campaign, the loss in Jordan was pivotal. It essentially made every remaining match live. Not so much life and death, just live, as a sustenance of our life. As part of the broader a football community, it’s been pleasing to see this reality infiltrating further and further into our psyche. The idea of “we should be beating these Asian teams like this (ie: 4-0 against Jordan)” still heard on the airwaves, is evaporating. Grinding out 1-0 wins is perfectly fine, and realistic. In the past 3 games, Australia displayed the extremes of achieving results. Then there were extremes at the other end. Like the sudden 2-0 deficit to Oman that needed to be rescued, and losing in Jordan. That’s fine. We wanted exactly this from being in Asia. Fear not that the journey suddenly had great obstacles. Surmounting those obstacles made the journey all the more satisfying.

Final Table Group B

Points, GD, Record
Jap 17, +11, 5-2-1
Aus 13, +5, 3-4-1
Jor 10, -9, 3-1-4
Oma 9, -3, 2-3-3
Irq 5, -4, 1-2-5

Final Table Group A

Points, GD, Record
Irn 16, +6, 5-1-2
Kor 14, +6, 4-2-2
Uzb 14, +5 4-2-2
Qat 7, -8, 2-1-5
Leb 5, -9, 1-2-5

The final match day in Group A was a blinder. Iran needed to win in Korea, they did. Uzbekistan then needed to beat Qatar by six goals, they didn’t. They won 5-1 after conceding early at home to Qatar. Let’s hope either Jordan or Uzbekistan can get past that fifth-placed South American team and expand the Asian family in Brazil.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Jordan gone, Iraq gone – A one-two punch and suddenly it’s easy

Melbourne: Australia 4 – Jordan 0

In just over one week Australian football fans have gone from despair about qualifying to pre-emptive celebration. The first punch was knocking out Jordan in this most defining of games – at Melbourne’s Docklands last night. It was the most pivotal and emotionally intense game probably since the Iran Game in 1997, given the high hopes and feverish anticipation of success that both games shared. The second punch came later in the night when Japan knocked out Iraq 1-0 in Doha.

Played, Points & GD
Jap 8, 17, +11
Aus 7, 10, 4
Oma 7, 9, -2
Jor 7, 7, -10
Irq 7, 5, -3

Schedule
18/06 Aus v Iraq; Jor v Oma

Next week’s equation is now simple: Australia must beat Iraq in Sydney only if Oman wins in Jordan. Any lesser result by Oman, Australia has already qualified for Brazil. Of course, with Australia playing several hours prior to Oman’s game, Australia has no choice than to seek a win. It’s just that there’s that comforting factor that a loss or draw means a late night vigil of the other game, cheering for Jordan to knock out Oman. With Jordan needing to win to make the third-placed playoff – and given their strong home form already with wins over Australia and Japan – Oman’s hopes seem low. Conversely, with Iraq knocked out from even a playoff spot and potentially coming to Australia as a totally deflated opponent, Australia’s hopes could not be higher coming into any live game.

The key to next week’s game will be an early goal. Arab teams seem to be weak mentally against non-Arab teams, easily capitulating if the game doesn’t go their way, just as Jordan fell apart last night. Hoping for a draw, they left the half time break at 1-0 and putting Australia under extreme pressure. To say there was a deja vu of that Iran Game is not an understatement. The entire stadium grew restless, frustrated at the reverse in dominance and also of so many missed chances had left the game finely balanced at 1-0. Unlike Terry Venables, coach in 1997, Holger Osieck did react to the parlous state of play, bringing on an actual striker, Archie Thompson. Within 30 seconds, he picked up the ball, charged the defence, passed off, dragged two defenders towards his run, and next thing you know the ball is in the net. Robbie Kruse was able to find Tim Cahill in plenty of space for a headed goal. From there, Kruse scored himself after a neat turn, while Lucas Neill scored his first Socceroos goal after heading from a corner scramble. It was his 91st game. All that Jordan could manage was substituting their goalkeeper late in the game, fearing another yellow card against him, as he constantly berated the referee in frustration. To say he was throwing in the towel, he literally did as he exited the field straight to the dressing room.

This was the first time this campaign that Osieck named the same team for successive matches. While it seems unwise to deviate for Iraq, it’s total negligence not to note the immediate transformation in lethality and energy when Thompson arrived. Cahill is not a striker and doesn’t behave like one. Too often he was in his own half retrieving balls. Again, often on breaks, no one was forward, meaning attacks broke down. In contrast, with an actual striker menacing the last line and pushing the defence back, suddenly there was all this space for attacking midfielders to exploit. The result was astounding. It’s not the first time either. Australia recovered late to beat Iraq earlier in the campaign. Finally: Brett Holman. The seduction is over. Can’t pass, runs erratically, shoots wildly and impetuous with decisions. While some of it can be forgiven for his energy and rare cracking goal and whatever else the coaches see, it was his inability to hit simple, short passes that really frustrated. In the interim between qualifiers and the World Cup, someone like Tomas Rogic – who replaced Holman during the game – must be tried. Better still, drop Cahill back to his customary and more dangerous role as lurking attacking midfielder and play a striker up front.

How times have changed with female sports journalists and specifically Fox Sports’ Melanie McLaughlin. Tim Cahill delivered his own knock-out by kissing her after the post-match interview – somewhat surprising her. This was the same player incredibly rude and disrespectful to her post-match Japan, MCG, 2009. It was some petulant protest about other sections of the media reporting alleged unruly behaviour at a Sydney bar by Cahill – something nothing to do with Fox Sports. It only hurt Cahill and the team’s image as fans deserved to hear answers to the excellent questions about the match. McLaughlin deserved an apology back then. Whether she received one, that determines the interpretation of the kiss. The original incident was covered in the page for South Africa 2010 qualifying on the website.

* Apologies for the abridged and late update. A broken collarbone from a bike crash meant another hospital visit and typing limited to just the left hand.

Photos: http://fb.me/M4yqNFZp 

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Holger gets it right in an epic draw against Japan

Saitama: Japan 1 – Australia 1

For all the furore of an aging team, and most particularly against Lucas Neill, coach Holger Osieck’s decision to restore the key central pairing of Neill and Sasa Ognenovski in defence paid off after Australia left Saitama with a 1-1 draw. They were maestros, reading every attack, and timing their tackling and lunges perfectly. It was a master class. While the result doesn’t change too much the requirements for Australia’s remaining games, it proved a fillip for a maligned team looking to rejuvenate both pride in themselves and hope in the fans to believe that qualification remains very much alive.

Played, Points & GD
Jap 7, 14, +10
Oma 7, 9, -2
Aus 6, 7, 0
Jor 6, 7, -6
Irq 6, 5, -2

Schedule
11/06 Aus v Jor; Irq v Jap
18/06 Aus v Iraq; Jor v Oma

Australia enters their final two games, both at home, needing to win to seal a direct place. Just as was the equation before last night’s match. The difference the draw makes is that Australia could survive a loss in one of those games, depending on results of other matches. The other game in the group saw Oman step into second place, albeit with an extra game played. Worse would have been Iraq winning as they are Australia’s opponents in two weeks, really making for a tingly finale. As it stands, Japan could knock them out next week. Oman’s final game is in two weeks in Jordan. So, you see that Australia beating Jordan next week is so defining. That would mean a draw between Jordan and Oman allows Australia the luxury to lose against Iraq if Iraq don’t beat Japan.

It’s important to see these qualifying groups in context. It’s about total points in the group, not needing to beat Japan away or winning any particular game. It’s about points. It’s about winning home games too. So far Australia’s only had two of four at home compared to Japan and Oman four of four. Just because Australia’s home games fall towards the end of the campaign it doesn’t diminish the points on offer. In the group wWe should expect to win at least two home games, if we can’t, we don’t deserve qualification. So far two draws, so probability is in our favour. For advocates of “knowing the equation” when preferring home legs last in two-leg playoffs, we also have that. Except, we have two home matches last.

For all the good defending, going forward was often a mess. With the open and fluid game that Japan allowed, Australia constantly messed up breaks. Brett Holman was his usual blight of constant rash play mixed with hard running and one good pass or shot. That lovely pass allowed Robbie Kruse through for a one-on-one, only to hit straight at the goalie. Tim Cahill lacked composure when fluffing the rebound. Earlier Holman also lacked composure when shooting from a broken attack from over 40 metres out when propping and waiting for a runner would serve better. Japan had even better chances and can lament weak finishing and Mark Schwarzer in Australia’s goal.

It just makes you marvel at the vagaries of the game if Japan nailed one of their early chances, Tom Oar’s late cross had not snuck in to score or the late handball against Matt McKay that saw Japan equalise in injury time. A 0-0 and Australia would be happy; at 1-1 not so much given the circumstances. We all should remember, not least the menace of Fox Sport’s Andy Harper, this splendour of the sport, that goals and swings in momentum can come from nothing. The need to build an elaborate and often premature melodramatic narrative of the game exposes a lack of control of the mouth more commonly seen in other parts of the male anatomy. Really, give us a break. Can we just enjoy the game?

* Apologies for the abridged update. A broken collarbone from a bike crash with typing limited to one bruised left hand.

More: socceroorealm.com

Osieck backs veterans against Japan as a draw suits fine

The shaky defence of recent games will be fortified with Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski returning as central pairing in a game where a draw in Saitama will see Australia climb back into second on the table. Jordan, currently in second, has the bye, while the winner of Oman v Iraq would leap-frog Australia and dump Jordan to fourth. The group is that close. Osieck’s decision makes sense as Australia then has two home games in which to simply maintain their position.

“Why Neill” as so many ask on the football forums? Plenty of chances have been given to the youngsters and they haven’t stepped up. Look against Oman where the defence was easily penetrated. Neill is still the best defender. He’s being made the scapegoat for the team’s average performances simply because of his age. As for Og, it wasn’t so long ago fans were crying for him to start for the national team. No defenders have surpassed him; he’s done little wrong either. Fans are so fickle. Remember, it’s about qualifying, not any individual game, and clearly Osieck’s thinking a draw suits fine.

More interest will be forward. Given that Japan is almost an expendable game, it would not surprise if a few surprises are sprung and maybe snag a result in Japan. Josh Kennedy’s long-awaited return will certainly offer something different. Most likely any move will come later in the game after a substitution. While early in the game would really catch the Japanese off guard, it would then leave the team open to an onslaught. If it fails, no real harm done. Holger can return to the more conservative approach for the final games and would also have a mandate to do so given the failure in Japan.

Note that this match really is almost expendable. If Australia wins their two final games – both at home – it’s almost certainly enough. Remember that in a playoff it’s so well desired to play the the home match last? Well, what’s better than one home game last? Two! This time, away-goals don’t count as double, unlike the Iran Game.

* Apologies for the abridged update. A broken collarbone from a bike crash with typing limited to one bruised left hand.

More at: socceroorealm.com