Some atonement against Canada as Lowy backs a local coach and Neill backs himself

Craven Cottage, Fulham, 15/10/2013: Australia 3 – Canada 0

17 October 2013

A 3-0 win over lowly Canada at least brought smiles to the face. The serious “in-arms” attention to the national anthem proved portentous as the first goal came on 26 seconds when Mark Bresciano pounced on a loose ball to lob it to Joshua Kennedy for a trademark header. Two goals came in the second half. The first by Dario Vidosic nodding in a lame shot on goal, while Matthew Leckie headed nicely from a David Carney cross to score his first goal for Australia. While Vidosic was slightly offside, it was close enough that the referee should allow it given the “favour the attackers when in doubt” FIFA edict. It’s a pity more referees don’t follow it. Despite the dominance of the scoreline, if was often scrappy game, with Australia still needlessly losing possession at times and Canada having two great chances to equalise in the first half. Australia looked more tidy in the second half, applying more consistent pressure, including the third goal that was preceded by a chain of 14 passes.

Aurelio Vidmar was interim coach and made some pleasing decisions, notably playing a striker as a striker and a defender at right-back. He might have done similar at left-back if not for a depleted squad, so he “had to” pick Carney there. Vidmar also gave more time to younger players like Leckie and, in goal, Matt Ryan, while giving debuts to Jackson Irvine and Oliver Bozanic. They handled themselves well.

In the lead-up to the match, Lucas Neill was hammered by many sections of the media for questioning the hunger and passion of younger players while defending his own. He also resisted calls, from friend Mark Bosnich, to quit.

“In the three qualifiers in June, which were the most important we have played in the last four years, I think my form was very good and led to us reaching the World Cup. Mark Bosnich is entitled to his opinion but I would expect better from people who have played the game and certainly from those who call themselves my friend People who know football know games are won and lost by a team and it’s not about one person. I am committed to remaining captain for as long as the people in charge give me that status. I add value to the team and I bring a lot of good attributes but I am the victim, the same as everybody in this team, of a side which has lost two games in a row 6-0.

“When I was young I had to fight like cat and dog to even get a chance of being selected. Nobody gives you that for free – you have to earn it. For me, the biggest problem in Australia right now is not the older guys who have been doing it for a long time. I still have as much passion now as I had when I was 17. But my question to the younger guys who dream of playing for Australia is: ‘do you really dream of playing for Australia?’ If you do, then show me the hunger and desire. That’s where we are lacking. It’s all in our attitude towards the national team.”

The media response has portrayed him as selfish and disrespectful – understandable if you want Neill gone. Hearing Neill’s comments at the time, they seemed quite harmless. The hunger he mentioned was more about the younger players stepping up and claiming a spot in the team rather than it gifted to them. Other than Kruse and Oar, and potentially Rogic and Duke, none have. If the new coach does keep Neill, the coach needs to spell out clearly the qualities Neill has that keeps him in the team. Fans should accept this in move on, allowing the coach and team to prepare for the World Cup without all the whiny criticism. The real issue about dumping Neill is finding a replacement. Thwaite, North, Kisnorbo, Spiranovic? They don’t bring a compelling case for selection. If you’re dumping Ognenovski as well, that’s two spots to fill.

The appointment of a new coach has taken a turn with FFA chairman Frank Lowy stating he wants a local. The “review” that was mentioned upon Osieck’s sacking has obviously been in the process for months, given the fact FFA were so swift to act on Holger. Those decisions are not made so abruptly. The action might be, the decision not. The timing is also right for a local coach. While Australia has been more in mercenary mode with their past few coaches, if there’s to be a move towards giving younger players experience, it makes just as much sense as doing similar with a local coach. While Ange Postecoglou is the glamour choice, Graham Arnold could be more likely given his international experience as both interim and assistant coach, his proven ability of integrating new players and melding a team, and seems itching to jump from his A-League role if a better offer came elsewhere. Brazil 2014 could be the making of both the new coach and the newer players. Despite all the recent turmoil and melodrama, it’s actually an exciting time.

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