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 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.


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

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Two fairytales to end stellar A-League season and more vindication for finals system

It was a perfect finale to a great A-League season. Western Sydney Wanderer’s successful debute season that saw them finish top of the ladder remains untarnished while Central Coast Mariners get the championship that they really deserved after three prior attempts. In the face of increased criticism, the need for a Grand Final and the finals system itself was also vindicated.

Let’s remember that while the romance of seeing WSW being declared champions was obvious, CCM only started slipping in the league once they were compromised with Asian Champions Leagues games. Other clubs were hurt by injuries or just poor form. The luck that is ascribed to finals wins is just as relevant during the season. To win a championship by placing high on the table and then to win such a high-pressure game like a Grand Final, it actually becomes the hallmark of true championship teams. We saw CCM’s coach Graham Arnold expressing great satisfaction to achieve the fairytale after three previous misses and despite CCM already displaying two stars of their shirts for their previous Premiership Plates. They should go and be replaced by one gold star. Grand finals matter.

Some of the angst with the finals was no doubt due to the change in format for this year that could see the top 2 teams eliminated after one game, whereas previously they had a two-legged playoff for the winner advancing to the GF and the loser a second chance in a preliminary final. The FFA felt this protracted the finals and saw too many repetitious matches. Typically the top two would reach the GF anyway, so would play again after playing twice already in the finals series.

The format this year is definitely better as it keeps the top two apart until the GF and still gives a huge advantage. For teams 5 and 6, they must win two away games to reach the GF while teams 1 and 2 only need win one home match. We saw that the top two were untroubled. Of course, that could change in future years, and conceivably there’d be a cry at the injustice.

The small tweak that is needed is polish the format is to play the semi-finals over two legs to effectively give the top two a double chance and further emphasising the “wildcard” status of teams 3 to 6. Wildcards they effectively are as the top two are rested while the wildcards face a sudden death elimination round. Such a system drives even greater incentive to finish top two and also rewards the wildcard round winners a home match too – an important reward for teams 5 and 6 who would never play in front of their fans in the recent formats.

While much focus this season is on the flaw of the potential instant elimination of the premier, there’s an obverse flaw that was totally ignored: the two’s passage to the GF is just too easy. One match? That hardly is major triumph that a finals series should provide. In all other codes using a finals system at least two matches are required to reach the championship game. Actually, two wins are required, both matches being home for a top ranked team. It’s fitting the top two A-League teams at least venture through a playoff. Even with one of those matches away, they still only need the lesser result of winning the tie on aggregate.

The reason Australia has finals is not just because of any perverse tradition, it’s because it keeps the season alive for more teams and for much longer. Those that demand the premiers be recognised as champions never ponder the reality that the season would be over for several teams by the end of December. Would fans of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne H, Wellington and Perth really turn up to 3 months of dead rubbers? No. This season all teams were alive until the second last week. Without this, the league format not only runs to quick conclusion for many teams, the quest for a true champion is compromised because of all the dead rubbers. Teams start resting players, experimenting and expediting off-season surgeries to in-season. Leading teams that play more of these bottom teams later in the season would then have a huge advantage. No, league winners as champions can’t work. It would ruin the vibrancy of the competition.

For the system to change, Australia would need multiple divisions, extra Cup competitions, and far more ACL places. If you look at the way Australia structures its elite football codes, that’s unlikely to happen even if football became the dominant code. The AFL and NRL don’t do relegation, and neither do any American sports. The focus is on an elite league with elite teams to win elite matches. Rather than more teams to cater for popularity, the drive is for teams to get bigger to cope with the popularity. Crowds of 40,000 would be come the norm, with crowds of 80,000 for the bigger matches. At best there would be a 16 team league with a 30 match season. State leagues would be the structure under-pinning the league, much as college sports do in the USA.

The Grand Final itself proved a clinical display by Central Coast. They dominated much of the Grand Final and were deserved victors. Western Sydney’s only real spell of dominance was early in the second half, and even then failed to create many meaningful chances. The pivotal moment was the missed handball just a minute after CCM’s first goal that should have been a WSW penalty. That could have really opened up the game. Since the sport is so loathe to have video challenges, there can’t be any complaint for such injustices not to be corrected. Who knows, in a future GFs, WSW may benefit, so it equals out. That’s the argument right? Try telling that to players on the day that might never get another chance.

It was also curious to see Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the game and not presenting medals. Was she more in fear of being booed or copping a kiss on the forehead like John Howard received several years ago? Come on, it’s sporting culture to always boo our leaders.

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