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

26 February 2014

Out: Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano, Brett Holman

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

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

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

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

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

Comments – Ange Postecoglou

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

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

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

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


Holger gets it right in an epic draw against Japan

Saitama: Japan 1 – Australia 1

For all the furore of an aging team, and most particularly against Lucas Neill, coach Holger Osieck’s decision to restore the key central pairing of Neill and Sasa Ognenovski in defence paid off after Australia left Saitama with a 1-1 draw. They were maestros, reading every attack, and timing their tackling and lunges perfectly. It was a master class. While the result doesn’t change too much the requirements for Australia’s remaining games, it proved a fillip for a maligned team looking to rejuvenate both pride in themselves and hope in the fans to believe that qualification remains very much alive.

Played, Points & GD
Jap 7, 14, +10
Oma 7, 9, -2
Aus 6, 7, 0
Jor 6, 7, -6
Irq 6, 5, -2

11/06 Aus v Jor; Irq v Jap
18/06 Aus v Iraq; Jor v Oma

Australia enters their final two games, both at home, needing to win to seal a direct place. Just as was the equation before last night’s match. The difference the draw makes is that Australia could survive a loss in one of those games, depending on results of other matches. The other game in the group saw Oman step into second place, albeit with an extra game played. Worse would have been Iraq winning as they are Australia’s opponents in two weeks, really making for a tingly finale. As it stands, Japan could knock them out next week. Oman’s final game is in two weeks in Jordan. So, you see that Australia beating Jordan next week is so defining. That would mean a draw between Jordan and Oman allows Australia the luxury to lose against Iraq if Iraq don’t beat Japan.

It’s important to see these qualifying groups in context. It’s about total points in the group, not needing to beat Japan away or winning any particular game. It’s about points. It’s about winning home games too. So far Australia’s only had two of four at home compared to Japan and Oman four of four. Just because Australia’s home games fall towards the end of the campaign it doesn’t diminish the points on offer. In the group wWe should expect to win at least two home games, if we can’t, we don’t deserve qualification. So far two draws, so probability is in our favour. For advocates of “knowing the equation” when preferring home legs last in two-leg playoffs, we also have that. Except, we have two home matches last.

For all the good defending, going forward was often a mess. With the open and fluid game that Japan allowed, Australia constantly messed up breaks. Brett Holman was his usual blight of constant rash play mixed with hard running and one good pass or shot. That lovely pass allowed Robbie Kruse through for a one-on-one, only to hit straight at the goalie. Tim Cahill lacked composure when fluffing the rebound. Earlier Holman also lacked composure when shooting from a broken attack from over 40 metres out when propping and waiting for a runner would serve better. Japan had even better chances and can lament weak finishing and Mark Schwarzer in Australia’s goal.

It just makes you marvel at the vagaries of the game if Japan nailed one of their early chances, Tom Oar’s late cross had not snuck in to score or the late handball against Matt McKay that saw Japan equalise in injury time. A 0-0 and Australia would be happy; at 1-1 not so much given the circumstances. We all should remember, not least the menace of Fox Sport’s Andy Harper, this splendour of the sport, that goals and swings in momentum can come from nothing. The need to build an elaborate and often premature melodramatic narrative of the game exposes a lack of control of the mouth more commonly seen in other parts of the male anatomy. Really, give us a break. Can we just enjoy the game?

* Apologies for the abridged update. A broken collarbone from a bike crash with typing limited to one bruised left hand.

More: socceroorealm.com

Osieck backs veterans against Japan as a draw suits fine

The shaky defence of recent games will be fortified with Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski returning as central pairing in a game where a draw in Saitama will see Australia climb back into second on the table. Jordan, currently in second, has the bye, while the winner of Oman v Iraq would leap-frog Australia and dump Jordan to fourth. The group is that close. Osieck’s decision makes sense as Australia then has two home games in which to simply maintain their position.

“Why Neill” as so many ask on the football forums? Plenty of chances have been given to the youngsters and they haven’t stepped up. Look against Oman where the defence was easily penetrated. Neill is still the best defender. He’s being made the scapegoat for the team’s average performances simply because of his age. As for Og, it wasn’t so long ago fans were crying for him to start for the national team. No defenders have surpassed him; he’s done little wrong either. Fans are so fickle. Remember, it’s about qualifying, not any individual game, and clearly Osieck’s thinking a draw suits fine.

More interest will be forward. Given that Japan is almost an expendable game, it would not surprise if a few surprises are sprung and maybe snag a result in Japan. Josh Kennedy’s long-awaited return will certainly offer something different. Most likely any move will come later in the game after a substitution. While early in the game would really catch the Japanese off guard, it would then leave the team open to an onslaught. If it fails, no real harm done. Holger can return to the more conservative approach for the final games and would also have a mandate to do so given the failure in Japan.

Note that this match really is almost expendable. If Australia wins their two final games – both at home – it’s almost certainly enough. Remember that in a playoff it’s so well desired to play the the home match last? Well, what’s better than one home game last? Two! This time, away-goals don’t count as double, unlike the Iran Game.

* Apologies for the abridged update. A broken collarbone from a bike crash with typing limited to one bruised left hand.

More at: socceroorealm.com