Japan 2 – Tim Cahill 1

19 November 2014

Osaka: Japan 2 – Australia 1

As much as Australia tried, they could not match it with Japan last night’s preparation match for the 2015 Asian Cup. While the performance of the opening half looked good, the second half dominance by Japan put it into context. For all the bravado of coach Ange Postecoglou stating in the press that the Socceroos will go hard from the start and will stick to the plan throughout, Japan deferred to that strategy, allowing Australia plenty of possession and to expend much energy, before reversing the strategy for the second half and over-running a tiring Australian team.

For all the good of the first half “performance”, other than Matthew Leckie having a clear header well saved, Australia’s chances were minimal. In fact, Japan eked out slighty better ones. For all the hyperventilation over the abhorrent defending of a corner that led to Japan’s first goal, Japan quite easily could have been a goal or two up at that stage. Yes, while converting chances is the primary measure of results in football, context is even more important when talking about performance. That soft goal did not obfuscate Japan’s dominance, so if we want to mark the team on performance, forget about it. Tighter marking at corners can be easily fixed. It’s elsewhere that there are still problems.

Within seven minutes of the first goal, Japan scored a second with a glorious flick reminiscent of David Villa for Spain against Australia at the World Cup. In fact, there were many similarities with that game as to last night’s in terms of tempo and the ability of both Spain and Japan to effectively control the match despite being in deficit with possession in the respective early stages of their games. Possession is useless unless it’s used wisely, and that is still Australia’s greatest problem. Too many wayward passes and poor decisions going forward, even once defensive pressure eased in the second half. There’s also still the inability to punish teams with quick breaks from the midfield when they make errors. There’s no chance of being a crack international team without developing this part of the game.

On 73 minutes, 5 minutes after Japan’s second goal, on came Tim Cahill. He scored in the dying seconds with an open header. The stunned silence from the Japanese crowd really emphasised the insecurity fellow Asian teams have of stopping Cahill. The Japanese made it known in the press before the game that Cahill was such an aerial threat, and again it was that fear was validated. It was a strange goal, because Cahill was tightly marked by two defenders just before the cross Aziz Behich, and then suddenly found himself completely clear. More concern should be for Australia, who have not found any other avenues to goal. Cahill has scored 8 of Australia’s twelve goals during the Postecoglou. The remaining 4 were either from penalties or corners, from penalties, corners or set-pieces, with Mile Jedinak scoring three of them, and the other by Bailey Wright. It’s amazing that Cahill’s been so dangerous because, under previous coach Holger Osieck, he was so impotent in the striker’s role that the Socceroo Realm implored a return to this usual lurking midfield role.

Australia’s next match is scheduled to be Kuwait as the opening match on 9 January 2015 at the Asian Cup itself. No doubt there will be a warm-up match or two just prior to the competition that will be Australia’s final chance address its weaknesses. We need to end the romance about the supposed good performances at the World Cup and accept the liabilities. Conceding 3 goals in each game is not good, and the chances created, especially against the Netherlands, was more because of them opening the game up than great creativity by Australia. Kuwait and Oman won’t allow such amount of space, and are typically wily on the break. Korea Republic is the final game. Glimpses of improvement is the best that could be said about last night’s match against Japan. To excel at the Asian Cup, Australia need volumes.

Teams

Japan: Eiji Kawashima, Masato Morishige, Kosuke Ota, Maya Yoshida, Gotoku Sakai, Makoto Hasebe, Yasuhito Endo (Yasuyuki Konno 46’), Shinji Kagawa, Shinji Okazaki (Yohei Toyoda 77’), Keisuke Honda, Yoshinori Muto (Takashi Inui 57’)

Australia: Mat Ryan, Ivan Franjic, Alex Wilkinson, Trent Sainsbury, Aziz Behich, Mile Jedinak, Matt McKay (Tim Cahill 73’), Massimo Luongo (Mitch Nichols 63’), Robbie Kruse (Aaron Mooy 88’), Mathew Leckie, James Troisi (Mark Bresciano 63’)

Goals

Japan: Konno 61’, Okazaki 68’
Australia: Cahill 90+2’

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Advertisements

Top 5 Football Highlights… and some lows… of 2013

18 January 2014

A year of concern that, with some introspection, proved exciting and buoyed the nation for the challenges that will come further in Asia, and then in 2014, at the World Cup

1) Australia defeating Iraq 1-0 to qualify for the World Cup

While Australia would still have qualified had they lost that final game of World Cup qualifying, it just would not have been right. Jordan, at home, later that evening snuffed out Oman’s hopes to over-take Australia. The match against Iraq in Sydney, much like the campaign, proved a struggle. It wasn’t until an inspired substitution on 77 minutes by coach Holger Osieck to bring on Joshua Kennedy, who happened to be a striker, to replace Tim Cahill, who happened to be not a striker, that 6 minutes later Kennedy scored the solitary goal that won the game. The nation was in raptures, proving a great fillip for all those that had doubts, and vindication of Osieck’s return to using experienced players for the final 3 games. The move to replace Cahill might have been Osieck’s best move of his entire tenure. Withing weeks, he was sacked. That said as much for his general coaching style, and as much as the frustration of the nation expecting more from their national team.

2) The World Cup draw

Spain, Netherlands and Chile – WOW! They are Australia’s group opponents. While the usual moans and groans about the “group of death” abounded, reality soon set that this is a time for great challenge and excitement. It beats the hell out of something like Switzerland, Croatia and Algeria.

3) Ange Postecoglou new Socceroos coach

After 6-0 losses to Brazil and then France, Holger Osieck was out and the precocious Ange Postecoglou in. This is exciting not just for the return to an Australian coach, especially one that reeks of the good side of the Australian sporting psyche of a respectful “have a go” attitude, it’s also a reward for the rate of development of the domestic coaches in general. Postecoglou has earned the credibility to coach a national team full of prima-donnas earning millions more than him. While the low ebb of talent at present does not quite present the problem that it might have previously, without clout, a coach can easily loose respect from the players. Postecoglou already showed a no-nonsense style, sweeping out the “boys club” of players like Craig Moore at Brisbane Roar upon his start there, and won’t have the same problem at national level. More importantly, he’s shown as an innovator and tactically astute – something that will benefit both the team and him. His develop will only be aided by taking on the likes of our World Cup opponents. Surmount those and he’ll be regarded as a genius. If he doesn’t, it’s a great learning experience for the Asian Cup in 2015 and then the World Cup 2018.

4) A-League Grand Final and season in general

This was not just a success for Central Coast finally being deserved champions after three previous grand final losses, it also showed the potential of the sport with the raging success of Western Sydney Wanderers. Even I had doubts whether western Sydney really such a hot-bed for the sport that was being touted to the public. They showed it is with vibrant crowds and slick administration, not to forget the premiership in their inaugural season. Credit to the FFA for acting swiftly here after booting out the insipid and ill-conceived Gold Coast. Credit for the huge rise in crowds and TV ratings for the A-League season. Credit also for streamlining the finals system. Cut from 4 weeks to 3 weeks to remove repeat match-ups and streamline the process, it probably still should be over 4 weeks, except the semi finals be over two legs to give the top two a type of second chance. At present they get the first week off and then face the one-off semi-final at home. It seems wrong for a whole season to unravel after one game.

5) Australia 2 – Oman 2

While it caused great mirth among fans, this match proved the catalyst for the exciting finale to the campaign, the exciting finale to the match, and an exciting switch in the coaching regime. It was at this point that the FFA started to question the value of Osieck. In fairness, Australia were hit by injury and suspension for this game, and recovered from a 2-0 deficit. These things happen in the sport. As a nation, we should be more humble, lest we become obnoxious, arrogrant brats, like our cricketers.

The lows…

Easily the media, and we’re talking the football media, their denialism and lack of responsibility for crowd troubles at A-League games. Us as a sport are responsible to stop these unsavoury problems continually damaging the image of our sport. While the FFA and most commentators have now swung about, especially after the appalling MV-WSW debacle late in the year, there’s still some stubborn resistance, notably from the likes of Les Murray and some of the core fans themselves that feel victimised and that it’s all sensationalised by the mainstream media. Interesting that our sport wants to become mainstream itself. How about acting it?

Elsewhere, Australia made a Turkey of themselves at the World Youth Cup while Mark Schwarzer sensationally retired from the national team upon Postecoglou naming his first squad complete with Schwarzer in it. It’s very strange to just bail on the eve of the World Cup and before even waiting or knowing of Postecoglou’s plans for Schwarzer. There was not a hint of any such action or desire to retire. Now at Chelsea as a reserve, Schwarzer probably saw his first team national selection as not guaranteed, and rather than fight for the spot, just quit altogether. A shame, because even as a third-choice for the national team – of which no doubt he’d gain such a selection – his experience would have been invaluable in Brazil for the two youngsters fighting to assume his role.

More, including links to all these stories: socceroorealm.com

Australia 1 – Lucas Neill 0. Ange wins on debut, Neill oversteps the mark.

20 November 2013, 1930 AET

Sydney, 19 Nov: Australia 1 – Costa Rica 0

After the 6-0 debacles against Brazil and France, new Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou brought balance to the force with a determined 1-0 win over Costa Rica last night. It wasn’t so much that Ange gained a much deserved win on his debut, especially against a weakened opposition that barely troubled the Australian goal, it was the he addressed key problems identified within the team over as much as eight years ago. Namely, the team using players out of position, which was brought to its abrupt head with some ridiculous placements by Holger Osieck in those aforementioned games. Second, newer players in the team were given a chance. A real chance.

It’s been a constant bugbear of the Socceroo Realm that players are made to fit into unnatural positions. It might be fine for nations like Spain or Brazil who can slot a midfielder as right back or striker and get away with it due to the natural supremacy of the team and players; it’s not for Australia and its weak pool of quality players that are diminished further if not allowed to play to their strengths.

Ange’s first step was to put legitimate wide backs like Ivan Franjic and Jason Davidson in those slots, not the likes of Wilkshire, Carney, McKay and, even as far back, as Chipperfield. Defence is the priority in these slots, with attack the bonus. Not vice versa. The goals Australia has conceded over the years has come from these wide positions being exploited. Then there was the absurd habit of not playing actual strikers, which started with Pim Verbeek playing Tim Cahill forward away to Japan in a qualifier, then manifested into the debacle against Germany in South Africa, and finally Holger’s stagnant attacking plans. It was so pleasing to see the likes of Leckie, Kruse and Vidosic leading the line, not the likes of Cahill and Holman befuddled in a state of flux between their instinctive midfield mindset and the need to pressure the last line and create goals.

Just as pleasing was seeing the new players get a real chance. They weren’t thrown on at the end for a few cheap minutes with the game in disarray as it usually is given the spate of substitutions in these practice games; Leckie, Vidosic, McGowan, Davidson and Franjic were there from the start. It was especially noticeable when seeing on the bench were the likes of Cahill, Kennedy, McKay and Oar. They all came on later in the second half, with Cahill scoring the winning goal from a corner on 69 minutes. The net result of players in position and players allowed a chance to play was a sound defensive display and a competent passing game. While it’s difficult to rate the game much more than a reasonable effort, to be factored in is the legacy of the old era. There was still a bit too much stuffing around, plenty of poor decisions with passing options, and final balls were often woeful. This will improve.

Much of the spotlight after the game was taken by Lucas Neill’s reaction to the crowd booing him whenever he got a touch, to which he snapped later in the game and seemed to yell “why the f**k are you booing”. In post-match comments he was aggrieved at the lack of respect for the national team and anyone playing it…

“I’m an Australian, playing in Australia for Australia, getting booed by an Australian. There’s no place for that. I think it was a case of maybe a bit too much courage juice towards the end of the game. It was just isolated moments – every time I touched the ball, so I knew it was directed at me. It’s detrimental to the team. But let’s just focus on the more positives, and that was we were one-nil up, we were having a fantastic game, we were winning the game, we were playing really well for Australia and Ange Postecoglou gets off to a great start. So that .01 per cent has just tarnished it slightly.”

While he might have a point in a broader sense, there’s no doubt the actions were personally motivated. He’s been subjected to speculated for the entire week in camp, and unfairly so, as he’s also contended. If there’s one mistake that Ange has made is that he didn’t quash all the innuendo. First, he should have said the captaincy is vacant and will always be vacant before each match or tournament. He picks the team, then the captain, the captaincy is a temporary honour, not a permanent title. Second, he should have reiterated to the fans that all spots within the team are vacant and he’ll pick players on merit and that if he decides to pick Neill, the invective towards Neill should be thrown aside, and the team and all players allowed the dignity and respect to play their best for Australia.

Neill’s problem is that his reaction was daft and excessive. No one in Australian national colours should be swearing at anyone, much less the crowd. He should have blown a kiss or grinned or done something jovial, or even ignore it, not fuel their intent and satiate their feral instinct. The crowd pay their money and have every right to boo or hiss, so expecting them to adhere to a player’s wishes of behaviour is nonsense. Sport is also theatre and even pantomime, so crowd interaction is integral. All Neill needs to do is do his job. Brett Holman was maligned far worse than Neill and after a couple of goals at the World Cup becomes a national darling. Fans are notoriously fickle. A goal saving tackle that sees Australia win a match in Brazil and suddenly he’s a national hero.

Neill tweeted: “Thanks for all your support. We are all proud Aussies so let’s enjoy the ride together!! #GoSocceroos”. It is time we started to rally behind the team. The coach has been changed, and we’re now on the final trajectory towards Brazil that will not be altered. We either have faith, or just don’t bother being interested.

Result

AUSTRALIA 1 (Tim Cahill 69m) – COSTA RICA 0 at Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 20,165. Referee: Hiroyoshi Takayama of Japan.

Starting XI

Matthew Ryan, Lucas Neill, Rhys Williams, Jason Davidson, Ivan Franjic, Mark Milligan, Robbie Kruse, Mile Jedinak, Mark Bresciano, Dario Vidosic, Matthew Leckie

Substitutions

Ryan McGowan for Rhys Williams (48′), Tim Cahill for Matthew Leckie (52′), Thomas Oar for Dario Vidosic (61′), Tomas Rogic for Mark Bresciano (61′), Matt McKay for Mark Milligan (77′), Joshua Kennedy for Robbie Kruse (77′)

http://www.footballaustralia.com.au/socceroos/matchcentre/Socceroos-v-Costa-Rica-Intl-Friendly-(M)/3632

Ange making the right moves with first squad

2013/11/07 1230 AET

Schwarzer also quits. A dummy spit?

Holman, Wilkshire, Carney, Thompson, Ognenovski out. Neill remains. Schwarzer retires. Did he have a dummy spit? All good decisions so far. The much anticipated first squad by Ange Postecoglou, to play Costa Rica in Sydney on 19 November, mostly confirmed the one key reality that blocked Holger Osieck’s attempts to rejuvenate the squad: the cupboard is bare. While on face value Ange has been bolder with selections like Bozanic, Franjic and Wilkinson, he’s not dealing with crucial World Cup qualifiers. Still, the signs are good, especially the theme among the discards of them being from lowly clubs in the Middle East or simply players passed their expiration date. Only Mark Bresciano survives as a player from the Middle East, and that’s most likely experience. Likewise Lucas Neill, the much maligned target of the fans’ furore at the plodding status of the team, experience is vital. He’s become the target of a bigger problem, not the problem himself. There’s still none coming through to push him out and with Ognenovski gone and Ange looking to try other options at right-back – preferably an actual defender, not a midfielder a likely Wilkshire – some experience will be needed. As the new players are integrated, Neill can be eased out or even moved to right-back. Players like Archie Thompson and David Carney, they simply are passed their expiration and are squad players at best. Surely these are the spots to be reserved for integrating the emerging players.

The major shock with the squad was Mark Schwarzer retiring from the team upon the announcement. It’s a very dubious way for such a most venerated player to leave the team, especially after all his comments of wanting Brazil to be his swansong. It reeks of a dummy spit after he didn’t play in the recent matches against Canada and France, and Ange has not guaranteed Schwarzer would return as number one choice – and rightfully so – under Ange’s regime. Even as second or third choice, his experience would be invaluable, not to mention the spirit of the team coming before the individual. Some of this individualism was exposed prior to the 2010 World Cup, as evidenced by the saga of Tim Cahill ejected from a Sydney bar and then an anonymous player emailing a Sydney newspaper to complain about prima donnas within the team, and the drama over Harry Kewell “will he or won’t he” play at the Cup itself. Cahill still shows spurts of petulance, while Neill did himself no favours recently with some of his comments criticising younger teammates for lack of hunger. Ange’s first challenge is restoring the Australian pride and fighting mentality into this team, which he wonderfully exudes himself. Then there’s matters like ending this “no striker” system of playing Cahill as a striker. He’s not a striker. His goal-rate has dried up since this move. He’s most dangerous as a lurking midfielder. Put him there. Ange seems on foot with this notion of playing players in their right positions. Again, good decisions so far.

Oliver BOZANIC FC Luzern, SWITZERLAND
Mark BRESCIANO Al Gharafa, QATAR
Tim CAHILL New York Red Bulls, USA
Jason DAVIDSON SC Heracles Almelo, NETHERLANDS
Ivan FRANJIC Brisbane Roar, AUSTRALIA
James HOLLAND FK Austria Vienna, AUSTRIA
Mile JEDINAK Crystal Palace FC, ENGLAND
Josh KENNEDY Nagoya Grampus, JAPAN
Robbie KRUSE TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen, GERMANY
Mitchell LANGERAK (gk) B.V. Borussia 09 Dortmund, GERMANY
Matthew LECKIE FSV Frankfurt 1899, GERMANY
Ryan McGOWAN Shandong Luneng Taishan FC, CHINA PR
Matthew McKAY Brisbane Roar, AUSTRALIA
Mark MILLIGAN Melbourne Victory, AUSTRALIA
Lucas NEILL Omiya Ardija, JAPAN
Tommy OAR FC Utrecht, NETHERLANDS
Tom ROGIC Celtic FC, SCOTLAND
Mat RYAN (gk) Club Brugge KV, BELGIUM
Dario VIDOSIC FC Sion, SWITZERLAND
Rhys WILLIAMS Middlesbrough FC, ENGLAND
Alex WILKINSON Jeonbuk Hyundai FC, KOREA REPUBLIC
Michael ZULLO Adelaide United, AUSTRALIA

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

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

17 October 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Au revoir Holger after national embarrassment in Paris

Holger Osieck sacked after Australia hammered 6-0 by France

12 October 2013

One 6-0 loss can be seen as forgivable, especially when it’s against Brazil in Brazil. A second thrashing, especially with national pride on the line, and even if it’s at the hands of one Europe’s better teams, is not. With that 6-0 loss to France, 4-0 at halftime, Socceroos coach Holger Osieck received his marching orders.

Since the mid stages of World Cup qualifiers, the football community has been simmering with a virtual ultimatum that anything less than a reasonably competitive performance against France would be terminal for Osieck. As it panned out, Football Federation Australia harboured those views too, and was swift to act, bidding adieu to Holger only hours after the match.

The Socceroo Realm has been one of the few voices defending Holger, especially with the process and mandate conferred on him. The charter was World Cup qualification. He did that, quite comfortably in the end if you note the points table that qualification came a game ahead of third place, and despite the tougher process both with the improvement of the Asian teams and the early run of away games. The fixtures in reverse would have seen Australia shooting ahead on the table with two wins and two draws from 3 home games and the away match to Japan, and it doesn’t seem so bad. Some of the perception of struggling was merely based on circumstance of the schedule.

Part of Holger’s charter was also to integrate new players into the team. He was right there that he tried this. While maybe not at the speed some wanted, he was constrained by needing to qualify for the World Cup. Those tried mostly failed. It was restoring the experienced players that saw the team qualify, especially when he was able to play them in consecutive games for the first time during the campaign. While that proved sufficient for qualifying, liabilities did emerge, and returning to some of the those older players already discarded or on the decline, was clearly a breach. On a tactical level, liabilities also emerged with the persistence of playing players out of position. To be fair to Holger, this has been intrinsic to the squad since the Hiddink era. While few media make note of it, it’s been a bugbear of this website for just as long.

Two glaring errors were made in this game against France. With Tom Oar injured, to fill the troublesome left-back role, Dave Carney was brought back from exile. Why? He’s passed his best, if his best was ever good enough. He’s been a liability in the past, and was again. He conceded the first goal by throwing his hand in the air and being called for handball. Regardless that he didn’t actually touch the ball, it was the action of an insecure player – one that’s never been a dedicated left-back either – to throw his hand up. For the sake of inches, the ball would have hit his hand. Second mistake, to strengthen the right side that France’s Franck Ribery notoriously exploits, Osieck threw James Holland at right-back and pushed Luke Wilkshire forward. Why? Holland is less of a right-back than Wilkshire is. Wilkshire’s struggling to get a game for his Russian club, so the call to persist with him at the expense of a new, dedicated right-back, made even less sense. Holland, normally a central midfielder, was thrown to the wolves. He was all at sea, and easily beaten for France’s sixth goal. A better option would be to play five at the back, three proper defenders and the two wing-backs. That gives you the cover in defence and the flexibility in attack.

Then there’s the enduring positional error: Tim Cahill as striker. He’s not a striker! He’s most dangerous as a lurking midfielder, as proven by his rush of goals with his New York club from midfiled and the fact his goal-rate has dried up with the national team. Behind Cahill was Robbie Cruse – again wasted. Frank Lebeouf, former French international, gave a commentary in coaching excellence during the broadcast. He noted Cahill needed to be in midfield where his experience could be used to provide poise during the French onslaught. Often Cahill would drop deep to find the ball, which saw the French line higher, instantly pressuring the Australians whenever they received the ball. When France had the ball, Cahill and Kruse were easily drawn forward, virtually allowing a vacant midfield with defensive midfielders Bresciano and Jedinak too deep. France’s third goal was a case in point. Collected direct from a goal-kick, passed to Ribery, a through ball, goal.

Probably the only excuse for Osieck is the calibre of opponents taken on so soon after qualifying. The team had so much time on the ball against the Arab teams, could be lazy with passing, or even expect to win a pass if tightly marked. Not here. Brazil and France stripped them easily, while any dallying on the ball was open sesame to be dispossessed. Lebeouf reiterated this point too, noting later in the game a missed opportunity to cross just “kills momentum”. Instead of immediately crossing, a few little passes were made trying to work an even better option, seemingly a guaranteed option, like you might against a glaringly inferior team. Bad. Best to get it in quickly and keep pressure on by capturing the rebound. You just never saw Brazil or France messing about it. Nor did they treat Australia with contempt by looking for guaranteed chances. They only needed a sniff.

Osieck said post match that nothing tried in training was transferred to the pitch. That’s damning against the coach, suggesting the players wanted remedial action with the coaching situation and possibly took it upon themselves. With the first goal conceded so quickly, it was easy for the team to become disheartened, with the famed Australian “spirit” dormant. When asked if the players were fully behind him, Holger’s response and body language was telling, citing that regardless of being behind the coach, national pride should keep them interested. It should. 

There were some positives from the match. It was 6-0 on 50 minutes, so the team kept France scoreless for nearly the entire second half. Mitch Langerak excelled in his debut as goal-keeper, keeping the score at 6-0 with several superb, reflex saves, and great positioning. While the cynics will say it could have been 10-0, “it could be” any number of goals in any numbers games. That’s the reason for goal-keepers and a low scoring sport. Had Langerak not saved most of those shots, they’d be classed as errors and his debut a failure. As it stood he was at no fault for any of the goals conceded and allowed the team to walk off with 0-0 draw over 40 minutes.

The FFA has wisely announced a thorough review before lurching into another appointment, with chairman Frank Lowy saying…

“The decision [to sack Osieck] is based on the longer term issues of the rejuvenation of the Socceroos team and the preparations for the World Cup and the Asian Cup. FFA has set a strategic objective of having a highly competitive team in Brazil and then handing over a team capable of winning the Asian Cup on home soil in January 2015. We have come to the conclusion that change is necessary to meet those objectives. I thank Holger for his contribution to Australian football and wish him well in his future endeavours.”

CEO David Gallop…

“I have given our new Head of National Performance Luke Casserly and the National Technical Director Han Berger the task of conducting a review of our World Cup planning. The review will include all aspects of the technical and logistical preparations, national teams unit staffing and the appointment of a new Head Coach. The World Cup kicks off in eight months and the Asian Cup is 15 months away. We are determined to make the most of the historical opportunities that these tournaments present to Australian football. FFA will give the highest priority to these projects because the Socceroos are the standard bearers for Australia on the world stage.“

In a way, Holger’s done Australia a favour. He could easily have continued with the “survivor” mentality, of which he was accused by the studio panel, and played lesser teams. He wanted to find the level of the team now and then remedy that during the preparation phase. While you can never really pass up a glamour match like Brazil in Brazil, France might have been too much. The adjustment phase from casual Asia to up-tempo Europe was too great. Again, while you can consider Brazil as forgivable for the many reasons already discussed at the time, the fact virtually nothing was done to address these concerns against France, it was self-crucifying.

Without these games against Brazil and France, possibly Australia finds out at the World Cup itself that it is out of its depth. At least now we go with the knowledge that we are off the pace, and can go with a fresh and more realistic approach. That’s the other positive. Australians too fast had inflated perceptions of our ability. You only need compare the clubs of each teams players. France read as a whose-who of major European clubs. The best Australia had was Kruse and Langerak in Germany. We’re very much third world, and will continue to produce peaks and troughs for decades to come. Mature nations like France, they’ve fallen off the pace since their World and European Cup highs of the 10 to 15 years ago. Just qualifying has become a struggle with Australia warily seen as a confidence boost. Even a middle European team like Belgium, of which we are far off in terms of national league maturity and national team pedigree, have been 12 years in the wilderness until just overnight storming into the World Cup. Remember the Romanian and Bulgarian power national teams of the 90s? Gone. Likewise Colombia, about to return after 16 years, or 3 World Cups, out. Even nations like Holland and Portugal suffer the odd dip. Why? They don’t have the level and depth of domestic leagues like the powerhouse nations of Italy, Spain, Germany and Brazil. Until the A-League reaches that level, so will our national teams be subject to “golden generations” for our international highs.

This reality check is good. The key will be the management of it. Had Osieck remained for the game against Canada on Tuesday, the curtain surely would be called on several players. Wilkshire, Carney, Bresciano – out. Wilkshire backed Holger earlier in the week – often a sign a player is worried about his future at the change of a coach, and never a good sign for a coach. Schwarzer now surely is the reserve keeper given Langerak’s performance. Why would you drop him? Jedinak needs a shake-up. Something not mentally right with him. Maybe elevated to a senior leadership role after the purging of several elder players could do wonders.

Lucas Neill, who was stoic post-match and said the training track is the answer, possibly survives simply on lack of options. If a ban is made against anyone playing in the Middle East (as there should be), Sasa Ognenovski would be out. That would mean the entire defence is out. You do need one or two old heads in the team. With that Middle Eastern ban, out goes Brett Holman, Alex Brosque and the aforementioned Marco Bresciano. It’s bad enough the national team can be bogged down with the more casual and grinding style of international matches against Arab teams, you don’t want it embedded far worse at club level. Harry Kewell, the main older player at A-League level that you’d even consider restoring, unless he really explodes, there’s no compelling reason to pick him again. Archie Thompson, never good enough at top international level, goodbye.

As to the new coach, it’s pointless if it’s someone not willing to flip players. Guus Hiddink, the immediate and nostalgic favourite, most likely would have faith in the older players he already knows. His record since Australia has been inconsistent at best. Would he stay on for the 2015 Asian Cup? He’s more mercenary than man. Is that looking forward? Nostalgia is also fleeting. Fellow Dutchman Frank Rijkaard, who failed to get Saudi Arabia to the final group phase, has been mentioned. Personally, the Dutch experiment is a failure. We don’t have the players to be played out of position. We’re not Spain, or even Holland. They’ve yet to even master their system at the highest level, with it collapsing under extreme pressure. It’s constantly caused Australia problems too. Even the famed 2006 World Cup, conceding goals was a problem. It was even worse in 2010. Holger’s basically persisted with the style deemed successful, and conceded the odd calamitous goal during the qualifiers, not to mention the horrors against Brazil and France. Argentina’s Marcelo Bielso is second favourite among bookmakers and would at least look for different qualities in the personnel and provide a new system.

Ange Postecoglou is favoured among locals. He’s better served sticking with Melbourne Victory, building up his credentials and clout. Graham Arnold, a former interim coach, said it would be an “honour” and seems ever-ready to jump from his A-League role with Central Coast if a top offer comes from anywhere. He may not have the clout, nor did he handle himself well as interim during the 2007 Asian Cup. FFA might be tentative offering anything long-term to him. There’s also a problem with the media, especially SBS, notorious for unfair treatment of Australian coaches. That could be undue extra pressure when least needed.

If FFA eventually go for a short term coach for the World Cup, then go with Ange. No point wasting huge dollars on a big name coach that will oversee a team likely to fair poorly at the World Cup. Since we want to give younger players a go, then surely give a local coach some real experience? The situation can then be reviewed after the World Cup. Until then, Ange could manage both A-League and national team concurrently. There’s only a handful of preparation games during the club season, then come April he’s all clear. If the Asian Champions League becomes an issue for Melbourne Victory, they can use their assistant coach.

These recent drubbings could be the cleansing the sport needs. Clearly there was widespread agitation among the community. Whether it’s from Osieck directly or, more likely, legacy from the Verbeek and Hiddink eras, the mood had become stale. There was more than a touch of the “same old”, almost a cry for change. Much like the recent federal election, the fans decided long ago, and it really was a case of pulling the trigger. That makes it even less logical to return to Hiddink. With the World Cup in South America, the omens suggest to look that way for a new coach, and a new style. At least it would provide fresh hope.

Match report and videos:

http://www.foxsports.com.au/football/socceroos/a-defiant-holger-osieck-says-he-wont-stand-down-from-job-despite-successive-6-0-defeats/story-e6frf4l3-1226738725917

Osieck slams ever increasingly irrational critics

10 October 2013

Holger hits back

At the press conference to announce the squad to play France and Canada over the upcoming days, Australia’s coach rebuts innuendo that he’s failing as national coach because the Socceroos don’t play nice enough, that it was too much of a grind to qualify for the World Cup, and they couldn’t compete with Brazil the “friendly” international match last month.

With France to be played Saturday morning AET, comes more innuendo that if there’s no “result” in that game, then Osieck could be heading for the door. He took the moment to slam his critics with a reality check about his appointment and mandate, answer the issue of his choice of player personnel, examine the result in Brazil, and explain the seemingly strange decision of not using Tom Rogic from the start of the game…

”It is impossible for me to respond to that question (if he’ll be sacked after the French game). I have a contract and I have fulfilled my mandate so far and now we are in the process of preparing for the finals, but if you want to put this to me I am the wrong person to talk to. I am not informed of what has been said or written about me. So far there has been no need to talk (with Football Federation Australia) about my situation. What’s the rationale behind it? We are in the early stages of preparation for Brazil. We are there while other major football nations are still struggling to qualify and some won’t even get there. To question me then is a little bit out of order. As an organisation, and the technical department is part of the organisation, we are all in the same boat and we should row in the same direction. It would be very unwise not to do so and I do not have a feeling of anything different. I know what I am doing.

”If you look at recent history when younger players were given the opportunity they found it hard to adapt to higher standards. In June during our qualifying campaign our more experienced players did well and got us through to the World Cup. I am still looking to give opportunities to other players to step up and get into the team.

“One thing we have to consider is our status when we went to Brazil. I would like to emphasise that this is an explanation not an excuse. The players from the A-League and Middle East I called in were still in pre-season and Tim Cahill and Luke Wilkshire had to pull out due to injury. When you cannot compete physically with your opponent then your whole game falls apart. I am confident that when we are at full strength and our boys are in full playing rhythm then the team’s overall performance will definitely improve. It was a bad defeat, the worst in my career, but we will not break down and will carry on and follow our plan and direction. I expect a strong reaction from the boys in Paris.

”Tom Rogic is almost an eternal topic. I know how good he is but he is not playing. He is not in Celtic’s first team and he occasionally gets on. I had him in Brazil and he came with a groin injury so he was not fit. He spent more time on the medical bench than on the training pitch. In order to give him some psychological boost I gave him a few minutes to make him feel that he is part of the group. But right now he is not fully fit so I don’t think he will start in Paris. We have to acknowledge that and it is a matter of making some diligent research and look into the position of a player. I mean, what is he doing in his home environment? Why is he not playing? Is he not as good as we expect him to be? That is the problem but I can assure you that I am on top of it because I have all he necessary information. I wish he was fit and he could play as a starter but at the moment circumstances do not permit this.”

Holger’s comments say it all. This jihad we’re on to get him sacked makes no sense.

The mandate was to qualify for the World Cup; it wasn’t to excel away to Brazil in an inconvenient and dopey farclie. Brazil recently beat Spain and France 3-0 so we really have a bloated regard for ourselves that should do better than.

He has tried many young players. Other than Robbie Kruse and Tom Oar, they haven’t stepped up. The key example is that game against Oman, escaping with a 2-2 draw after key experienced players missing. After that, they’re back, and we raved about the “performance” against Japan and ecstatic that we won last two must-win games to qualify. The recent EAFF Finals was a massive experiment, and only Mitch Duke elevated himself.

For the key personnel issue vs Brazil, Rogic, we learn he had a groin strain and he’s not even playing for his club much. It would have been derelict of Holger’s duty to start him. Then we’d be complaining about giving the kid a suicide mission.

We’re also obsessed with “performance”. This isn’t figure skating. You don’t get judged on technical merit and artistic style. The definition of “result” is results. Facts are Socceroos are at an ebb and there’s little much on the immediate horizon. We’re not a club team that can go buy and recruit players. It’s a representative team. The reservoir exists only as the rain falls. We’re also not a world power despite some of our overblown egos wanting to believe. If we want results, then expect to see it ugly. I’d rather be Greece Euro 2004 than playing cute football losing 2-0 all the time just to appease a few smug purists watching too much Barcelona.

Critics become more irrational

The squad for France and Canada does not include incumbent goal keeper Mark Schwarzer. Mitch Langerak is expected to make his debut. So here is another example of Osieck trying a new player. As he should, since Schwarzer moved to Chelsea and is spending much of the time on the bench. Osieck wants players playing regularly. He showed that with Rogic and now with Schwarzer. It doesn’t matter the level of your potential talent or your experience. You must be playing regularly with your club and in form.

In the face of this, Philip Micallef, the normally more pragmatic side of theworldgame website team, stepped up from the likes of Les Murray and the ever whiny Craig Foster with an article “D-Day in Paris will force FFA’s hand”. It’s quite amazing that earlier in the week that SBS “soc jocks”, via twitter, slammed Melbourne’s Herald Sun for “dampening” the A-League season merely by reporting an increase presence by police and clubs to stamp out troublemakers at Saturday’s Melbourne Derby. Here SBA are, on their flagship website, dampening the Socceroos World Cup preparations. Can’t we just watch the match in Paris without the ogre of the coach sacked?

At heart, Micallef called for Osieck to be sacked if it all goes wrong against France, using the precedence of Guus Hiddink suddenly replacing Frank Farina as coach just prior to the Uruguay game of 2005. Of course, situation is much difference as Farina had already failed in one qualifying campaign so Hiddinck was recruited to complete the job (as Osieck already has done). Second, the key criticism of a team too old would not be addressed by Hiddinck anyway. He would persist with the tried and true experienced players, not throw around youth. No serious international coach would consider such a proposal.

The real doozy from Micallef’s article was the call that, “What FFA could have done is look for a coach who was prepared to forgo qualification and personal ambition and concentrate on building a team for the future”.  Are we serious? So three years ago, FFA says forget the next World Cup, play younger players so we’re better for 2018? No serious coach would accept this. Holger already admitted that he wouldn’t in the press conference above. The FFA would be laughed into the loony bin at such a proposal. Fans would not accept it either if they applied one second of rational thought.

The sheer arrogance of the proposal defies belief. If we can’t perform well at the World Cup we don’t even want to attend? What sort of message is this. We’ll just forsake playing on the grandest stage in sport because we fear losing a few games? How weak, pathetic and insecure are we. This arrogance is something I never thought we’d see in our sport. It’s been the domain of yobbo cricketers and conceited swimmers. Now we’re even worse. We’re not the humble, proud sport anymore. We’re the arrogant, spoiled brats. If ever the day comes FFA does act so disgracefully and shunts World Cup qualifying for youth experimentation in the guise of speculative long-term, non-guaranteed and mystical success, well may we say God Save Australia, because nothing will save our reputation.

Sources:
http://theworldgame.sbs.com.au/socceroos/news/1168293/Socceroos-boss-Osieck-hits-back-at-his-critics

http://theworldgame.sbs.com.au/philip-micallef/blog/1169435/D-day-in-Paris-will-force-FFA’s-hand