20 November 2013, 1930 AET
Sydney, 19 Nov: Australia 1 – Costa Rica 0
After the 6-0 debacles against Brazil and France, new Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou brought balance to the force with a determined 1-0 win over Costa Rica last night. It wasn’t so much that Ange gained a much deserved win on his debut, especially against a weakened opposition that barely troubled the Australian goal, it was the he addressed key problems identified within the team over as much as eight years ago. Namely, the team using players out of position, which was brought to its abrupt head with some ridiculous placements by Holger Osieck in those aforementioned games. Second, newer players in the team were given a chance. A real chance.
It’s been a constant bugbear of the Socceroo Realm that players are made to fit into unnatural positions. It might be fine for nations like Spain or Brazil who can slot a midfielder as right back or striker and get away with it due to the natural supremacy of the team and players; it’s not for Australia and its weak pool of quality players that are diminished further if not allowed to play to their strengths.
Ange’s first step was to put legitimate wide backs like Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson in those slots, not the likes of Wilkshire, Carney, McKay and, even as far back, as Chipperfield. Defence is the priority in these slots, with attack the bonus. Not vice versa. The goals Australia has conceded over the years has come from these wide positions being exploited. Then there was the absurd habit of not playing actual strikers, which started with Pim Verbeek playing Tim Cahill forward away to Japan in a qualifier, then manifested into the debacle against Germany in South Africa, and finally Holger’s stagnant attacking plans. It was so pleasing to see the likes of Leckie, Kruse and Vidosic leading the line, not the likes of Cahill and Holman befuddled in a state of flux between their instinctive midfield mindset and the need to pressure the last line and create goals.
Just as pleasing was seeing the new players get a real chance. They weren’t thrown on at the end for a few cheap minutes with the game in disarray as it usually is given the spate of substitutions in these practice games; Leckie, Vidosic, McGowan, Davidson and Franjic were there from the start. It was especially noticeable when seeing on the bench were the likes of Cahill, Kennedy, McKay and Oar. They all came on later in the second half, with Cahill scoring the winning goal from a corner on 69 minutes. The net result of players in position and players allowed a chance to play was a sound defensive display and a competent passing game. While it’s difficult to rate the game much more than a reasonable effort, to be factored in is the legacy of the old era. There was still a bit too much stuffing around, plenty of poor decisions with passing options, and final balls were often woeful. This will improve.
Much of the spotlight after the game was taken by Lucas Neill’s reaction to the crowd booing him whenever he got a touch, to which he snapped later in the game and seemed to yell “why the f**k are you booing”. In post-match comments he was aggrieved at the lack of respect for the national team and anyone playing it…
“I’m an Australian, playing in Australia for Australia, getting booed by an Australian. There’s no place for that. I think it was a case of maybe a bit too much courage juice towards the end of the game. It was just isolated moments – every time I touched the ball, so I knew it was directed at me. It’s detrimental to the team. But let’s just focus on the more positives, and that was we were one-nil up, we were having a fantastic game, we were winning the game, we were playing really well for Australia and Ange Postecoglou gets off to a great start. So that .01 per cent has just tarnished it slightly.”
While he might have a point in a broader sense, there’s no doubt the actions were personally motivated. He’s been subjected to speculated for the entire week in camp, and unfairly so, as he’s also contended. If there’s one mistake that Ange has made is that he didn’t quash all the innuendo. First, he should have said the captaincy is vacant and will always be vacant before each match or tournament. He picks the team, then the captain, the captaincy is a temporary honour, not a permanent title. Second, he should have reiterated to the fans that all spots within the team are vacant and he’ll pick players on merit and that if he decides to pick Neill, the invective towards Neill should be thrown aside, and the team and all players allowed the dignity and respect to play their best for Australia.
Neill’s problem is that his reaction was daft and excessive. No one in Australian national colours should be swearing at anyone, much less the crowd. He should have blown a kiss or grinned or done something jovial, or even ignore it, not fuel their intent and satiate their feral instinct. The crowd pay their money and have every right to boo or hiss, so expecting them to adhere to a player’s wishes of behaviour is nonsense. Sport is also theatre and even pantomime, so crowd interaction is integral. All Neill needs to do is do his job. Brett Holman was maligned far worse than Neill and after a couple of goals at the World Cup becomes a national darling. Fans are notoriously fickle. A goal saving tackle that sees Australia win a match in Brazil and suddenly he’s a national hero.
Neill tweeted: “Thanks for all your support. We are all proud Aussies so let’s enjoy the ride together!! #GoSocceroos”. It is time we started to rally behind the team. The coach has been changed, and we’re now on the final trajectory towards Brazil that will not be altered. We either have faith, or just don’t bother being interested.
AUSTRALIA 1 (Tim Cahill 69m) – COSTA RICA 0 at Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 20,165. Referee: Hiroyoshi Takayama of Japan.
Matthew Ryan, Lucas Neill, Rhys Williams, Jason Davidson, Ivan Franjic, Mark Milligan, Robbie Kruse, Mile Jedinak, Mark Bresciano, Dario Vidosic, Matthew Leckie
Ryan McGowan for Rhys Williams (48′), Tim Cahill for Matthew Leckie (52′), Thomas Oar for Dario Vidosic (61′), Tomas Rogic for Mark Bresciano (61′), Matt McKay for Mark Milligan (77′), Joshua Kennedy for Robbie Kruse (77′)