Australia vs Netherlands – Preview

18 June 2014

Defence must hold up

As strange as it seems, especially after reading all the “must win” claims in the media, Australia does not need to beat Netherlands in their second group match   tonight. Presuming Spain beat Chile, that leaves both Spain and Chile on 3 points, Australia on 0 and the Dutch on 6. The equation for the final match in the group is for Australia to beat Spain, and hope Netherlands beat Chile. If Australia snag a draw tonight, then they could afford Netherlands and Chile to draw the final match. It will come down to goal difference, and that’s where conceding the extra goal against Chile will hurt, and where the Dutch demolition of Spain helps.

Defence will be an even bigger key than it was in the first match. In light of the national exuberance that Australia prevented itself from being destroyed and, indeed, “competed” adequately for 70 minutes, the big issue entering this tournament was defence. It failed. That this fundamental tenet of the game be ignored because the rest of the match was reasonable, is wrong. Defending will be the test in tonight’s match, not whether Australia can have its moments and create a few chances. Because most likely, it will.

Reality is that Australia has been competing on the world stage for at least two decades. It was only 13 years ago that they defeated world champions France and subsequent world champions Brazil on the way to a third place at a Confederations Cup. They’ve already reached a knockout stage of a World Cup once, and nearly did it again four years ago. Despite the novice nature of some of the team, Australia are not putting out amateurs on the pitch like 30 or 40 years ago. These are all full time professionals players, many of whom with decent and long established European experience.

Maybe it’s been the media that’s lulled the players – and most fans – into this thinking of Australia is suddenly a “minnow” again, and honourable losses are acceptable. Thankfully, coach Ange Postecoglou has not been consumed by this faux pride, repeating in many interviews since about his disappointment at letting an opportunity slip. Quite possibly, the major opportunity for a win is gone. It wasn’t Spain or Netherlands in that first game. It was Chile. Despite the flawed FIFA rankings often cited, Chile are hardly a world power. They’ve only have been to the round of 16 twice in their long history at the World Cup, and never passed it. Usually they fall at the group stage. Before the tournament, Chile was the match against we hoped to draw, if not win. Now the results must come from the real big boys of the group.

Australia’s record against the Netherlands is statistically good at 2 draws and 1 win. In truth, both the two draws could easily have been a battering. The first was a 1-1 in Rotterdam in the lead-up to the 2006 World Cup, and the other was a 0-0 in Sydney towards the end of the Pim Verbeek era. Poor shooting, good goal-keeping and good luck kept Australia in both the drawn matches. Even the 1-1, Australia’s goal came from a penalty, which was saved only for Tim Cahill to win the pounce on the scrimmage for the rebound. The win, in Eindhoven, and under Verbeek, was a good, recovering from an early goal conceded.

With Ivan Franjic injured, Ryan McGowan will most likely take the right back spot and will offer more defensive surety at the expense of attacking prowess. It was Franjic that set up Cahill’s goal, and the one disallowed for offside. Maybe Ange will tweak his attacking options, as Tom Oar was poor on the left wing against Chile. Mark Milligan will miss the game through injury, which should not harm the team’s prospects too much as he’s merely one of several moderately good players available can fulfil a deep midfield role.

It can’t be emphasised enough. Defence is the key, and will be severely under the microscope. It simply must hold up. Then the Dutch could get frustrated, and leave a few gaps for Australia to exploit. With the hammering of Spain under their belt, they go into this match expected to win. It will be hard to suppress this over-confidence, so the best way to use it against them is to keep them under pressure. That will be done by seeing a zero next to the Netherlands on the scoreboard for as long as possible. Quite simply, nothing will be as galling and disappointing in this match than if Australia lost by a couple of goals and conceded early. Nothing.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Disappointing loss to Chile despite the promise shown

14 June 2014

Chile 3 – Australia 1

We as a country must be at a low ebb if we are “proud” of a 3-1 loss to a team in which hoped for a better result. After conceding two early goals, it was disappointing not to convert one of the several chances created in the second half, and then even more disappointing to concede another goal in injury time. The goal Australia scored came courtesy of a Tim Cahill header that brought the game to 2-1 ten minutes before half time. Post match it was odd to see all the studio and commentary “experts”, along with most fans, beaming with pride at the “performance” despite the sickly feeling of the final goal and the lack of converting the second half renaissance into something tangible. It harks back to the era of 20 or 30 years ago when Australian teams were indeed proud simply to get close to quality teams – to play well enough and not be annihilated, and regale in our “brave losses”. Are we back in this situation again?

Thankfully coach Ange Postecoglou didn’t buy into this nonsense of a good performance. While proud that the team did not capitulate after such a poor start that many anticipated in such a scenario, he was far more disappointed that nothing was gained at the result. He is not in Brazil for “performance” and getting style marks. This is not figure skating. It’s a score based game and scoring is the quintessential measure of a result at such a tournament. Yes, even with the somewhat experimental and youthful team, that does not absolve the greater responsibility of achievement. After all, if you are not driving for a result at the pinnacle tournament of the sport, when will you go for it?

Australia will rue the horrible start to the game. Two goals in two minutes inside the first 12 minutes almost made the mission hopeless. Against fears of the inexperienced defence unravelling and an avalanche of goals conceded, Australia regained composure, and gradually worked back into the game. No doubt Chile also relaxed, with their objective of maximum points from this game before they face the tougher opposition of Spain and Netherlands well in reach. When Cahill scored, the pressure returned on Chile, further enabling Australia to have an impact in the game. Cahill had a goal denied after being just offside, he also had a penalty claim for a shirt pulled ignored, and Mark Bresciano had a low chance from a volley that was well saved. The shirt pull on Cahill was far worse than that seen in the game involving Brazil and Croatia that saw Brazil win a penalty. The difference? Cahill did not throw himself to the ground. You wonder why players “cheat”.

While Australia could craft a few good chances, defence proved the issue. While unlucky for the first goal that the rebound fell to Alexis Sanchez, Mile Jedinak could be pinpointed for not charging at the ball to make a clearing header. The second goal was a mess, with the defence dragged to the right side of the pitch, leaving huge gaps on the left for Jorge Valdivia to exploit and score from mid range. The final goal came from a quickly rebounded goal kick that caught the defence out of shape, especially with Australia pushing for an equalising goal. Also, just after 70 minutes, Chile broke through for a one-on-one situation that could have been curtains for Australia had it not been wrongly adjudicated as offside.

In the group’s other game, the Netherlands destroyed Spain 5-1. With the Dutch being Australia’s next opponents, there simply cannot be any defence lapses. The Dutch victory also has interesting ramifications on the group. While mathematically it makes Australia’s task to progress more difficult as now four points will almost certainly be the minimum required to qualify, it might see a somewhat relaxed and over confident Dutch team enter the game. The pressure on them to beat Australia won’t be near anything as high had they suffered a loss to Spain. Of course, Netherlands have yet to beat Australia at senior level, even if that statistic comprises of only a handful of non-serious games. Continuing that streak will be handy.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Australia vs Chile – Preview

13 June 2014

On paper, Australia’s team is rubbish and they have no hope in this World Cup. Compare to 2006 when the attack was comprised of Viduka, Kewell and Emerton, with Cahill in support out of midfield, in 2014 it’s Leckie, Vidosic and Oar, with Cahill thrown out of position to lead the line. The defence was tight in 2006 with Neill and Moore at their peak. Now it’s the unconvincing Spiranovic, with either novices Wilkinson or McGowan as his partner. Midfield has only seen a minor decline, with Jedinak and Milligan as serviceable as Grella and Culina, and probably a tad better creatively, while Bresciano is still around, albeit in a greatly reduced capacity. Australia was always a defensive liability out wide with its converted midfielders of Chipperfield and Wilkshire. Davidson and Franjic are on par, at least defensively, and that’s where it will really count in Brazil. Other than the retirement of Viduka, the squad largely remained for 2010 in South Africa, and accrued the same number of points in their three games as they did in Germany.

Since Ange Postecoglou took over as coach, Australia has shown little to suggest the heavy defeats against Brazil and France that saw Holger Osieck sacked won’t be totally avoided. While 6-0 losses are unlikely, the team has still looked vulnerable in defence against the moderate opposition it has played so far. A 1-0 home win over an under-strength Costa Rica was put into context by a 4-3 loss to Ecuador in London. The four goals all coming in the second half after Ecuador made a raft of changes, including the replacement of their experimental defence with their first team regulars. Most recent results has been the uninspiring 1-1 draw at home against South Africa (again, defence easily breached for the goal conceded) and a 1-0 loss to Croatia in Brazil.

The issue with this team will be largely psychological: are the scars of those two thrashings healed? While the old guard of Neill and Ognenovski are gone, the replacements have never hinted at being superior. Like most of the team, they’ve been picked as part of a rejuvenation philosophy, not that they’ve usurped the incumbents. The pessimistic hue over this team remains, especially that once the defence is breached, it could be a goal avalanche. The novice defence just doesn’t inspire confidence against the calibre of teams that Australia will face. Not that much is expected of them either. Ange’s big challenge will be to inspire them. Even if he masters that, then there’s the problem of goals. Cahill is a poacher more than anything. The lack of creativity and individual brilliance, the lack of a lethal edge anywhere in front of goal, and even the lack of a dedicated out and out striker in the team (Kennedy’s omission was shocking), will make scoring difficult. As much as Australia’s opponents are tough going forward, they are just as tough at stopping, and are unlikely to be troubled by the moderate opposition.

The one salvation for Australia is the group composition itself. If Spain can dominate as expected and win all three games, that makes the spot for second much more open. If Netherlands and Chile draw their match, then Australia could advance with just two draws. It would come down to the team pushing Spain the closest. Winning a match would obviously make the second phase more attainable, especially if Australia’s other two matches are narrow losses, or even a draw could be gained. Facing Spain last could be advantage if they are already qualified and potentially relaxed. Also, given the tightness of the group and the low regard of Australia, Chile (especially) and Netherlands (especially if they are belted by Spain in the first game) will have all the pressure on them. If Australia snag a goal, they could indeed surprise. It’s just a shame that these peripheral issues will be the dominant force for Australia to advance, and not sheer footballing ability. Unfortunately, that is the reality of it.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Squad Preview, Tactics and Strategy as Neill dropped

10 May 2014

The World Cup in Brazil is just 4 weeks away. In some unavoidable timing, the Socceroo Realm will be away leading into the World Cup, and will miss the preparation match on 25 May in Sydney against South Africa, and some of the build-up thereafter. Check the twitter feed on the homepage for small updates.

In place is this piece provided for a British website late last year – and now with some updates.


Lucas Neill dropped

First, the big change since the above piece was written was the retirement, either voluntarily, pre-emptively or decided for them, of several big name players, notably captain Lucas Neill. He was notified by coach Ange Postecoglou that he would not be in the World Cup squad. In the end, it was easy. With no real club form for over a year, no player can expect to be selected in that situation. With a sweeping regeneration of the team now in place, it’s almost impossible any older player will have their career extended unless there’s a really compelling reason to select them.

It’s a shame for Neill. He loved playing for Australia, and we shouldn’t begrudge any player wanting to keep playing as long as possible. While many fans wanted him out long ago, he was more a cause celebre for the broader problem of an aging and sluggish team. In truth, there were others ahead of him to go first and, more importantly, there were no younger replacements ready to step up and take his place. He still is among our best defenders even at this stage of his career. As recently as the final few World Cup qualifiers, his return as part of a settled and experienced defensive unit was integral to Australia qualifying. Ultimately, if fans don’t like that certain players are in the team, the coach should be the target of blame and criticism, not the player.

Thankfully, as often the case, bitterness has been swallowed, and the tributes flowing. Ange at least allowed him to equal the Australian record of most caps as captain with Peter Wilson at 61. Wilson captained Australia at the 1974 World Cup, while Neill had the role in 2006 and 2010. Does that make Neill Australia’s best captain ever? It’s a bit abstract and difficult to calculate. How does leadership add or diminish your general performance? Raw statistics say yes. So do raw results. He’s certainly our best defender ever, and with Craig Moore our best defensive pair. Overall, the trio of Milan Ivanovic, Mehmet Durakovic and Alex Tobin – as part of a sweeper system in the 90s – would trump them as our best ever defensive unit.

Had Neill had been playing regularly at club level, and at a decent club, he’d have been a worthy addition to the World Cup squad, at least as a squad player. At the very least, his experience would have been invaluable. At best, he’d have been a steady hand in case the youngsters did capitulate badly. Unlike Mark Schwarzer, Neill didn’t cut and run either. It was never an option to decide he won’t play for Australia. It was the highest honour and he fought it out. Isn’t that the Australian spirit we all love to see?

The other retiree was Brett Holman. He announced it a week before Neill got the call from Ange, stating he’ll concentrate on his club career in the Middle East and his young family. Unlike Neill, a much less of a concern. The rare spectacular goal never compensated for his erratic passing, running and shooting. Ange obviously told Holman that time was up, so Holman did the honourable thing like Schwarzer to “retire”, rather than be retired.


December 2013

Squad Preview, Tactics and Strategy

** Defence **

Australia’s defence, much like the rest of the team, is in a state of transition. Under a reign of two Dutch coaches including Guus Hiddinck and Pim Verbeek, and then under German Holger Osieck, Australia has deployed a back four of two central stoppers and two attacking full-backs, with those full-backs typically converted wide midfielders. The result has been defensive frailities at the highest level, such as the past two World Cups, where the team was unable to produce a clean sheet in any of its seven games. At the lower level in the Asian region, they haven’t been exposed as much and, indeed, allowed the team to escape difficult situations during World Cup qualifiers, and even during those World Cups, notably against Japan and Croatia in 2006, and Serbia in 2010.

After two 6-0 embarrassments against Brazil and France in recent friendlies, and after stuttering through the World Cup qualifiers, Osieck was replaced by the local Ange Postecoglou. His first change is to deploy specialist defenders, with attacking capabilities, in those wide postings. His one and only game so far, a 1-0 victory in a friendly against Costa Rica in Sydney, produced an accomplished defensive display without losing anything going forward. By no means a conservative coach, Postecoglou has instantly recognised that the pillars of excelling at the World Cup, especially against such group opponents of Spain, Netherlands and Chile, will be on the back of a solid defence. Australia’s next match is not until March, so with such little opportunities to experiment, Postecoglou will be staking the success of his defence on his double-championship experience as coach of Brisbane Roar in the domestic A-League.

Lucas Neill is the highest profile defender after a long career in the English Premier League with Blackburn and West Ham. Now in Japan and with an Australian record of 61 caps as captain, he’s the talismanic focus in the nation’s dispute over the team’s lack of regeneration since the last World Cup. On one hand he is older and slower, on the other there’s no one behind to push him out. With Postecoglou likely to model the remainder of defence around integrating newer players, chances are Neill will be retained for his invaluable experience to marshal the likes of Rhys Williams, Jason Davidson, Ryan McGowan, Ivan Franjic and Alex Wilkinson, all of which play in lower profile European teams, Korea and the A-League.

Goal-keeping will be in the hands of novices on the world stage after the sensational retirement of Mark Schwarzer on the even of the match against Costa Rica. With a long career in the EPL with the likes of Middlesborough and Fulham, Schwarzer moved to Chelsea in the summer as a reserve goal-keeper to potentially be part of a trophy winning squad. Perhaps pre-empting his fate of being dropped from the national team, he undertook the decision himself to go on his terms. Postecoglou has made it clear that players won’t be picked if not playing regular first team football. Schwarzer’s decision is a pity because, with two World Cups behind him, the likes of Matt Ryan (Club Brugge, Belgium) and Mitch Langerak (Borussia Dortmund) would greatly benefit from his guidance. As it stands, Ryan, who started against Costa Rica, will be favourite to assume the number one role given his excellent and consistent form for his club.

Update

With Neill gone, Curtis Good of Dundee Utd was Ange’s next pick. He played well enough against Ecuador is likely to gain a starting role in Brazil. Matthew Spiranovic of Western Sydney is likely, while Brisbane’s Ivan Franji as sewn up a position out wide. Matt Ryan has sewn up the number one goal keeper’s spot.

** Midfield **

As with the defence, new coach Ange Postecoglou will revert to playing players in their position of strength, rather than fit players into unnatural positions simply to have them on the park, as was the case under the previous two coaches of Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek. The key issue he will face is of who to leave out. Tim Cahill was the most notorious example of the old policy, often thrown forward as a striker, to allow for one of the abundance of midfield options to get a spot. That had a detrimental to both his and the team’s goal scoring power.

In Postecoglou’s one and only game so far, a friendly against Costa Rica, Cahill was used as a substitute to allow the coach a look at fringe players. More likely he’ll resume his classic and most dangerous position of a box-to-box midfielder in which he excelled at Everton in the EPL for 8 years and in which he was scoring a goal every two games for Australia, including Australia’s first ever World Cup goals, against Japan in 2006. Now at New York in the MLS, he’s come off a successful year with 12 goals from 39 games.

Robbie Kruse, at Bayern Leverkusen, is playing at the highest club level of any Australian. With his speed and skill and marauding striking ability, he’s the other key attacking component out of midfield. He’ll operate on the right, while Tom Oar from FC Utrect will offer a similar outlet on the left. Central midfield options are the aging Mark Bresciano, a stalwart of Italy’s Serie A and now in Qatar, the aforementioned Tim Cahill, and Celtic’s Tom Rogic. Rogic is seen as the future of Australian football with his skilful dribbling and deft passing. He’ll definitely gain game time, most likely as a substitute.

Recent Australian teams have played with two defensive midfielders with Mile Jedinak (captain at Crystal Palace) and Mark Milligan (captain at the A-League’s biggest club, Melbourne Victory). Both are adept at going forward, while Milligan’s outstanding defensive awareness could see him operate in front of the defensive line alone if required. Matt McKay of Brisbane Roar is adaptable to various midfield positions, and was integral in his club’s double-championship success under the helm of Postecoglou as coach. The formation and selections will depend on how much Spain and Netherlands temper Postecoglou’s attack minded tendencies. Indications so far is that he won’t be shirking the challenge.

Update

Robbie Kruse tore an anterior cruciate in his knee earlier this year and is out of the World Cup. Tom Rogic is still too raw so unlikely to get a starting birth. Massimo Luongo of Swindon Town and Oliver Bozanic are likely to gain roles now.

** Attack **

Australia’s one key striker at present is Joshua Kennedy of Nagoya Grampus. With 17 goals from 33 games, his aerial prowess has come to the fore many times, most notably in the pivotal 1-0 win over Iraq to qualify Australia for Brazil 2014. Coming on late as a substitute for Tim Cahill, Kennedy scored in the 83th minute to ease a nation’s nerves. Kennedy was part of a trend during the last three qualifiers that saw Australia score 5 of its six goals from actual strikers. Bizarre as that may sound, with Kennedy often injured and with coach of the time Holger Osieck loath to explore other options, the pattern through the qualifiers was to use one of the bevy of attacking midfielders as a striker. It didn’t work, resulting in a stodgy qualifying process.

As with the midfield and defence, new coach Ange Postecoglou is looking to play players in their positions of strength. Kennedy is back and will be integral to the team, especially with his height. It could be imagined he’ll start against Chile, and then used as an impact player against Netherlands and Spain. The recurring issue is fitting Cahill in the team with Kennedy. Historically, the team easily became too enamoured with a game of long balls and early crosses if both were present. Osieck’s solution was to drop Kennedy. In Postecoglou’s only game so far, a 1-0 win in a friendly over Costa Rica, he also kept Kennedy and Cahill apart. That could be more out of experiment to try other players, more than a guide to his future plans.

Charged with also looking for the next generation of Australian strikers, Mathew Leckie of FSV Frankfurt lead the line against Costa Rica, supported by Dario Vidosic of FC Sion, and Robbie Kruse. All performed satisfactorily. One exciting name on the horizon is Mitchell Duke from Central Coast Mariners in the A-League. He excelled at 2013 East Asia Cup and was in the recent squad to face Brazil. Tomi Juric of Western Sydney Wanderers is also another potential inclusion. Two players unlikely to be seen are veterans Harry Kewell and Archie Thompson. Kewell has long slipped off the radar and is struggling to recapture anywhere near the form he once had when marauding for Leeds in the EPL, while Thompson – the world record holder of 13 goals in an international match – simply lacks the composure at the highest international level.

Update

Kennedy is the mystery and is seemingly out of fashion as an out and out striker. He’ll certainly be going to Brazil and most likely used off the bench. Kewell retired at the end of the A-League season and Thompson is long past his best – not that his best was ever good enough at top international level. Leckie looks to have sewn up the main striker’s role, with the likes of Cahill and Vidosic in support.

** Tactics **

Australia’s coach Ange Postecoglou has vowed that he won’t be intimidated by his group opponents of Chile, Netherlands and Spain, and eagerly looks forward to the challenge to create some of the biggest upsets in World Cup football. With two stunning championships in the A-League with Brisbane Roar, and then a similar remodelling with Melbourne Victory until he was recruited by Football Australia to replace Holger Osieck – sacked in October after embarrassing 6-0 losses in friendlies to Brazil and France.

Postecoglou brought an attacking, possession based passing game to Brisbane that made full width of the pitch, the hallmark of which was an unnerving penchant of delivering results late in games, notably both Grand Final victories, and setting an Australian record of 36 undefeated club matches for any football code. At Melbourne Victory, tweaks were made to deliver a more counter-punching style. Elements of both will be seen in the national team, plus potentially a surprise or two given the acclaim generated of Postecoglou’s tactical nous.

Ostensibly the formation will be 4-2-3-1, possibly 4-1-4-1 given the status of match. The central striker can often drop a little deeper to allow the two wide attackers to penetrate the last line, essentially switching the formation to a 4-1-3-2. Speed will be the key ingredient along with support from deeper midfield. Defensive integrity will be maintained by the actual use of specialist defenders in the back four, rather than converted midfielders that saw Australia fail to keep a clean sheet in all its seven games of the previous two World Cups.

Australia’s big challenge – and essentially the one that devoured Osieck’s credibility – is adapting from being the hunter in the Asian region, to hunted at World Cup level. Asian opposition often sat back to force Australia to make the running, allowing the luxury of converted wide midfielders in full-back positions. While no doubt Postecoglou will look for periods to pressure the opposition with length possession, the reality is that a sound defence will be the cornerstone of progressing to the next phase.

Can Australia make it? Oddly, Spain in their group is a huge favour – just as long as Spain defeats all the teams. That clears the race for second sport, whereby one win could see a team progress. If all other matches are draws, then just two points is enough, with the team with narrowest loss to Spain the team to finish second. That scenario is rare, so given that Spain does dominate the group, Australia will hope to snag one win and a draw. If Chile vs Netherlands is a draw, then the one win will be enough.

The key will be not to lose to Chile, then back it up with a good result against Holland. Failing that, the last match against a potentially already qualified Spain, Australia will have nothing to lose.

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Calamitous end to a promising start as Ecuador roll Australia

06 March 2014

London, Australia 3 – Ecuador 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments – Ange Postecoglou

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

Match report courtesy of ffa.com.au

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 February 2014

Out: Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano, Brett Holman

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

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

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

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

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

Comments – Ange Postecoglou

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

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

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

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

Challenge and excitement as Australia draw Spain, Netherlands and Chile

07 December 2013

Group of death, group of dread or, possibly the most accurate as it initially suggested, group of suicide. Aren’t we forgetting one thing? Australians aren’t supposed to lay down in a fight. Considering yourself in a group of death is self-defeatist. To think, given Australia’s lowly position at the moment, that many suggestions were that any group would be a group of death, it’s even more self-defeatist. While there’s no reason to go with an arrogant and bullying attitude that appears in many areas of the Australian sporting psyche, our true psyche of a confidence in ability and respect of our own opponents, will only serve our nation well next year.

Group B of Spain, Netherlands and Chile will provide Australia both a challenging and an exciting time. When Australia was drawn with Spain, I gave a fist-pump. When it came to the final pot, that of the Europeans, when the Dutch emerged, it drew a wry smile. This is not a daunting moment; it tickled our intrinsic sporting values. The challenge is on. Bring it!

As I wanted new teams, I was pumped that Croatia came out first from that pot to go in Group A. Earlier, I was dreading Australia entering Group G with opponents of 2010, Germany and Ghana. Australia’s group filled nicely. If there’s a switch I could make given the choice, it would into Group D with Uruguay, England and Italy. That’s the quintessential group of rivals. Costa Rica took the spot there.

Coach Ange Postecoglou echoed the mood well, impishly rebuffing the lead question from the media about a tough draw with “No, no, it’s great” (they laughed). He’s excited, and loving the challenge. Who wouldn’t? Probably Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek. You could imagine, especially from Verbeek, a defeatist shroud of body language coming from him. Osieck, just may not been as effusive as Ange. In fact, Ange must be pinching himself. Only a few weeks ago he’s coaching A-League; now he’s in Brazil at the World Cup Draw and preparing to lead his country into the biggest battle arena in the world on arguably the home of football. The fact he remains so composed and professional, it’s the hallmark of the man.

Being placed in slot 4 of the group, suits Australia well. Chile is the first game and if Ange has any tricks up his sleeve, that’s the match to try them and snare a win. Australia has a decent recent record against Holland, with a win and two draws, even if those were friendlies. A 2-1 in Holland and 0-0 in Australia under Verbeek, a draw under Guus Hiddinck just before the 2006 World Cup. Not to forget qualifying for the 1992 Olympics ahead of Holland. Holland are not the team of superstars like Spain or Brazil are. There are ways to exploit such teams, and a draw is certainly not beyond Australia. The final game, it may not matter for Spain, or even for Australia. Who knows?

If Australia can make the knockout phase, the cross-over group is Group A… of Brazil. Wow. Survive that and the quarter final is an opponent from Group C or D.

Schedule

Saturday 14 June – 0800 AET | Chile v Australia | Arena da Baixada – Curitiba

Thursday 19 June – 0200 AET | Australia v Netherlands | Estadio Beira-Rio – Porto Alegre

Tuesday 24 June – 0200 AET | Australia v Spain | Arena Pantanal – Cuiaba

Groups

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

It would be remiss not to slam FIFA for their unwieldy and unnecessarily complicated draw. The pot of 9 that facilitated an “X” pot for the extra European team, the pot system itself that arbitrarily segregates cross-regional teams from playing each other (for instance Asia mixed with CONCACAF means those two regions can’t play each other), plus the absurd use of FIFA’s flawed rankings system to decide seeds. Spain and Netherlands were the 2010 World Cup finalists and now face each other in a group stage? Fine if that’s the result of a true random draw. Bad if it’s a result of fiddling and coercion as it proved. FIFA obviously want some unpredictability in the group stage, whether that be some big name clashes, or even the chance of moderate teams progressing as more likely to happen in a group with a weak seed. Be transparent about it instead of making even bigger fools of yourselves and a mockery of the process. The solution is a single pot system, as detailed in the preview.

From the other groups, Brazil faces an interesting opposition in Group A. Croatia could conceivably hold them, while Mexico can’t be as bad as their fourth-placed qualifying suggests, and Cameroon are unpredictable. Then there’s the pressure of being home nation. No win against Croatia and it could be interesting.

Group C, with Greece and the enigmatic Colombians, would have been nice for Australia. Japan are good enough to progress from there. It’s one of the more even groups thanks to a weak top seed.

Group D is the truly luscious group for Australia, and they definitely would have a chance for progression. Just playing England would be enough for most Australians. To beat them, especially to deny them progression, would make the nation delirious and stoke the rivalry for eons. Remember, Uruguay qualified as fifth best South American, essentially making them sixth best with Brazil automatically qualified as hosts. It’s not difficult to hold Italy to a 0-0. It’s in their DNA. Ask New Zealand in 2010.

The chance of a weak Group E didn’t quite happen as France – one of the stronger Europeans – slotted in. Ecuador are flighty while Honduras – as have all teams outside Mexico and USA from CONCACAF – have done little on the world stage.

Iran has it interesting in Group F. That’s definitely a group in which Australia could have challenged. With Argentina likely to dominate, a team could qualify in second with one win – the team that loses least heavily to Argentina.

Group G is probably the most predictable, with Germany and Portugal the likely top two.

The dogdy seeding produced the most even group, with Group H. If Belgium’s high ranking is validated, they should sail through. They are an intriguing team and will be interesting to watch after 12 years out of the tournament. For Korea, all the opponents seem manageable.

Quotes – coach Ange Postecoglou

“No, no, it’s great. It’s a World Cup, and we’re playing against the best nations in the world, and our group will be really exciting. It’s a massive challenge, and I look forward to it. It’s going to be great.

“We’re going to see some good football in our group, that’s for sure. There’s some great footballing nations and our job is to play our part. It’s an enormous challenge for us but for a nation like ours that’s exactly what we want. We’ve got a chance to make some headlines when the World Cup comes around.

“We know what Spain are like and the Dutch have always played good football and in this qualifying campaign Chile have been outstanding. So there’s going to be some real footballing challenges ahead of us. We want to keep growing and keep getting better and that’s our measures.

“There wouldn’t be one of our players who wouldn’t be looking forward to this immensely. To play the world’s best teams that’s why you go to a World Cup. Everyone will be writing us off in this group, which is I think is logical. From our perspective we’ve some great opportunities to show the world we can play some good football against the best nations in the world. Our group looks the most difficult group but I hope it’s the group that plays the best football and we’ll play our part in that.”

Quotes – Players

Tim Cahill: SPAIN, HOLLAND AND CHILE. What an amazing group to be in. This is the beauty of WORLD CUPS

Mile Jedinak: It’s one of the toughest groups you could think of and we have been dealt a pretty tough hand. These sorts of challenges are really another level and it’s something as a player you relish and embrace.

Matthew Ryan: Spain chile and holland. Excited that we’ll get to test ourselves against some of the best players in the world!

Tom Oar: Spain Netherlands and Chile! What a group!

Jason Davidson: As a footballer you want to challenge yourself against the worlds best

Quotes – Netherland’s coach Louis van Gaal

“We have to play the world champion, we have to play Australia who we have never beaten and Chile was 3-0 up recently against Colombia before it ended 3-3, so that is not a weak team. The opponents are tough, but for the playing conditions it is not too bad.” But Van Gaal noted that if the Netherlands progress from the group stage they will have to play one of the teams from the group headed by host nation Brazil. That is a tough group and you travel north and the playing conditions get worse.”

Quotes – Chile’s coach Jorge Sampaoli

“It’s such a difficult group. We’ll try to be as competitive as possible to give us a chance to reach the knockout stages. In the career of a coach, you know this is the path that you may have to take. So we have to prepare well. After getting out of the war of the group stage, you don’t move on to an easier fate with having to face winners of Group A.”

More: 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

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