Asia fails and sticking with a France v Argentina final

27 June 2014

With the match-ups for the knockout stage complete, other than Spain’s early and humiliating exit, there’s actually been very few surprises overall for the tournament. Only Group D where both Italy and England failed to progress from the group, at the expense of Costa Rica and Uruguay, could you point to a surprise. Maybe Portugal in Group G is a small surprise at finishing third behind Germany and the USA.

The small upset in Group D means the earlier prediction of one semi final being Argentina vs Netherlands is all the more likely. The Dutch face Mexico then either Costa Rica or Greece, while Argentina must navigate past Switzerland and then either Belgium or USA. For either to fail to reach the semi, that would be an upset.

Knockout Stage Matches

Left Side

BRA v CHI
COL v URU
FRA v NGA
GER v ALG

Right Side

NED v MEX
CRC v GRE
ARG v SUI
BEL v USA

Despite the tougher run for both teams, I’m sticking with Brazil and France to reach the other semi. Brazil plays Chile and then either Colombia or Uruguay. Interesting that four of the five South American qualifiers play each other, meaning three can’t make the semi. Argentina stands alone for South America on the right side of the draw. The fact Brazil plays its fellow South Americans should be comforting to them. The times Brazil have been knocked out early it’s been by Europeans. Their opponents will be very familiar and most will play in the more open South American style that will suit Brazil.

The lower part of the left side should see France and Germany brush past Nigeria and Algeria, respectively, to then meet in a quarter final. Forget about France only securing a 0-0 against Ecuador in the final pool game as a case against their legitimacy as a contender With any luck, France could have scored the same bagful that they did against Switzerland and Honduras. They seem to have the fire power to break down Germany.

From the semi finals, I expect Brazil to crumble under pressure, from both the burden of being host and the fear of France’s attacking prowess. The Dutch defence has already been exposed as suspect, so expect Argentina to get through.

In the earlier preview, I cheekily said the team in dark blue to win the final, thinking both France and Argentina coud be wearing a dark strip depending on who is drawn as the nominal home team. Except, France’s dark blue is their home strip, and Argentina’s is their away strip, so there’s no clash. France will be in dark blue against the faint stripes of Argentina. It looks like it’s France to win the World Cup!

While France might be the prediction, who do I actually want to win? As always, a new team would be great. Based on the draw, Colombia vs Netherlands would suit perfectly, with the Dutch to win. So many near misses, including such a narrow loss to Spain four years ago, it’s time they won. If Colombia are the designated home team, Netherlands will just happen to be in dark blue too.

Asia’s failure – we’re not alone

All four Asian teams finished last in their group and could only accrue a total of 3 points between them. That’s courtesy of a draw each from Iran, Japan and Korea. Australia, in the toughest group, finished with nothing. While it’s disappointing, it should not be surprising, since Asia is still a fly-weight on the world stage. Only in the home World Cup in Korea and Japan did Asian teams excel, with Japan reaching the quarter finals and Korea finishing fourth.

Before anyone points fingers at querying Asia’s allocation of four spots at the World Cup, Africa and Europe can hardly claim a strong success rate from their allocation either. Three of 5 African teams bombed out, with the other two likely to be swept aside in the first knockout game. Excluding Algeria – an Arab team – it’s three of 4 failures from a region that was so widely hyped that Pele famously predicted they’d win a World Cup before last century’s end. They’ve gone backwards. As for Europe, seven of their 13 teams failed too. Europe, especially, benefits from a weight of numbers, and who’s to say that if more Asian teams were in the World Cup, some would not progress?

Asia’s small allocation meant they could not spread their numbers throughout all groups, and therefore have a team in all the weaker groups (even if three of them actually did have a reasonable draw). Does this mean Asia’s allocation should be altered? No. The only change should be that its half spot is linked with Oceania. This was part of the bargain for allowing Australia to enter Asia – that effectively Australia would not take a spot from the traditional Asian teams. At worst, such teams would finish fifth, and play against New Zealand. That happened for 2010 when Bahrain lost to NZ, which left no room for Asia to complain. For 2014, FIFA as they always do, re-jigged the rules to suit the more powerful confederations, meaning a random draw for cross-region playoffs that saw Asia face South America and Oceania face CONCACAF.

The World Cup is meant to represent the best teams in each part of the world. Ideally you have 8 teams from each approximately 50-team quadrant (Europe, Africa, Asia/Oceania, Americas) at the World Cup. Until all regions mature to a relatively equal standard, the best approach is continue performance based with a minium of four. Ideally this process should be more transparent so to end the ritual squabbling for spots. You do that by allocating spots based on an average of top 16 of the previous three World Cups. Meaning if Asia/Oceania had two teams in the top 16 for the last 3 World Cups, they get six spots. If Europe begin to average only 6 teams in the top 16, then their total spots should be 10.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

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Calamitous end to a promising start as Ecuador roll Australia

06 March 2014

London, Australia 3 – Ecuador 4

For a polished display of attacking football against a lackadaisical defence, let Australia vs Ecuador be your lesson

For a polished display of calamitous football when holding a 3 goal lead, let Australia vs Ecuador also be your lesson

If it wasn’t for the fact that this was an experimental side and that coach Ange Postecoglou had only had one training session with the team beforehand, the 4-3 loss to Ecuador overnight would be a national embarrassment.

After such a promising start with a 3-0 lead at half time, Australia ended the match as losers and with a man short. The red card itself was not enough to mitigate the embarrassment or discredit Ecuador’s resurgence because Ecuador already scored once, and would have scored the penalty in the incident involving the red card. So that’s 3-2 with Ecuador firmly in control and with 30 minutes of the second half left.

Australia’s defence had already vaporised before the red card; goalie Mitch Langerak’s expulsion for a crude challenge only made it more difficult. With Ecuador’s first two goals, Australia was beaten by speed and a total lack organisation. Jason Davidson was again caught out of position at a critical moment, losing Fidel Martinez for the first goal, even though tightly marking the initial run. Davidson’s yet to show any hint of being a reassuring defender.

Even the excellent first half performance needs to be tempered with the fact Ecuador didn’t offer any defence. It was so incoherent at times that the average Australian supporter would be begging them to play better to test our team for the tougher challenges that await with Spain and Netherlands. At half time, among the five substitutions made, Ecuador’s coach switched his experimental defence for his regulars and it was the Ecuador you’d expect to see from a tough South American World Cup qualifying phase.

There’s still issues with Tim Cahill. While he scored the goal from open play, Mathew Leckie was marooned on the right wing and made almost totally ineffective. He’s better central, with Cahill back to his traditional midfield position, with a different right sided wide player needed. That’s where Australia will really miss Robbie Kruse. Dario Vidosic came on for Cahill later in the game. Maybe he is the wide right player.

It’s difficult to make much sense of this game given the polar extremes offered by both teams. We know Australia’s defence is still shaky. A preliminary World Cup squad is to be named before Australia’s next preparation match, against South Africa (who lost 5-0 at home to Brazil overnight) in Sydney in May. The lesson learned is Ange will need to be the miracle man we hope him to be if Australia is to get anything out of the World Cup.

Notes

Matt Ryan has surely sowed up the number one goal-keeping spot. Langerak was too reckless. While Brad Jones didn’t do much wrong, Australia can’t go to Brazil with two club reserves as their reserves. We need at least two goalies playing regularly with their clubs. Jones’s appearance mean Australia played all three goal-keepers for the match, given the Ryan was substituted for Langerak at half time. That’s one rarely to be seen.

Ecuador were denied two one-on-one goal scoring chances by incorrect offside calls. That would have made the match closer at half time.

Cahill was dragged down in the penalty box and a penalty not awarded. That would have made it 4-0 at half time.

Langerak’s red would have highlighted again the insane “triple punishment” for denying a goal scoring opportunity, even though the award of a penatly is a greater goal scoring opportunity, had his foul not been so callous.

Brett Holman and Luke Wilkshire were late replacements into the team after the withdrawals of potential debutants Chris Herd and Ben Halloran. Rightfully, neither got a run. Ange “looking at them” probably to be polite. With Holman in the Middle East, Ange must stay true to his embargo on those rubbish Middle Eastern clubs. That also means no Mark Bresciano.

Massimo Luongo did get a debut, albeit as a late substitute, and looked good. Tom Rogic has a long way to go to realise his potential, and desperately needs a shooting leg. Passing decisions can be off, and a fairy could stop most of his strikes.

Lucas Neill, recently signed with Watford on a contract based on game appearances, is surely at least a chance for the World Cup squad if, indeed, he gets regular football. Experience will be invaluable and, despite all the criticism, has rarely let the team down. Him and Craig Moore were similarly hammered before the 2010 World Cup and proved critical in the defence for the last two games. No one would have stopped Germany in that first game, especially given Pim Verbeek’s cowardly tactics.

Cahill was very friendly with his former Everton teammate, Segundo Castillo. Jovial at the start of the match, very jovial at half time, and even jovial as Castillo was about to take the penalty to bring the match to 3-2, giving him a hand slap. At the end of the match? No doubt Castillo had the last laugh. Cahill did take the Australian goal-scoring record from Damian Mori. He can be jovial about that.

Comments – Ange Postecoglou

Going down to 10 men against a quality opponent was always going to be tough for us. Up until that point, it just reaffirmed my belief in the direction we’re heading. I was really happy with our shape in that first half and the way the team were able to play the kind of football we wanted to. We were really bright and positive and every time we got the ball we tried to find little angles for ourselves. It was exciting to see … it was definitely a step forward.

Match report courtesy of ffa.com.au

Coach Ange Postecoglou has plenty of work ahead of him but at the same time plenty to work with after watching the Socceroos go three goals up but in the end lose 4-3 to Ecuador at The Den.

Australia held a comfortable advantage thanks to Mile Jedinak’s penalty and a brace from Tim Cahill, who, playing at his old Millwall stomping ground, broke Damian Mori’s record to become the national team’s all-time leading goal-scorer.

But Ecuador came out after the break looking more like the team which finished fourth in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, and after Socceroos goalkeeper Mitch Langerak was sent off, the South Americans laid siege on Australia’s goal to register an unlikely comeback victory.

Postecoglou made five changes from the team which beat Costa Rica 1-0 in his first friendly in charge in November. With Lucas Neill not picked and Rhys Williams injured, Matthew Spiranovic and Curtis Good were chosen at centre-back, the latter making his international debut.

Mark Bresciano, Dario Vidosic and another long-term injury victim, Robbie Kruse, were all absent from the starting XI, with Cahill starting up front and Matthew Leckie pushed out wide. Tommy Oar came in on the left flank and Tom Rogic was deployed in the hole.

Australia started strongly, moving the ball quickly and worrying Ecuador with their pace in attack. Cahill enjoyed an early sight of goal in the sixth minute with a header that glanced just wide of the post.

Two minutes later he improved on that narrow miss. A driving run from Tom Rogic earned Australia a corner, which Tommy Oar swung in from the right. Mark Milligan, stationed on the edge of the area, headed the ball back into danger and Cahill was on hand to nod it home and enter the record books.

In the 16th minute, the Socceroos were awarded a penalty when Cahill went down after grappling with Gabriel Achilier inside the area. Jedinak stepped up to slot home the resulting spot kick with ease.

The Socceroos remained relatively untroubled by their opponents as the half progressed, and grabbed a third goal on 32 minutes. A quick break near the half-way line allowed Leckie to advance and swing in a cross, which Cahill dived to connect with and head past Adrian Bone in the Ecuador goal.

Langerak replaced Mat Ryan in goal for Australia at the break and the South American side made a host of changes, beginning the second half with considerably more purpose.

In the 57th minute their endeavour was rewarded with a goal from Fidel Martinez, who prodded the ball home after being found in a dangerous area by Enner Valencia’s pass.

Less than 60 seconds later they had a second and Australia found themselves down to 10 men. Langerak rushed out to try and clear a ball into the area but Valencia got there first, and the Borussia Dortmund man was shown a straight red card after sending the Ecuador forward flying into the air.

The linesman initially raised his flag to signal Valencia was in an offside position but was overruled by referee Lee Probert, who spotted that the last touch came off Jedinak.

Brad Jones became the third player to pull on the gloves for the Socceroos in the game, but he was unable to prevent Segundo Castillo from making it 3-2 from the penalty spot.

The Ecuador onslaught continued as a series of substitutions from Postecoglou, including a debut for Alex Wilkinson, proved unable to stem the tide.

In the 78th minute a counter-attack saw Antonio Valencia advance into the area and cut the ball back for namesake Enner Valencia to guide past Jones.

With the clock ticking down it looked as if the Socceroos would survive to claim a draw, but an error from Wilkinson, who was dispossessed in a dangerous area, allowed substitute Edison Mendez to claim an injury time winner for Ecuador.

For the Socceroos, it was a game of contrasting halves, Langerak’s dismissal consigning them to hold on for much of the second 45 minutes. However, as Postecoglou stated post match, the new generation of Socceroos would learn “some useful lessons of what you can and can’t do”.

Australia 3 (Cahill 8’/31′ , Jedinak 15′ (pen))
Ecuador 4 (Martinez 56′, Castillo 60′ (pen), E.Valencia 76′, Mendez 90+1′)

Squad for Ecuador – Out with the old, in with the new

26 February 2014

Out: Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano, Brett Holman

In: Curtis Good, Massimo Luongo, Ben Halloran and – finally – Chris Herd

These are the highlights of coach Ange Postecoglou’s squad for the World Cup preparation match against Ecuador next week. Also notable is Brett Holman bypassed again, while Luke Wilkshire returns for his first shot under the gaze of the new coach. It seems Ange has ignored anyone playing in those rubbish Middle Eastern leagues. Other than being over-rated after a couple of spectacular goals, Holman is the victim of that, and so too Alex Brosque. Sasa Ognenovski recently signed for Sydney FC, recognising the low regard Ange rightfully has for the Middle East. He misses out after not playing much recently, as does Mark Bresciano, who’s suspended after an illegal transfer involving his club. If Ange is consistent, Bresciano is gone anyway, as he’s another playing his club football in the Middle East.

Of the newbies, only Chris Herd is a recognised name to these eyes. Ange’s recent weeks scouting in Europe has paid dividends. As much as there is a desire by fans to rejuvenate the Socceroos, there is a dearth of talent coming through. The much maligned Lucas Neill, who just signed for Watford in England’s second tier after months in limbo, should get a plane ticket to Brazil. The reality is eight defenders are required for the World Cup squad and, shockingly, it’s doubtful Australia has one better defender than Neill, much less eight. At best, one or two might be level, and then you still need to decide whether to trade youth for experience. This is a World Cup, and we go for results, not experiments. Players like North, Thwaite and Kisnorbo, have been tried, and failed. Ange overlooked them. While Spiranovic and Davidson get another go, and must perform. Spiranovic has been unable to own one of the two central defender’s spots as many believed was his destiny, while Davidson has hardly been reassuring in his handful of games.

The most shocking aspect of the squad is no recognised strikers. Leckie and Vidosic are more attacking midfielders, while surely it’s time Cahill is returned to his most successful and damaging role as a box-to-box midfielder. No Joshua Kennedy here, which may mean nothing, as his abilities are known and is surely a certainty for Brazil as one of four strikers, especially with Robbie Kruse’s knee injury leaving a big hole in Australia’s striking ranks. Dare it be suggested that a certain Scott McDonald might have deserved another look? At least to be played in a system that suits him, not as the solo marksman under previous coaches.

Postecoglou reiterated that this is mostly an experimental squad, and that the door is still open for anyone overlooked. Good news for the sake of Sasa Ognenovski, who has done very little wrong in Australian colours, and will be important to shore up an inexperienced defence should Neill be axed. Good news for another veteran destined to play in his third World Cup: Harry Kewell. Much more will be known after the match. Suffice to say, anyone that doesn’t get a meaningful run, is gone.

Comments – Ange Postecoglou

The squad to face Ecuador represents the first steps in what I believe is the building of the next golden generation for Australian football acknowledging there is a need to balance experimentation and experience to achieve this. The match gives this group of players an opportunity to stake a claim for the World Cup. They have been rewarded for playing consistent and strong football and shows that age and limited international experience are not barriers to opportunity. I was encouraged by what I saw on my scouting trip and what I’ve been watching in the A-League and other parts of the world and I’m confident that with courage and belief we can face the challenges ahead and not waver from our long term plan.

Ecuador is a very important game for us. It’s the last game (before World Cup squad selection) and it’s a quality opponent. Ecuador made the World Cup and it will be a tough challenge for us. We started our journey against Costa Rica and we want to build on that. It was a solid performance and the players backing up from that game would already have had a taste of what we are trying to achieve. For the new ones it’s about getting as much information as possible. We’ve done a lot of work in between the Costa Rica game and now with analysis of our own performance and analysis of our opponents and they’ll get a lot of information in those two or three days and I’m certainly looking for a strong performance against Ecuador so we continue to build on the positive feeling we had after the Costa Rica game.

Selection in the final squad for the World Cup is still very much an open door. There were quite a few players, particularly those in Asia whose leagues are just beginning, who are still very much on the radar. There are also a few players who are very much a part of my thinking and plans for the World Cup who are not playing and I was pretty mindful of not calling anyone who was not going to play some significant game time. Their club form going forward will be a big indicator of that and players still have an opportunity to get back into the squad.

Oliver BOZANIC (FC Luzern, SWITZERLAND)
Tim CAHILL (New York Red Bulls, USA)
Jason DAVIDSON (SC Heracles Almelo, NETHERLANDS)
Ivan FRANJIC (Brisbane Roar FC, AUSTRALIA)
Curtis GOOD (Dundee United FC, SCOTLAND)
Ben HALLORAN (Fortuna Dusseldorf, GERMANY)
Chris HERD (Aston Villa FC, ENGLAND)
James HOLLAND (FK Austria Vienna, AUSTRIA)
Mile JEDINAK (Crystal Palace FC, ENGLAND)
Brad JONES (GK) (Liverpool FC, ENGLAND)
Mitchell LANGERAK (GK) (B.V. Borussia 09 Dortmund, GERMANY)
Matthew LECKIE (FSV Frankfurt 1899, GERMANY)
Massimo LUONGO (Swindon Town FC, ENGLAND)
Ryan MCGOWAN (Shandong Luneng Taishan FC, CHINA)
Matthew MCKAY (Brisbane Roar FC, AUSTRALIA)
Mark MILLIGAN (Melbourne Victory FC, AUSTRALIA)
Tommy OAR (FC Utrecht, HOLLAND)
Tommy ROGIC (Melbourne Victory FC, AUSTRALIA)
Matt RYAN (GK) (Club Brugge KV, BELGIUM)
Adam SAROTA (FC Utrecht, HOLLAND)
Matthew SPIRANOVIC (Western Sydney Wanderers FC, AUSTRALIA)
Dario VIDOSIC (FC Sion, SWITZERLAND)
Luke WILKSHIRE (FK Dinamo Moscow, RUSSIA)