England vs Australia – 12 February 2003

21 April 2020

Playing in England in England was a match Australian football fans dreamed about for eons. Finally, for the first time ever, it occurred, just over 17 years ago – on the 12th of February 2003 at Upton Park in London. Tonight, at 1930 AET, the match will be premiered live online. Here is the preview and match report posted on the Socceroo Realm at the time.

England 1 - Australia 3 - 2003 Friendly - Preview and Review - Harry Kewell in action

An email exchange between a reader, Sean Gordon, and the Socceroo Realm about the proposed England/Australia game

If and when we do play the Poms, how do you think we’d go?

Depends on how seriously England take it. Hopefully it’s serious, unlike their last friendly against Portugal when seven substitutions were made at half time. Because it’s a friendly, it’s up to the two countries to dictate the terms of the match. Already Farina has said he wants it to be serious, meaning only 3 subs like you’d get with official games. I’d say they’ll compromise with 5 subs, but in the end, Australia and Farina will probably take the match however England dictates.

So, to answer, if it’s non-serious, it’s anybody’s. If serious, England are obvious favourites. I’d think England would do everything in their power not to lose to Australia, and Australia will find it very difficult to score. In that case, don’t be surprised at a 0-0 draw.

In my opinion, we can match it with anyone on our day, we’ve beaten France and Brazil and Uruguay in the past, so we can match it with England I’m sure. Also been reading that Okon will probably not play due to his lack of time at Leeds. I reckon we need to play a few young kids, like Bresciano and Neill and Grella, so come 2005 when we embark on qualifying, hopefully we will have more potent midfielders.

I’ve already said on the website that Okon’s time is up. Facts are, he disappointed against Uruguay, and other players in his position have surpassed him. It’s not realistic to pick him at this stage. Provided Farina sticks with his usual formation (it could time for a change back to a sweeper system), I’d try Grella in his spot against England, whilst also trying to incorporate Bresciano in midfield. Those two, along with Emerton, Skoko, Tiatto and Kewell, should form the basis of the midfield. I can’t see a way for Okon to come back.

Also read that Lazaridis may not play, at least in the starting 11, cos people want Kewell on the left. Kewell is brilliant on the left, but Lazaridis is also valuable. He’s great with corners.

Lazaridis is unfortunately getting on and beginning to taper and will have trouble getting a spot ahead of previously mentioned players, and Neill at wingback. He’s in a purple patch at present and yes, cornering is vital, but you need more from players than just that, and he just can’t be placed ahead of Kewell at wide-left.

With the Kewell/left-midfield debate that preceded the Uruguay games, people basically forgot the implication on Lazaridis. Farina played Kewell up front so Lazar could play. He wanted his best players on the pitch period, rather than the best players in the best positions scenario that could dilute the overall quality of player on the pitch. That’s a quandary he still has today. So to say Kewell must play left, also says that Lazar does not play. There’s no where to put him. It’s a tough decision. As they say, a champion team beats a team of champions. The team of champions failed against Uruguay.

If Kewell and Viduka don’t play in this one, I will be livid. The match is scheduled for a international break, so there is no excuses. I was furious when Kewell didn’t come down for the Olympics, and his general lack of game time for Oz has really annoyed me. He’s a great player, and from what I’ve seen a pretty decent bloke, but he’s got to play more. There have been times in the past where I have doubted Kewell’s true commitment and desire to play for Australia. What do you think?

Kewell was injured before the Olympics – he would have appeared otherwise. I get your point at his reluctance to play. I once felt he was being selfish and should play more for Australia, and now think that the travelling to Australia for insignificant matches (friendlies and qualifiers against island nations) is not only a burden, it’s not worth the risk at losing your spot at your club. In fact, few overseas player are now called up for home matches during the club season for, not only Australia, for most other non-European countries.

Kewell would be first to admit that at the start of his club career he did forsake the team to cement his club position. That’s fair enough because that’s his entire career. Other players have done the same, including Okon and Bosnich, who both famously “retired” from international football just prior to the Canadian games in the 1993 World Cup qualifiers. In Europe, there’s only been Hungary, Scotland and the Confederations Cup that Australia has played in during the past few years. Kewell played against Hungary, was injured for Scotland and too tired for the CC. Viduka was the same. In fact, quite a few players missed the CC, on the back of a tough club season, last year.

Viduka’s attitude has always been inspirational to me, I can tell he wants to play. But his form for Australia has been a worry to me, particularly in the Uruguay/ France matches. But its on England soil, against many players he actually scores against for Leeds, so i’m thinking things will change.

Viduka’s always had the luxury of being established at club level (he played in the lowly Croatian league originally, and then Scotland) so could come back. Plus, he’s a tougher character and prepared to stand up to his clubs for what is actually his right to play for his country. Kewell’s profile is now high enough that he can now do the same. A good sign is that after the Uruguay debacle, I think all the players now feel that they need to play more, and Kewell has been vocal in this respect. Because, with almost certain direct qualification to the World Cup via Oceania, Australia won’t need to play any matches until 2005, the players will commit to playing the qualifiers against even the minor island nations. Really, they have to, because Farina has stated he won’t pick players for the World Cup that have bypassed the qualifying rounds.

Club versus country is an increasing problem and I now have all sympathy for the players and the clubs. They pay their wages and invest in their future, so should not be so inconvenienced with players trapesing off around the world during the season. The root of the problem is due to Fifa’s crazy calendar of mid-week international matches upsetting the club season. As I discussed in the recent Big Problems, Simple Solutions editorial, the only solution is to segregate the club and internationals seasons so there can be no clash.

You’re right, Viduka is an inspiration. He’s probably my favourite player. Not only because of his skill, also his attitude both on and off the pitch. While there’s talk that Kewell could be the next captain, I’d like it to go to Dukes. He’s already captained the Young Socceroos and the Olyroos, and seemed to do it well. Most of all, the players respect him.

Yes, his form for Australia is statistically poor. He’s only scored twice in about 15 games (against Tunisia in a friendly just prior to the 1997 World Cup qualifiers and then against Mexico in the 1997 Confederations Cup). However, it must be remembered that most of his appearances have been against countries superior to Australia or the tougher World Cup qualifiers. At youth and Olympic level, he scored freely. He’s also been used as more of a holding striker than an out and out scorer in many appearances. Plus, he’s been a tad unlucky. Still don’t know how he missed that close range header off Okon’s throw-in against Uruguay in Montevideo that would have put Australia at 1-1 and in the box seat to qualify.

Well, that’s it. I’m happy, but I just don’t want to be pissed off in a couple of months time because SA announce they have had to scrap the match due to financial reasons. And I reckon we can beat England.

Don’t worry, the match against England will go ahead. Financial problems will certainly not bring it undone. It’s all been signed-up. It’s only 3 months away, so just look forward to it and hope England take it as seriously as Australia desires.

Cheers,
Sean.

31 January 2003: Australia’s team to face England

Coach Frank Farina released a predictable squad for the glamour friendly against England next month. The only player missing from Australia’s last match will a full strength team, the ill-fated World Cup qualifying against Uruguay over a year ago, is defender Shaun Murphy. Some media supports mentioned he was blamed for conceding the first goal in Montevideo, and by inference, that was a possible reason for his omission. Truth is, while he could have been cynical and shoved Dario Silva over, the cause of the goal was tactical and he should never have been left one on one. More likely, he’s simply been squeezed out. Blackburn Rovers’ Lucas Neill has been in outstanding form this season and simply had to be picked in the 18 man squad. Striker Paul Agostino can count himself unlucky for similar reasons. Danny Tiatto, out through injury, is the only other notable frequent first choice to be missing.

In to the team comes outstanding Italian based midfielders Vince Grella, who’s the only uncapped player, and Marco Bresciano. At least one should get a run during the game, even if there seems no obvious room in the incumbent midfield of Okon, Skoko, Emerton and Lazaridis. While Harry Kewell has been picked as one of only three strikers, he’s more of a midfielder/forward, same with French-based Mile Sterjovski. Viduka and Aloisi are the only two out and out strikers selected so it seems likely that Kewell’ll play off-striker with Mark Viduka as the out and out.

Really, considering that this will be the team’s first match in almost 14 months, and there’ll be only two days’ preparation, Farina’s playing safe with the team. There’s no doubt that he’s out to win the match, which given the fact that World Cup qualifiers are at least 18 months away, is how it should be.

The more pertinent issue now is of how England will treat the match. The English FA has hit back at reports suggesting their coach Sven-Goran Eriksson will treat this game in accordance with recent history – making up to nine substitutions at half time, which is a farcical attitude to a game that Australia’s treating as serious. Given that Australia’s restricted itself to 18 players, that would suggest England would have to do the same meaning huge substitutions would therefore be impossible. That should be in accordance with the contracts signed governing the conditions of the friendly. Despite such contracts, Farina was still unsure of England’s intentions regarding the match at his press conference. If he had to guess, he felt that Eriksson would more likely go down the mass-substitution road rather than treat it as a serious match. That’s not good, and suggests England’s obligations, at least player number-wise and substitution limits, might be unrestricted. For the integrity of the match, hopefully that’s not the case.

Goalkeepers: Mark Schwarzer, Zeljko Kalac.
Defenders: Stan Lazaridis, Craig Moore, Kevin Muscat, Lucas Neill, Tony Popovic, Tony Vidmar.
Midfielders: Marco Bresciano, Scott Chipperfield, Brett Emerton, Vince Grella, Paul Okon, Josip Skoko, Mile Sterjovski.
Strikers: John Aloisi, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka.

11 February 2003: England Friendly to become an Angry.

It’s amazing what some clout can do. A few years ago, Harry Kewell may have relented and heeded his club’s wishes to not join the Australian team after missing two club games, including last weekend, through a hamstring strain. Despite it being club policy of Leeds that any player that misses a club match on the weekend prior must miss any mid-week international game, Kewell simply hopped in his car and drove to London. As he correctly stated at the press conference, he has no choice, under FIFA regulations, anyway. Whilst the hamstring strain is a concern, latest reports suggest he will be ok for the game.

Kewell’s attitude has been indicative of that of all of the Australians – fired up and ready to go. That’s in contrast to England’s approach, whereby its coach, Sven Goran-Eriksson, has suggested he might make 11 substitutions at half time. That seems farcical for a supposed serious international match, and he’s done it before, most recently against Portugal. For this game, Eriksson has picked a squad of 27 players, compared to Australia’s 18, so it seems huge changes are on the cards, and rendering the match as nothing more than a training session for England as it prepares for Euro 2004 qualifying matches.

That’s disappointing, though, understandable given the heavy workload of players during the club season. In order to appease the Premier League clubs that have applied enormous pressure on him not to even bother selecting them, Eriksson’s compromised by selecting a large squad to spread the workload. Such pressure from clubs is becoming just as significant a problem as travel has traditionally been for countries like Australia. While Australia’s looking to set up a home base in London to circumvent the travel problems, that won’t ease the problem of clubs not wanting to release their players for international matches in the midst of a hectic schedule.

Now this has all been said before in these pages, notably in the “Big Problems, Simple Solutions” editorial, the only solution is to create a designated international season by compressing the club season. Do this by removing the crazy designated mid-week and weekend international dates and simply play club games at these times instead. All tournaments, qualifiers and friendlies would be played during this international season. There’d be no club versus country problems because the club season would be over. It would also provide continuity to both club and international games. I personally hate the way international matches are buried during the club season, almost rendering them as nuisances to the club games. I also hate that the club season is disrupted with frivolous international matches. Other sports, like the rugby codes in this country, have designated seasons for club, state of origin and international matches, and it really is time football did the common sense thing and followed suit.

Anyway, whatever the circumstances of this match, England versus Australia will be big, especially this being the first instance ever of the teams meeting in England. Australia, for their part, will disregard the “friendly” status of the match, and approach it with full force. England, for their part, seem likely to at least start the match at full strength, and duly reciprocate. Australia really have nothing to lose regardless anyway. They’re at long odds (around 8/1) with both Australian and English betting agencies, and most English people would think their youth team would whip Australia’s butt. So it’s a time for respect, and maybe even time to go for a double win. If Eriksson does replace his team at half time, look at it like this: why beat one team, when you can beat two?

13 February 2003: The Ultimate Humiliation?

With chants of “just like the cricket” and “we want four” emanating from the Australian fans at Upton Park this morning, England’s nightmare of a horror loss in the sport they felt Australia could never beat them at, soon became reality. A more hungry and dedicated Australian team rightfully punished England for their haphazard approach to this controversial international friendly. As intimated before the match, England’s coach, Sven Goran-Eriksson did change his entire team at half to a predominantly under-26 B team, but by that stage, Australia had already established a lead of 2-0 over Eriksson’s “A” team. For Australia, they had the hindrance of absolute inactivity for almost 15 months and only one proper day of preparation to combat anyway. Regardless of circumstances of the match, England 1 – Australia 3, is a staggering result which ever way you look at it.

England 1 - Australia 3 - 2003 Friendly - Preview and Review

Australia started with four positional changes from the Uruguay series. Murphy was replaced by Popovic, Neill came in for Muscat, Lazaridis moved to left-back whilst Chipperfield played left-midfield. A very attacking line-up, which, with Lazaridis not noted for his defensive skills, would be a sound test for Australia’s overall defensive stability. While Australia were occasionally caught out with Lazaridis’ raids up-field, thankfully, England never made the most of their breaks. The most pleasing aspect of the game was that two goals came from quick mid-field breaks. That’s the hallmark of all crack international teams, and is something Australia’s traditionally been unable to manage. What a time to start perfecting it.

Harry Kewell and his much-talked about hamstring injury, did start the game. He had his usual free role up front, and spent it mostly on the right flank, seemingly to terrorise his former Leeds teammate, Rio Ferdinand. Farina’s tactics worked, as Kewell was clearly the most dangerous player on the pitch, and created many chances with his speed and skill. On the right, cutting inside gave Kewell an extra dimension by opening up his dangerous left-footed shots. You don’t get that on the left, meaning he’s more likely to stick to the line and is easier to cover. In support, Lazaridis’s and Chipperfield’s speed proved lethal. Laza just kept on running all match. At the other end, the defence held up superbly and were impenetrable through the air, with Popovic particularly excelling. Schwarzer never had to make a save. For England, Beckham proved dangerous at times with several lobs and free kicks landing dangerously in the penalty box, whilst Scholes’ passing was a constant menace. Their defence never looked settled, with Neville often out-paced by Lazaridis and Campbell out of synch with his opponents’ runs. Ferdinand simply failed to control Kewell, completing a defensive shambles. Owen’s badly out of form, while new-boy Beattie received no worthwile service.

However, England settled quicker, as a clearly nervous Australian team under-hit many passes. Beckham soon lobbed in one of his dangerous free kicks, while at the other end, Kewell created a huge chance when he skipped past England’s defence and crossed dangerously towards Chipperfield. England’s Neville just managed to keep ahead of Chippers and head the ball away.

The first shot on either goal came from an Australian error, when Emerton lost control near the by-line and conceded a corner. Sol Campbell’s header, however, was blocked by Neill in a crowded box. Immediately after that, Kewell broke forward, cut inside on his left boot, and launched a 30-metre shot that was well saved by James.

If Australia weren’t settled yet, the 16th minute goal would do that. After Emerton was fouled, Lazaridis sent in an in-swinging free kick from the right flank, reminiscent of the winning kick against Brazil at the 2001 Confederations Cup, and Popovic rose above Neville at the back post to head the goal in. A simple, well-executed goal, and one that England’s lack of respect for Australia helped conjure. A bit of homework should have seen a taller defender marking Popa. Anyway, England’s response was frantic. With just half an hour left for their “best” team to gain a half-time win, they wasted no time playing the ball.

England 1 - Australia 3 - 2003 Friendly - Preview and Review - Tony Popovic scores

First response came with a break from Dyer, who’d received a lovely long cross-field pass by Beckham, which caught Australia’s full-backs out after an attack. The ensuing low cross was finally poked into the net by Scholes after a minor goal-mouth scrimmage, and was rightfully disallowed for a clear shove by Beattie on Popovic when he attempted to originally clear it, and not for offside, as many commentators have suggested. Schwarzer then made a mistake in trying to get pass Owen after receiving a back-pass. Owen stole the ball off him, and saved the goalie’s blushes by sending his shot into the side netting from the very acute angle.

Owen had two other great chances, but his poor form for Liverpool transferred to his country. While Moore’s pressure on Owen may have affected his shot that went just wide from a headed knock-down, towards the end of the half, his total mishit after a nice run through a channel and receiving a lovely lob-pass from Scholes was simply dreadful.

In between those two instances, Australia still looked dangerous and managed to double their lead. After a Kewell-inspired move, Chipperfield dinked nicely over the English defence towards Viduka. He managed to get a good looped header on it, but the shot was just tipped over the bar by James. Then, in the best move of the match, Kewell, Viduka and Emerton and tore up the right wing with a series of one-touch passes, which resulted in Neville’s out-stretched leg deny Chipperfield from scoring off Emerton’s low cross. The resulting corner saw another great chance when Kewell gained a free header after leading to the near-post. Unfortunately for the green and gold, he failed to direct it accurately enough. Then on 42 minutes, Lampard was stripped of possession in midfield near the right side-line by Neill, whom played a beautiful and, more importantly, swift pass down the wing for Kewell to run onto. He won the race and barging contest with Ferdinand, whom then fell over, leaving Kewell clear on goal. Rounding the goalie, he stroked the ball into the open net. Eriksson looked decidedly sick – his face telling a thousand words – and the English fans booed like hell.

The commentators felt that England may have been hard done by with the goal. They felt Ferdinand may have been tripped, and deserved a free kick. In reality, it was a 50/50 go at the ball, and any clipping of his heel could almost have been self-induced. Replays showed nothing untoward. And there were no complaints about the goal from England’s players anyway.

At 2-0 up, whatever team Erikson put on the pitch in the second half, you just knew Australia would be in for a torrid time. He stuck with his pre-match “Young Lions” policy, and as you’d expect with a fresh team, they started the second half very lively. For Australia, Bresciano replaced for Skoko. The the team looked to contain the early onslaught. Kewell, with his Leeds coach Terry Venables watching on in the stands, was substituted after 10 minutes too – for Aloisi. But not before he had another great chance on goal – this time, a glancing header off a free kick that went narrowly wide. It was England’s youngster’s that then did the real damage, when they scored with a lovely break out of midfield, and firmly put the pressure back on Australia in the process. The much-hyped Rooney played a nice lob out wide to Jenas, whose whippy cross was greeted crisply by Jeffers. The crowd sensed an English revival, but Australia consolidated in defence, slowly took over possession, and leaving England chasing shadows for significant periods of the game.

Australia made more changes to restore some freshness to their team, with Vidmar and Grella, who was making his debut, coming on for Popovic and Chipperfield respectively. Bresciano moved out left to cover Chipperfield, whilst Grella moved into Bresciano’s position. This provided the team with some more spark – lost when Kewell was subbed – as their breaks became notably more dangerous. With England still attacking, though, another goal was required to quell Australian fans’ nerves. It came perfectly timed in the 82nd minute when Emerton played Aloisi through with a quick ball from midfield. Unable to shake off his marker, Aloisi played the ball back to Emerton, who was charging through a vacant middle chanel, to slot the ball between Robinson’s legs. Eriksson slumped yet again with that sick look on his face again.

England 1 - Australia 3 - 2003 Friendly - Preview and Review - Brett Emerton scores

While the resounding result sent shockwaves throughout the world (well, at least Australia and England), it really is a pity the match could not have been played out in accordance with a normal football match. It seems Fifa’s decision to incorporate their fairplay ethos into the very name of this form of international match, seems to have been taken way too literally. Had Australia not taken this match as seriously as it did, one cannot imagine just how farcical it could have become. And really, for England’s approach to the game, it would have been a grave injustice had they not lost.

As with most of these “big problems”, there are “simple solutions”. Fifa must put a cap on the number of substitutions for such matches and remove the word “friendly” altogether. Or simply don’t class them as “A” internationals. In fact, instead of Friendlies, call them A-Internationals. Five substitutions seems a good compromise (normally it’s three), but only allow three per transpiration of a half so there’s no time wasting. For other matches, like the likes of this morning’s match and nation versus club matches, call them B-Internationals. Whatever, there must be a better description than a Friendly.

Is this match the first real new dawn for football in this country? Considering the extra sponsorships already generated for the national body, plus new found respect for the team and for Oceania, it really does seem likely. The trick will be to convert this success into more matches. There’s been so much talk that Oceania’s World Cup spot will generate more of these matches, but it’s more likely that results like this will count more.

As for England, “this is the ultimate humiliation” was the sombre summation from England’s Sky Sports reporter after the match. No doubt the English newspapers will go even further and make that comment look like a St Valentines Day love greeting. While being the ultimate maybe stretching it, it is a significant impact on England’s sporting psyche, and especially the rivalry against Australia. And truthfully, whilst England’s cricket team is a mess, football’s the only sport to be serious about now. Hopefully this result will see the establishment of a legitimate sporting rivalry that will transcend that of even cricket’s Ashes.

It’s been a great start, however, and amazing that it only took one match for Australia to so easily dent England’s last bastion of supremacy over their former colony. I say dent in that while Australia’s win was outstanding and deserving of wide-spread praise, it was only a friendly after all. It really needs to be done in something more serious, something worthwhile – something like the World Cup – before that bastion comes tumbling down. Until then, look for a possible match-up in the World Youth Cup in March. England’s qualified for that.

England 1 - Australia 3 - 2003 Friendly - Preview and Review - Australia celebrates the win

Australia 3 (Popovic 16′, Kewell 42′, Emerton 83′) – England 1 (Jeffers 67′)

Yellow Cards: Stan Lazaridis

England: James (Robinson 45), Neville (Mills 45), Ferdinand (Brown 45), Campbell (King 45), Ashley Cole (Konchesky 45), Beckham (Hargreaves 45), Lampard (Murphy 45), Scholes (Jenas 45), Dyer (Vassell 45), Beattie (Jeffers 45), Owen (Rooney 45). Subs Not Used: Wright, Joe Cole, Upson, Parker, Davis.

Australia: Schwarzer, Neill, Moore, Popovic (Vidmar 72), Lazaridis, Emerton, Okon (Muscat 87), Skoko (Bresciano 45), Chipperfield (Grella 76), Viduka (Sterjovski 85), Kewell (Aloisi 56). Subs Not Used: Kalac, Tiatto.

Socceroo Realm – Top 5 Moments of 2016

15 January 2017

A very quiet year for the Socceroos, football in general, and the Socceroo Realm. It’s ironic that with the move into Asia and therefore more serious matches that the net result is a dilution of the product. Win here, draw there, add the occasional loss, ignore the friendlies, it’s the pattern now. Even in the midst of a World Cup qualifying campaign it doesn’t lend itself to great highlights. Then there’s the impact of Twitter being such a convenient tool for instant and concise opinion. I can bang off something there immediately on the phone instead of sit in front of a computer for something more structured.

In the sprit of trying to return some zing to upcoming World Cup qualifiers and the year in general, here’s the Top 5 highlights for 2016.

1) Australia finish the year with three draws in World Cup qualifying

After starting with wins over Iraq and the UAE, the final group phase of qualifying was beginning to look like a procession. Even commentators were talking about wrapping it up with 2 or 3 games to go. Not so fast! Draws to Japan, Saudi Arabia and Thailand provided us with a nice reality check and brought us back to the pack. Ostensibly the group is in a four-way tie for the top 2 places at the half-way point so it’s effectively a reset. With 3 of those 5 remaining games also at home, Australia is still well placed to finish in the top 2.

2) Thailand 2 – Australia 2

This was a stunningly exciting World Cup qualifier to end the year, with Thailand running Australia ragged and playing inspired football in tribute to the recent death of their king. In fact, they should have won. With Iraq, they are the two teams seemingly out of contention at the moment. The group: Saudia Arabia 10, Japan 10, Australia 9, UAE 9, Iraq 3, Thailand 1.

3) Confederations Cup 2017 Draw

Australia will play Chile, Germany and an unknown African team. Please don’t let it be Ghana, as that would be 3 repeat opponents from previous World Cups (Chile 2014, Germany and Ghana 2010). In the other group is Russia, Mexico, Portugal and New Zealand. That’s a much more sexier group, particularly playing the hosts Russia. Mexico is an opponent we’ve dealt with easily in the past and haven’t played for a while, and when is the last time we played Portugal?

4) England 2 – Australia 1

Yes, we played England mid-year. This was a match more notable for they fact I couldn’t recognise England’s team as much as anyone in England could recognise Australia’s team. Given that we’re so entrenched in Asia these days and have so many meaningful matches, these so-called “friendly” matches are becoming more and more exhibition in status as the years pass. Even such a traditional rivalry like England vs Australia doesn’t help them.

5) Australia 1 – Japan 1

The first half of this September World Cup qualifier was possibly the worst display of any Australian team ever. Limp, clueless and ineffective were the words of choice at the time. The only real exception is the Youth World Cup of 2009 in Egypt where Australia was hammered in all three games and Craig Foster still saw it fit to write the team a letter of congratulations for the “brand” of football they played. This entry is only here to serve as encouragement for all future Australian teams that think they might of played the worst ever. No, you probably did alright compared to this woeful performance.

 

England-Who too classy for Socceroos

28 May 2016

It’s a sign of the times when the England XI contains only one recognisable name in Danny Drinkwater. That was only because I’d tuned into two of Leicester City’s late season games as they won that memorable English Premier League title. On the bench was Wayne Rooney, the only surviving member when the two teams last met – a 3-1 loss in London in 2003. That was about it. With the A-League growing and becoming more and more relevant to Australians, the English Premier League has taken a backseat in this small realm of the universe. Perhaps it’s even beyond the backseat and now dragging along the road from the back of a trailer.

Wayne Rooney scores England's second goal vs Australia, Sunderland, 2016-05-27

Wayne Rooney scores England’s second goal vs Australia, Sunderland, 2016-05-27 (image: theguardian.com)

More than 2003, this match was experimental: England in preparation for Euro 2016; Australia for World Cup qualifiers in September. While Australia were at full strength in 2003, in 2016 they were without 6 players from Asian leagues. This match was not on an official FIFA international window. England were also experimental, making 8 changes from their 2-1 win last week against Turkey. It wasn’t as bad as 2003 when the entire team were changed at half time. Even then, come the 60th minute, the game fell apart, as is often the case with these types of matches, when both teams made an endless stream of substitutions.

It was a disastrous and unlucky start for Australia, conceding just after two minutes when Marcus Rashford (who?) scored from close range from a deflected cross. Raheem Sterling (who?) also nearly got on the end of a good ball after 35 minutes. Otherwise, Australia dominated possession for much of the rest of the half, without creating many serious chances. They started just as well in the second half, only to be hit on the counter attack on 55 minutes with Wayne Rooney blasting home from just outside the box. Australia snuck one back on 75 minutes after substitute Eric Dier (who?) scored a poor own goal.

For all of Australia’s pressing, Fraser Forster (who?) only had one serious save for the match – that, late, off Robbie Kruse – as Australia remained poor with their final passes and shooting. Kruse was decidedly off for the night, while Tom Rogic returned to old habits of fluffing too many good shooting chances. Massimo Luongo seemed lost at times. Easily the best player was Aaron Mooy, who’s passing, vision and thought processes often seemed miles ahead of his team-mates’.

Overall, a decent effort and 2-1 a fair result. Australia need to do more with possession to really take the next step as a serious international team. England constantly looked dangerous on the break, as we’ve already seen with Asian teams exploiting Australia’s gameplan. Possession is useless if you do nothing with it, and by the game’s end England led that statistic anyway, 51-49.

It’s now two matches at home against Greece for Australia, the first next Saturday, and hopefully it’s solid performances from a solid test with solid results.

Summary

2016-05-27
Stadium of Light, Sunderland
England 2 – M. Rashford (3′), W. Rooney (55′)
Australia 1 –  E. Dier (75′, OG)

Full Report and Highlights

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

Uruguay, Cameroon and Greece the preferred World Cup draw for Australia

6 December 2013

Saturday morning, 3am AET, Australia will discover its opponents for next year’s World Cup in Brazil. The draw will also decide venues at which Australia will play, which could prove problematic for all those “We’re off to Rio” and “Road to Rio” slogans from media, fans and even players. Rio is just one of many cities that will host matches throughout this huge country, and most likely is a city that Australia will never visit.

The Pots

Pot 1: Brazil+, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, Switzerland

Pot 2: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chile, Ecuador, 1 from Pot 4*

Pot 3: Japan, Iran, Korea Republic, Australia, United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras

Pot 4: Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Russia, France

* In a pre-draw, a team from Pot 4 will be placed in Pot 2. Upon being drawn in the main draw, this team will be placed in one of the groups of a South American team from Pot 1 – either Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Uruguay.

+ Brazil will automatically be placed in Group A as Team 1

To no surprise, in their infinitely insane and warped wisdom, FIFA have cocked up the whole notion of a draw. First, the seeds, whereby FIFA are using their heavily flawed and useless rankings system. Forget that Australia is ranked the lowest team in the tournament at 59, just like the Socceroo Realm consistently ignores referring to FIFA rankings as some sort of meaningful analysis of Australia’s status. Look at the fact that the sixth best South American team after the qualifying phase – Uruguay – is one of the top 8 seeds. Sixth best gets you top eight. While Colombia at least finished second behind Argentina, the fact that Belgium and Switzerland reached the top 8 after merely winning their qualifying group against fellow middling European teams, is astonishing. Belgium hadn’t even qualified since 2002, so unlike Uruguay that finished third in 2010, Belgium never had a points legacy. It’s been built by beating Croatia, Serbia, Scotland and Wales. While Switzerland qualified ahead Iceland, Slovenia and Norway. What? No Italy, Germany or Netherlands to surmount on your glorious, high-ranking qualifying run?

The second flaw is the potty pot system itself that’s perpetually used. While it’s fine to separate teams based on geography, it’s not fine to avoid opponents based on geography. Grouping Asia with CONCACAF in one pot means no team from these region can play each – ie: Australia cannot be drawn against Mexico, USA, Costa Rica or Honduras. Ridiculous. A real draw would be just all teams in one pot, then pick them out one by one, filling each group as the rules allow. Say Brazil is in Group A and Spain is drawn next, they go straight in with Brazil. If Chile comes next, they can’t go with Brazil so are put into Group B. If USA comes next, they go to Group A. If it’s Mexico next, they go to Group B because they can’t be with regional rivals, Mexico. If Australia is next, into Group A. If an Asian team were already in Groups A and B, then Australia goes to Group C. This is the simplest, most effective and fairest method. All teams get a realistic chance of playing any other team from another region. See the Hypothetical Draw below for more of an idea.

Preferred Draw

Mostly, I want Australia to play new teams – teams we’ve not played recently, and especially not at a World Cup – or rivalries.

Pot 1: Avoid Brazil, Germany, Argentina; Prefer Spain, Belgium, Uruguay or Switzerland

Pot 2: Australia are in this group, so a preferred option of USA won’t happen.

Pot 3: Avoid Ghana, Chile and France; Prefer Algeria, Cameroon or Ecuador

Pot 4: Avoid Netherlands, Italy and Croatia; Prefer England, Greece, Bosnia or Russia

Obviously some of these preferences will depend on teams already selected as Australia won’t play two teams from the same region unless it’s Europe. For instant, if Australia draw Uruguay from Pot 1, they won’t play any South Americans from Pot 2. Likewise if Spain is drawn from Pot 1, the European team from Pot 2 won’t be an option.

Most Preferred Draw: Uruguay, Cameroon, Greece

With our World Cup qualifying playoffs against them in 2001 and 2005, Uruguay is an obvious pick. Of course, they are beatable. They are not a top 8 nation. While Jordan capitulated in the first leg of the playoff this time, Uruguay were held 0-0 at home. Cameroon are the most interesting and erratic of the African teams. Greece is almost a “local derby”. It’s a natural rivalry, the match would be highly interesting, and competitive.

Least Preferred Draw: Germany, Ghana, Croatia

Germany smashed us in 2010 and simply would be too clinical, not to mention boring to revisit. Ghana, again, played in 2010 to a draw. With Serbia in 2010 and Croatia in 2006, and even despite Australia’s good record against these teams, been there, done that, with these Southern Slavic teams.

Toughest Draw: Brazil, Netherlands, Italy

Brazil would be interesting if it was Australia’s first match as it would be some occasion to play the opening match of the World Cup. Only in that situation would it be appealing. Italy wavers between a rival and a boring team. That 2006 match in Germany was more an anomaly than two even teams fighting it out. Worst, they’d be a tough team. Because you have top European teams like Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and France in Pot 4, any of which could end up in Pot 2, it creates a dangerous situation for a famed “group of death”, so there’s several options of tough Europeans in a draw to avoid.

Rivalry Draw: Uruguay, England, Italy

Remember, the World Cup doesn’t end with the Group stage. If Australia reaches the second round, they could face England. While many fans want to draw England in the group, I’d prefer them in the knockout stage so to knock them out.

Hypothetical Single Pot Draw

This is based on the one pot draw as described at the top of the article. Except for the host, each team is randomly assigned these numbers as their draw position…

17 Algeria, 09 Argentina, 03 Australia, 21 Belgium, 05 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 23 Cameroon, 26 Chile, 30 Colombia, 20 Costa Rica, 11 Croatia, 08 Ecuador, 10 England, 14 France, 06 Germany, 24 Ghana, 25 Greece, 15 Honduras, 28 Iran, 13 Italy, 29 Ivory Coast, 27 Japan, 19 Korea, 01 Mexico, 18 Netherlands, 07 Nigeria, 16 Portugal, 31 Russia, 02 Spain, 04 Switzerland, 12 Uruguay, 22 USA, 00 Brazil

In other words, Algeria would be drawn 17th out of the pot, Australia third. The groups are then filled in accordance with FIFA’s rule of no more than one team from each region in a group, except for Europe which can have a maximum of two teams. Brazil is automatically set to Group A as Team 1 as FIFA has dictated…

Group A: 00 Brazil, 01 Mexico, 02 Spain, 03 Australia

Group B: 04 Switzerland, 05 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 07 Nigeria, 08 Ecuador

Group C: 06 Germany, 09 Argentina, 10 England, 15 Honduras

Group D: 11 Croatia, 12 Uruguay, 13 Italy, 17 Algeria

Group E: 14 France, 16 Portugal, 19 Korea, 20 Costa Rica

Group F: 18 Netherlands, 21 Belgium, 22 USA, 23 Cameroon

Group G: 24 Ghana, 25 Greece, 26 Chile, 27 Japan

Group H: 28 Iran, 29 Ivory Coast, 30 Colombia, 31 Russia

Wow! Australia has it tough. They’d play Spain first, Mexico second (impossible under FIFA’s system) and Brazil last. Group C is a cracker, while Group F has a great opening match. You can see with Germany as drawn sixth was shuffled into a new pot as there were already two Europeans in Group B. Nigeria came out seventh so could fill Group B, as could Ecuador in eighth. It’s a very simple and fair draw. Just place the team in the first available pot.

Hypothetical Draw Using FIFA’s Pots

Group A: Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mexico, England
Group B: Spain, Nigeria, Australia, Croatia
Group C: Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, Italy
Group D: Germany, Algeria, Korea, France
Group E: Argentina, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Portugal
Group F: Uruguay, Ghana, USA, Netherlands
Group G: Belgium, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
Group H: Colombia, Chile, Iran, Russia

Note that Bosnia was the pre-drawn European team that would go into Pot 2 and there’s no draw on the group place. Pot 1 is slot 1, pot 2 is slot 2, etc. I much prefer the single pot draw. It produced a much more interesting and fluid draw. Australia has it tough, and I especially dislike playing Croatia again. Groups A and E seem the most interesting of a fairly dull outcome. Thankfully it’s all hypothetical, so far…

Hypothetical Single Pot Draw 2

This time the groups are filled horizontally, with the first 8 teams obviously filling first position in each group…

Group A: 00 Brazil, 10 England, 16 Portugal, 24 Ghana

Group B: 01 Mexico, 08 Ecuador, 17 Algeria, 25 Greece

Group C: 02 Spain, 09 Argentina, 18 Netherlands, 27 Japan

Group D: 03 Australia, 11 Croatia, 20 Costa Rica, 26 Chile

Group E: 04 Switzerland, 12 Uruguay, 19 Korea, 29 Ivory Coast

Group F: 05 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 13 Italy, 22 USA, 28 Iran

Group G: 06 Germany, 14 France, 23 Cameroon, 30 Colombia

Group H: 07 Nigeria, 15 Honduras, 21 Belgium, 31 Russia

Wow! Look at Group A. Opening match Brazil vs England. Then there’s Portugal and Ghana as the other teams. For a true lethal, you can’t go past Group C. Group G is tough, while Australia’s group proves quite placid and would present great optimism to reach the second round.

Mostly these single pot draws show that simplicity and a true democratic draw works best. FIFA trying to fix seeds and segregate teams is foolish. If the issue is that you can’t have the bevy of former players on the stage helping with the draw, that could be fixed by teams randomly split into separate pots for each player to be used and they take it in turns drawing a ball from their pot.

Positions

With the exception of Brazil as Team 1 in Group A, the draw also decides position in the group. Most likely Australia will face one super tough team, and many theories abound about best time to play them. Mark Milligan, earlier in the week, suggested it’s best to play them first: “Many times the big teams do not get into the swing of things so early in the tournament. They usually build into a tournament so playing them in the first match might give us an advantage and the best opportunity to get a result. People might say that facing Germany in the first game of South Africa 2010 did not quite help us (losing 4-0). The way I look at it is that the Australian team learned a lot from that bad defeat and went on to have two very strong games against Ghana and Serbia on the back of that game.”

Playing the top team first up, you might catch them by surprise. More likely they are primed, then you’re in the mindset of needing to win the final two matches (even if not in actual position as mathematically a team can progress with as low as 2 points), plus there’s the sapping of confidence. Australia just didn’t recover in 2010. If you win or draw, you could also become complacent. How often has Australia excelled against a top team only to bomb out against a lower side in the next match? Too often.

Playing them second up, if you’ve won your first game, you go in confident while still guarded because it is the top team. You also have the comfort of the third game in case the result doesn’t go well. If you’ve lost the first game, you go into the second game really alert, and with Australia’s famed fighting spirit, it’s perfect chance to snatch an unlikely win.

Meeting the top team third up they could be qualified, or they could be desperate. Of course, you could already be qualified yourself, then the match matters even less. If not, as in the case of second-up after a loss, Australia’s fighting spirit comes to the fore, and you also have nothing to lose. If the top team needs to win, the pressure is actually all on them.

Personally I favour the second match to face the top team, with third-up the next preference. There’s less psychological involvement with second-up, and historically it seems to just have the edge. In 2006, the scenario of second-up played out perfectly. Won against Japan, lost to Brazil without losing confidence, primed for the qualification passed Croatia. In Confederations Cups and Youth World Cups, when Australia excelled against the top teams, it’s been second or third match.

Even if Australia draws a top team first, there’s no reason to be anxious about it. No one can predict the mindset of teams, whether or not they’ve already qualified for the next phase, or know the mindset of Australia. There’s scenarios justifying any position to play the top team. If the team is coached well, especially psychologically, it just doesn’t matter at which stage points are accrued. As long as they are accrued, that’s all that matters.