Australia vs Iraq & UAE – Back on Course

2 April 2017

Credit where it’s due. Australia procured four precious points, as was the minimum requirement, away to Iraq and at home the United Arab Emirates this week. While the 1-1 draw in neutral Tehran against Iraq could have gone either way, the Socceroos ground UAE into submission for the win 2-0 in Sydney. It was a good response after the stunningly exciting 2-2 draw in Thailand to end 2016, where the Thais ran Australia ragged, playing inspired football in tribute to the recent death of their king, and arguably they should have won. Curiously, Australia remains the only unbeaten in the group, yet still sits in third.

The results have provided some sort of relief to a side struggling for wins, not to mention adding much more excitement to the qualifying process itself. For an ambitious team and coach, it’s been a timely boost, especially after switching to a 3-4-3 system. Remember, coach Ange Postecoglou doesn’t only want to qualify for Russia 2018, he wants to perform well there. While the 3-4-3 worked well against the UAE, often it operated as 1-2-4-3 formation. Calling it 3-4-3 is probably more a statement on the team’s psychology – to reinvigorate and inspire a more attacking and confident mentality, rather that coast as usual like the previous two coaches, Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek, would do.

The only quibble with the results is all three goals came from corners. Several of the few well worked opportunities Australia managed to create were let down by poor final balls and finishing. Aaron Mooy missed the easiest against Iraq, while the Iraqis should have received a penalty for an Australian handball. They scored anyway a few minutes later to cancel the damage from the referee’s error. Then it was a matter of holding the Iraqis out with some desperate defense and goal-keeping.

It shows how pivotal these moments become where one moment you could be 2-0 up and it’s a cruise to victory and then suddenly it’s all equal and you’re trying to protect that crucial one point. That extends to the group process itself. After two wins from the first two games, commentators like Mark Bosnich were talking about wrapping it up quickly. Four draws later finds itself desperate for the win to simply stay in touch. Australia in third place has 13 points, behind Saudi Arabia and Japan on 16. In fact, with Saudi Arabia and Japan both winning their matches, Australia only managed to hold their position after these two games.

The real crucial game is the one against Saudi Arabia in June. A win by two goals there and Australia jumps to second. A one goal win keeps them third. Their final game is home to Thailand, so they would expect to bank 3 points there to go to 19 points. The other game is away to Japan, so no a guarantee of any points. The good news is after Australia, the Saudis are away to the UAE and home to Japan. If Australia draws with the Saudis, they will need 4 points from their final two matches and hope the Saudis lose both. A loss means Australia would need two wins and the Saudis two losses. So that game in June against Saudi Arabia is the closest thing to a high pressure, crucial World Cup qualifier we’ve had since the intercontinental playoffs during the Oceania era.

Results

2016-11-15 Thailand 2 (Dangda 20′, 57′ PK) – Australia 2 (Jedinak 9′ PK, 65′ PK)
2017-03-23 Iraq 1 (Ahmed Yaseen 76′) – Australia 1 (Leckie 39′)
2017-03-28 Australia 2 (Irvine 7′, Leckie 78′) – UAE 0

Match Report – Thailand
Match Report – Iraq
Match Report – UAE

The Scenario

Current Points and Goal Difference

JPN 16 9+
KSA 16 8+
AUS 13 5+

13 Jun 2017: AUS beat KSA 2-0, IRQ lose to JPN 0-2

JPN 19 11+
AUS 16 7+
KSA 16 6+

31 Aug 2017: JPN beat AUS 1-0; UAE draw with KSA

JPN 20 12+
KSA 17 6+
AUS 16 6+

05 Sep 2017: AUS beat THA 3-0; KSA lose to JPN 0-1

JPN 23 13+
AUS 19 9+
KSA 17 5+

Two losses and a draw are assigned to KSA for their final 3 games. Given their form, it’s quite possible they win somewhere. If it’s at the UAE, that bumps them to 19 points with goal difference probably keeping them third. If they win or draw at home to Japan, then they overtake Australia. Note, Japan will most likely be qualified by the final so could send an experimental team to Saudi Arabia.

If Australia finishes third, all is not lost. The beauty of being in a large confederation like Asia is you do get second chances, and sometimes even a third chance. This would involve a playoff with the third team from Group A (likely Uzbekistan) and then a playoff with a CONCACAF team. Wouldn’t that be exciting!

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Preview of Australia vs Iraq & UAE – It’s a Reset

23 March 2017

Australia resumes its quest to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year with a two games over the next 6 days. It’s Iraq in neutral Tehran tonight, with the United Arab Emirates in Sydney on Tuesday. Currently Australia is in third place on the Group B table, with only 1 point separating them from Saudia Arabia and Japan, and are firmly on target to nab one of the two top spots. With the group so even, this midway point is effectively a reset – a new block of 5 games – and with Australia playing 3 of those at home, qualification looks a formality. The other two home games are Saudi Arabia in June and Thailand in September, while the other away game is Japan in late August.

Despite this apparently comfortable position, there have been rumblings from commentators and fans alike that Australia should almost already be qualified. It actually looked like that after they won their first two games before a reality check of 3 draws followed. Two of those were away from home while the other was against Japan. Questions are being asked, is it the coach, is it the A-League, is it youth development? Whatever is, the big concern is there is a stark contrast between our expectations and reality. They no longer match.

Some names: Craig Moore, Lucas Neill, Scott Chipperfield, Luke Wilkshire, Brett Emerton, Vince Grella, Jason Culina, Mark Bresciano, Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka. On the bench you have Tim Cahill and and John Aloisi. That’s the team that faced Japan at the World Cup in Germany in 2006. Let’s look at the last Socceroos team that took the field: Matthew Spiranovic, Trent Sainsbury, Milos Degenek, Bradley Smith, Jamie MacLaren, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, Mile Jedinak, Matthew Leckie and Robbie Kruise. There’s no comparison. Other than Jedinak for Culina, it’s doubtful any others would make the field in 2006. Kruise might make it as a substitute. That’s about it.

Australia is in a trough when it comes to quality of players. It’s that simple. Gone are the days when we had three Socceroos leading a top Premier League team, or several playing in Serie A; we’re lucky to have three in the top division of the major leagues right now anywhere in Europe. Most fritter around in lower divisions, or low quality Asian leagues. As much as coach Ange Postecoglou likes to boast and inspire our team can do well, this lack of quality is catching us out. Furthermore, to expect them to run rampant against Asian teams like Socceroo teams of old is misty eyed nostalgia.

It’s a time to reflect on reality. Lower our expectations and appreciate the good, tough results, like those draws away to Saudi Arabia and Thailand. Hope to snag another draw tonight against Iraq and beat the UAE on Tuesday. That will propel us sufficiently forward. Then, if it comes, celebrate qualification hard, which most likely will be that final home match against Thailand. If we can’t manage to support our team during these difficult times then we’re not supporters at all and are only setting ourselves up for a world of pain when we play the top international teams at the Confederations Cup next year and then the World Cup the year after. Potentially it won’t be pretty, and that’s both on the field and the final results.

On the precipice of mission accomplished

28 January 2015

26/01 Sydney: Korea Republic 2 – Iraq 0
27/01 Newcastle: Australia 2 – United Arab Emirates 0

Another polished performance saw Australia bound into the final of the Asian Cup after defeating the UAE 2-0. An impressive Korea Republic awaits them. Both teams won their semi-finals comfortably and both look to be the two teams entering the latter stages of the tournament in the best form and in the freshest condition. The final will be a rematch of the group A encounter in which the Koreans inflicted the Socceroos only loss. Korea enters the final not only undefeated, they haven’t conceded a goal during the entire tournament. While Australia has scored far more, they have conceded two. One was the very first goal of the tournament by Kuwait, and the second the solitary goal against the Koreans.

Like the quarter final against China, the semi final against UAE was broken open by two quick goals. This time they came within the first 15 minutes of the game, rather than around half time. One was a headed corner by Trent Sainsbury and the other a mid-range shot by Jason Davidson after it pinged out from a goal mouth scramble. The goals effectively killed the match, both in the UAE’s capacity to recover, and also killed the atmosphere. At 2-0 up, Australia was only in a position to lose, and without further goals coming, there seemed little to keep the crowd interested. The UAE’s best chance came immediately after Australia’s first goal, with a shot that skimmed the post. Other than that, any encroachment into the penalty box was easily snuffed out, leaving them restricted to mostly longer range efforts.

The only blemish with Australia’s performance was, for a second successive match, the inability to consolidate a result from the many chances created. Even ignoring the referees denying several goal chances with wrong offside calls (the one against Tim Cahill when he was 2 metres in his own half was particularly ridiculous), the conversion rate must improve against the miserly Koreans.

Curiously, Sainsbury made news during the week by saying UAE’s star player Omar Abdulrahman’s laziness could be exploited: “Very tidy on the ball, not the hardest worker and I think we can exploit that”. That they did, because Abdulrahman let Davidson waft forward to ultimately score that second goal. Abdulrahman made a late rush and challenge, to no avail. Australia also kept him under control, with that early opportunity that skimmed the post the only really dangerous chance he created.

Saturday night is shaping up to be a pivotal night in Australian football. It will be the first major trophy for the men’s team (the Matildas won the 2010 Asian Cup) and even the wretched rainy weather experienced in NSW for much of the tournament has disappeared for mostly fine days leading into the big night and on the night proper. When Ange Postecoglou was appointed as coach barely more than a year ago, the clear mission was to produce a plan to maximise the chances of winning the Asian Cup. Right now, he’s on the precipice of mission accomplished.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Australia through to the semis, Iran and Japan out

24 January 2015

Quarter Finals
21/01 Melbourne: Korea 2 – Uzbekistan 0 (AET)
21/01 Brisbane: Australia 2 – China
22/01 Canberra: Iran 3 – Iraq 3 (1-1 FT, 6-7 PK)
22/01 Sydney: Japan 1 – UAE 1 (4-5 PK)

So much for the “mother of all football games” of Australia facing Iran in the Asian Cup final, with a match against Japan in the semis before that. While both Australia and Iran did their jobs in the group phase (Australia lost their last match, Iran won theirs), neither Japan or Iran could survive the first knockout game. Iran was terribly unlucky, losing a man early through a dubious red card when leading and then responding twice in extra time to draw the game level, while Japan failed to convert their rare chances eked out against the resolute UAE defence. Both matches went to penalty shootouts that proved notable for none of the four goalies able to make a save. The shootouts were decided on the kickers missing the goal totally. So much for the nonsense that shootouts are about luck. They are 100% skill and the ultimate test of nerve. Shoot straight and you convert, always.

After a tough first half, the Socceroos breezed through 2-0 over China in their quarter final. It’s amazing that a couple of goals can transform a game so much. Despite ridiculous statistics like 288 passes to 70 and 72% possession during the first half, China had Australia well contained, and looked dangerous on the break. While coach Ange Postecoglou said the strategy was to maintain possession and tire the Chinese, it looked more like he was trying to bore them to death. The vast bulk of that possession was messing about in the back line. Too often, forward approaches often resulted in the ball passed back. When Tim Cahill broke the stalemate early in the second half, it didn’t come from open play, it came from the second phase of a corner, with a delightful bicycle kick. Whether by design or accident, the ball came off the outside of his shin for the perfect angled shot across the face of goal. Fifteen minutes later, Cahill made it 2-0, this time from a trademark header from open play. From there, with China really opening up, Australia looked dangerous, creating many chances, unfortunately converting none, which is a concern.

Superficially the quarter final results seemed a great outcome for Australia. UAE in the semi finals is supposedly easier than Japan, while it will be Iraq or Korea (who knocked out Uzbekistan) in the final. The quarter final results show that the perceived difficulty factor doesn’t always correlate with reality on the day. Japan would not sit back against Australia like UAE most likely will do, so they could allow more chances to be created. Then there’s always the notorious frail Australian sporting psyche that can see them beat top teams one match then succumb to weaker teams in the next. The bravado entering these games often sees respect for the opponent lost, bullying becomes the game plan, the match doesn’t progress as expected, pressure builds, and it’s calamity. With Postecoglou at the helm, let’s hope he keeps that reigned in.

The quarter finals of the Asian Cup have been an some turnaround for Middle Eastern teams. Of the 10 that qualified for Australia, 7 went home after the knockout stage, with two that did progress coming from a group of four Middle Eastern teams. The only east Asian team that failed in the group phase was DPR Korea. Even then, DPR Korea’s supreme leader has no doubt told his people that their current world champions have demolished their group and quarter final opponents, and are on the way to winning the Asian Cup to match their World Cup winning romp in Brazil last year. That western Asia now has half the semi finalists is some redemption for their poor results over the past two World Cup cycles that’s only seen one team (Iran for Brazil 2014) qualify. Even accounting for Australia’s presence in Asia taking a spot, Bahrain failed in a playoff against New Zealand for 2010 and former powerhouse Saudi Arabia failed to even reach the final Asian qualifying phase last time. Ideally it would be good to see one of the Middle Eastern teams in the Asian Cup final, as long as it’s not the UAE.

Iran’s Red Card

Any major tournament sees issues emerge. While the group phase progressed smoothly, even to the point of producing no draws and every group finishing with teams on 9, 6, 3 and 0 points, the major talking point of the quarter finals was the second yellow card against Iran’s Mehrdad Pooladi. The clash with the Iraqi goalie was never a yellow card, and it was only made worse by the fact the referee, Australia’s Ben Williams, forgot Pooladi was already on a yellow. The Iraqis then reminded the referee of the case, to which the red card was issued.

The big question: would the yellow have been issued had Williams remembered the first yellow? The thing is, it shouldn’t matter. Here you have referees – and they all do it – trying to finesse the laws of the games. It’s either a yellow card offence, or it isn’t. It seems Williams – as all referees do – consider previous behaviour before issuing a card and therefore do it for general insubordination – known as “accumulated fouling”. As we’ve seen, how can referees remember the little incidents from each player that support such a case? One such challenge is a verbal warning, second or third is a yellow. Clearly the referees can’t remember. Even worse, if there’s legitimate accumulated fouling by a player already on a yellow, only the final minor foul will be remembered for the second yellow, and therefore the red, which outrages all. How can you send someone off for barely a tickle? Well, that’s the outcome of finessing the law to include accumulated fouling.

If the incident was adjudicated in isolation, there’d be no yellow and therefore Iran keeps their man in a match they were dominating, and probably go on to win. The referee’s either confused the player, or forgotten that he issued a yellow for the earlier incident. It’s not Williams’ fault either. It’s the sport’s antiquated laws and the culture that thinks players can be moulded and taught to play the perfectly behaved game on the edge of the laws. They can’t, and humans, especially in ultra competitive sport, will always be prone to bend the laws as far as possible. In fact, such finessing of the laws by the referees only encourages it. Players on a yellow believe that only a more serious infraction than normal will earn a second yellow, so bend the rules further.

Time Wasting

The Asian Football Confederation promoted before the tournament “Don’t Delay Let’s Play Football”. Apparently they want 60 minutes of actual game time in each 90 minutes. While this tournament has been much better than others, it proved a farce in the Iran-Iraq quarterfinal once extra time started. The second period went for 23 minutes for about 5 minutes of play. Much of the last 10 minutes were taken by the Iranian goalie suffering a wrist injury and the bizarre medical practice of spraying every part of his body except his wrist with some sort of magic spray. Once the goalie was up and the ball back in play, time was instantly called. The first period also had many stoppages, and was stopped bang on 15 minutes. Again, you blame the sport’s antiquated laws and culture. If you want 60 minutes of game time, simply have 30 minute halves and stop the clock on every single stoppage, just like in American football. Once time is up, play is stopped once the ball becomes dead. Extra time period is 10 minutes, or even 5 minutes. Right now, 15 minute halves seem too much as players are clearly conserving energy even during regulation time to prepare for ET.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

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

Kennedy’s silver goal a golden moment – Australia off to Brazil

Sydney: Australia 1 – Iraq 0

Remember FIFA’s silver goal system? Probably not. It was a softening of the golden goal. It was a device used that would turn extra time into sudden death. First goal scored, you win. It proved anti-climatic and – given the capricious nature of the sport – often unfair. Euro 96 was the first major tournament to use it, with Germany winning the final over the Czech Republic by such a method. Australia benefited most prominently in the Confederations Cup of 1997, beating Uruguay in the semi finals. In order to appease dissenters, FIFA tried the silver goal. A goal scored will still see the match continue until either half time or full time of extra time to allow the opposing team a chance to rescue the game. Greece was the most famous to use the rule, winning Euro 2004. Really, it was as silly a method as it sounded.

Last night’s qualification was a match over two games. Failing to beat Iraq meant Australia had to rely on Oman not winning in Jordan. Approaching half time of the affair, at the 83rd the minute of Australia’s match, up pops Josh Kennedy for the most golden of goals. It felt golden. Of course, it was silver until “half time”. Then it was truly golden and Australia was off to Brazil. For the record, Jordan, beat Oman 1-0 to have sent Australia through regardless of Iraq, potentially with just two wins from their 8 group games. While struggling to win, Australia were still difficult to defeat. It was the 5 draws in total, the two against Japan in particular, that made the difference for Australia. Whereas the remaining teams, except for Jordan at home, all lost their matches to Japan. Japan proved a great ally for Australia in the end. Jordan’s effort gets it third spot and a place in the playoffs against Uzbekistan.

Kennedy’s strike continued the trend of actual strikers, brought late onto the field, to score the goals. Yes, football is that simple. Until Kennedy was brought on, Australia played with no recognised strikers. Tim Cahill – most dangerous as a late running attacking midfield – was again marooned up front, out of his comfort zone. Outside the 15 seconds of play that brought Kennedy’s goal, Australia’s attack was woeful. While credit must be given for the tough opponent of Iraq, the bumpy pitch and Sydney’s rain, there was simply no cohesion or ideas. Too often Australia would try inter-play in cramped space along the wings. Runs were rarely made to good space in the centre of the field, something coach Holger Osieck noted after the game. Had this match ended 0-0, or heaven forbid a loss had Iraq not fluffed a very late chance, the match synopsis would be so damning. So match reviews should look at that first 75 minutes, rather than the ebullient fog of the last 10.

For all the trumpeting of the “settled starting eleven” of the last 3 games, they scored only one of the 6 goals scored in these matches. When actual strikers were brought on, the Socceroos were a different beast. It’s just the strikers’ presence that makes all the difference. Harassing the last line, which in turn creates more space. With Cahill so-called leading the line, he would drop back, allowing Iraq to play higher and compressing the space, also meaning any fast break down the wing would often see no one in the box. Let’s not forget the match that really saved Australia’s bacon in this campaign – away to Iraq. A goal down, Archie Thompson on, and Australia grab the 3 points. Had Iraq won that, they enter last night’s game a chance to qualify directly, meaning they’d not have sent a primarily U21 squad preparing for next week’s Youth World Cup in Turkey.

Credit to Osieck for making the switch to Kennedy. The Socceroo Realm expected he might use such a tactic to pinch a win in Japan had the scored remained 0-0. After Thompson’s impact last week in Melbourne, he’d have been the easy choice again. No, it was Kennedy, and off went a churlish Cahill. That Kennedy was the saviour did wonders in quelling the return of any divine right Cahill might have with his place in the team. Facts are that Cahill was mostly ineffective, so Kennedy replacing him allowed a different focal point – especially in terms of style of play. Kennedy has no interest tracking back for balls. It’s all about positioning and losing markers for potential crosses. That he was so unmarked for his goal was testament to his ability and strategy of the substitution.

Osieck was also right to persist with the older, experienced players. National teams are representative by nature, so the best players available are selected. You don’t experiment in key matches. In Osieck’s defence against criticism of not using younger players, he has tried them. They haven’t work. Dump Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenokvsi, who replaces them? Thwaite, Spiranovic, North? No one has stepped up. Also in Osieck’s defence, Tom Oar has made his way into the team, while Tomas Rogic was brought on after 60 minutes to break open the game. Then there’s Robbie Kruse – now a permanent fixture. It’s about evolution, not revolution.

Looking to Brazil, Australia has key concerns. This penchant for midfielders as strikers must stop. Remember the outrage Australians felt when Pim Verbeek tried this away to Japan in the qualifiers for 2010 and in the disastrous World Cup match against Germany? It was felt as un-Australian. The “have a go” mentality was sacrificed for no real benefit. So what’s change? Problems are not erased by persisting with them. Two weeks ago against Japan it mostly worked, simply because Japan were on the attack and allowed Australia the space and a counter-attacking game. Against Jordan and Iraq, teams that chose to sit back, the balance then must be skewed forward. At least provide the adaptability. Remember Guus Hiddink’s early substitution of Tony Popovic, a defender, for an attacker in the Uruguay Game? This is not even astute awareness, it’s obvious. Osieck should have gone to Kennedy and co much earlier. There will be times Australia will need to take on high calibre opponents, like at the World Cup itself, even from the start of a game, when Australia would hope to reach the second phase. For Holger not to have Australia as sufficiently prepared, that would be un-German.

It would be remiss not to mention the true bonanza of this campaign – being in Asia! Even if not qualifying, it’s a success. We always wanted a fairer shot, not so much an easier one, and with the Asian teams improving and Australia slightly declining, that’s the shot we got. If the future sees us miss one out of three World Cups, that’s good. That means Asia is improving, so we must improve. I hope Australia is never like Mexico or USA dominating a weak region – then doing little at a World Cup. I want to see Asia carried forward with us. The day we beat Japan in a World Cup final, and after beating Iran in a semi, that’s the day we can say we’ve made it.

In this campaign, the loss in Jordan was pivotal. It essentially made every remaining match live. Not so much life and death, just live, as a sustenance of our life. As part of the broader a football community, it’s been pleasing to see this reality infiltrating further and further into our psyche. The idea of “we should be beating these Asian teams like this (ie: 4-0 against Jordan)” still heard on the airwaves, is evaporating. Grinding out 1-0 wins is perfectly fine, and realistic. In the past 3 games, Australia displayed the extremes of achieving results. Then there were extremes at the other end. Like the sudden 2-0 deficit to Oman that needed to be rescued, and losing in Jordan. That’s fine. We wanted exactly this from being in Asia. Fear not that the journey suddenly had great obstacles. Surmounting those obstacles made the journey all the more satisfying.

Final Table Group B

Points, GD, Record
Jap 17, +11, 5-2-1
Aus 13, +5, 3-4-1
Jor 10, -9, 3-1-4
Oma 9, -3, 2-3-3
Irq 5, -4, 1-2-5

Final Table Group A

Points, GD, Record
Irn 16, +6, 5-1-2
Kor 14, +6, 4-2-2
Uzb 14, +5 4-2-2
Qat 7, -8, 2-1-5
Leb 5, -9, 1-2-5

The final match day in Group A was a blinder. Iran needed to win in Korea, they did. Uzbekistan then needed to beat Qatar by six goals, they didn’t. They won 5-1 after conceding early at home to Qatar. Let’s hope either Jordan or Uzbekistan can get past that fifth-placed South American team and expand the Asian family in Brazil.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Jordan gone, Iraq gone – A one-two punch and suddenly it’s easy

Melbourne: Australia 4 – Jordan 0

In just over one week Australian football fans have gone from despair about qualifying to pre-emptive celebration. The first punch was knocking out Jordan in this most defining of games – at Melbourne’s Docklands last night. It was the most pivotal and emotionally intense game probably since the Iran Game in 1997, given the high hopes and feverish anticipation of success that both games shared. The second punch came later in the night when Japan knocked out Iraq 1-0 in Doha.

Played, Points & GD
Jap 8, 17, +11
Aus 7, 10, 4
Oma 7, 9, -2
Jor 7, 7, -10
Irq 7, 5, -3

Schedule
18/06 Aus v Iraq; Jor v Oma

Next week’s equation is now simple: Australia must beat Iraq in Sydney only if Oman wins in Jordan. Any lesser result by Oman, Australia has already qualified for Brazil. Of course, with Australia playing several hours prior to Oman’s game, Australia has no choice than to seek a win. It’s just that there’s that comforting factor that a loss or draw means a late night vigil of the other game, cheering for Jordan to knock out Oman. With Jordan needing to win to make the third-placed playoff – and given their strong home form already with wins over Australia and Japan – Oman’s hopes seem low. Conversely, with Iraq knocked out from even a playoff spot and potentially coming to Australia as a totally deflated opponent, Australia’s hopes could not be higher coming into any live game.

The key to next week’s game will be an early goal. Arab teams seem to be weak mentally against non-Arab teams, easily capitulating if the game doesn’t go their way, just as Jordan fell apart last night. Hoping for a draw, they left the half time break at 1-0 and putting Australia under extreme pressure. To say there was a deja vu of that Iran Game is not an understatement. The entire stadium grew restless, frustrated at the reverse in dominance and also of so many missed chances had left the game finely balanced at 1-0. Unlike Terry Venables, coach in 1997, Holger Osieck did react to the parlous state of play, bringing on an actual striker, Archie Thompson. Within 30 seconds, he picked up the ball, charged the defence, passed off, dragged two defenders towards his run, and next thing you know the ball is in the net. Robbie Kruse was able to find Tim Cahill in plenty of space for a headed goal. From there, Kruse scored himself after a neat turn, while Lucas Neill scored his first Socceroos goal after heading from a corner scramble. It was his 91st game. All that Jordan could manage was substituting their goalkeeper late in the game, fearing another yellow card against him, as he constantly berated the referee in frustration. To say he was throwing in the towel, he literally did as he exited the field straight to the dressing room.

This was the first time this campaign that Osieck named the same team for successive matches. While it seems unwise to deviate for Iraq, it’s total negligence not to note the immediate transformation in lethality and energy when Thompson arrived. Cahill is not a striker and doesn’t behave like one. Too often he was in his own half retrieving balls. Again, often on breaks, no one was forward, meaning attacks broke down. In contrast, with an actual striker menacing the last line and pushing the defence back, suddenly there was all this space for attacking midfielders to exploit. The result was astounding. It’s not the first time either. Australia recovered late to beat Iraq earlier in the campaign. Finally: Brett Holman. The seduction is over. Can’t pass, runs erratically, shoots wildly and impetuous with decisions. While some of it can be forgiven for his energy and rare cracking goal and whatever else the coaches see, it was his inability to hit simple, short passes that really frustrated. In the interim between qualifiers and the World Cup, someone like Tomas Rogic – who replaced Holman during the game – must be tried. Better still, drop Cahill back to his customary and more dangerous role as lurking attacking midfielder and play a striker up front.

How times have changed with female sports journalists and specifically Fox Sports’ Melanie McLaughlin. Tim Cahill delivered his own knock-out by kissing her after the post-match interview – somewhat surprising her. This was the same player incredibly rude and disrespectful to her post-match Japan, MCG, 2009. It was some petulant protest about other sections of the media reporting alleged unruly behaviour at a Sydney bar by Cahill – something nothing to do with Fox Sports. It only hurt Cahill and the team’s image as fans deserved to hear answers to the excellent questions about the match. McLaughlin deserved an apology back then. Whether she received one, that determines the interpretation of the kiss. The original incident was covered in the page for South Africa 2010 qualifying on the website.

* Apologies for the abridged and late update. A broken collarbone from a bike crash meant another hospital visit and typing limited to just the left hand.

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