If you missed the action, then have a squiz – our write up of the final Socceroo hit out before their campaign begins in earnest against Germany.
After 120 minutes of watching the bare, dead grass hill at the training facility in Johannesburg, we’re just about exploding with anticipation and exuberance for next Sunday night. Against the Yanks, Australia faced a stern test. As previously noted on FFTD, American are decidedly similar to the Aussies in their style and set up. So, it was pleasing to see the Socceroos dominate possession for long periods. Lucas Neill and his mates were solid, if unspectacular, and seem to be improving slightly with each outing. After a dull opening 20 minutes, the game came to life, with fluent attacking moves by both sides. It wasn’t the usual style for Australia – boring definitely not a valid tag this time round. Expansive would be more apt.
But after just about every optimist in the football world, including yours truly, waxed lyrical that Verbeek’s results only business is perfectly acceptable, the Aussie’s first loss in 9 months, isn’t an ideal preparation for the World Cup finals.
Pim Verbeek – 8
It looks as if Verbeek has settle on his preferred starting eleven. His back 4 may as well be carved into Table Mountain, but they’re still a few question marks over fitness of key players and their likely replacements. In the past, Pim has been wary of throwing players straight into the side following lengthy lay offs, and ordinarily automatic selections, Kewell and Emerton, must be pushing hard to make the gaffer buck this trend. Garcia is apparently the most likely replacement for Emerton, with the other possibility apparently being to move Culina right and forward, and give the impressive Valeri a spot next to Grella in front of the back 4.
Enough with the speculation…
It’s difficult to judge tactics based on friendlies, but trailing at half time afforded the world a chance to see the Socceroos reaction. In the 2nd period, the green and gold looked lively going forward and there was a noticeable shift in emphasis towards attack. No more dull piggy in the middle featuring Moore, Neill and the opposition’s front man. Rather, Rukavytsa added a cap to his tally and Chipperfield, most particularly, was given free reign to play further forward. For the last 30 minutes, the Aussies played with two strikers up front (which looked promising) and a back 3. Chipperfield popped up in the attacking box regularly and demanded a fine save from Hanneman to deny him a meat pie. Pim showed that Australia have a plan B. Plan A is clearly a possession game, with plenty of crosses from overlapping wing backs, and a high defensive line that compacts the players into almost half the pitch. This almost eliminates the midfield from the game, which is certainly Australia’s weak point.
The best quality that Verbeek possesses is, undoubtedly, his ability with the media. Always a willing participant, he seems to have years for the press. He’s never one to cut an interview short, or shy away from the tough questions. He gives honest and fair answers. He’s not one to shy away from a little controversy, having already opened fire on everyone from Gordon Strachan to the training pitch. It’s so refreshing to see a polite Dutch man being interviewed on channel 513, especially when compared to the AFL and NRL roughians who are almost illiterate. Verbeek seems to understand that the media need a story, and often it’s better to give them something to work with, then have them chasing players for scraps.
Mark Schwarzer – 7
Not Schwarzer’s best outing, but kept his side in the match on more than one occasion. HIs reflex save early in the 2nd half was vintage Schwarzer, and his fingertip save to deny teammate Dempsey ensured he retains the bragging rights until next time. The shot stopper is denied a better number, as in PTS’ opinion he should have done better in handling the opening goal, which on replays didn’t hit the top corner, but was closer to the centre.
Luke Wilkshere – 7
Wilkshere wasn’t as dominant as he was against the Danes, but his crosses are still world class. It’s difficult to point the finger at one defender for conceding the most goals in a match in forever.
Lucas Neill – 6
Neill was undone by the relatively unknown forward pairing for the Yanks. He was beaten for pace on more than one occasion and seems to shout at the referees or his assistants more than himself. Neill’s characteristic marauding runs into the attacking half weren’t evident either. It seems that Neill will be a fulcrum for the Socceroos – he was often the one to snap and play the long ball from his own half. Got plenty of practice passing to Craig Moore too.
Craig Moore – 5
Moore is still unconvincing, and it’s difficult to judge his credentials against the likely candidates as no one else gets the slightest whiff. I personally don’t mind this – it fills the lad with confidence and gives him plenty of time to build a partnership with Lucas. Moore looks slow and poor on the ball. The injury to Kisnorbo all that time ago could prove costly in the long run.
Scott Chipperfield – 8
In the first half, Chipperfield looked more Monash division 7, than outstanding World Cup prospect as he was labelled by PTS. But as the match developed, Scotty provided plenty of quality service and a genuine attacking threat on the left flank. Simon Hill and Andy Harper confirmed the sugar man’s assertions that Chipperfield is a handy striking option, and it could be a handy option if the Socceroos fall a goal or two behind. Chipperfield gives the Aussies a classy left back, who will be a key man over the coming weeks.
Vince Grella – 4
Oh Vincenzo. Grella just about couldn’t have done anything more to risk his starting position in the side. His crucial error led to the opening goal. He gave away cheap possession consistently and another game saw yet another cynical challenge from the Blackburn contracted midfielder. Grella is always looking for the easy option; playing the ball sideways and backwards seem to be the 1st choice every time. No matter if the counter is on… just stand on the ball and look for Neill or Moore behind him. This lack of confidence is becoming a worrying feature of the Socceroo’s play, and Grella is the number 1 culprit. He looks to have a heavy touch, and lacks a yard of pace – if he fails against Germany, Valeri will could be a starter.
Jason Culina – 5
Was dragged on the hour mark after a largely anonymous display. Doesn’t offer the same robust defending as Grella and doesn’t have the pinpoint range of Valeri, so could find his position under fire if Kewell and Emerton are fit. Once again he was pushed wide and further afield by his manager, but was soon replaced by Vidosic. Despite PTS’ doubts, Culina showed he still has the “long range strike” arrow to his bow. Uninspiring.
Mark Bresciano – 7
Bresciano lifted markedly with his all round effort, if at times his execution was lacking. The baldy came under fire by yourcorrespondent2010 after their showdown with Denmark, but hit back with a big effort. He was constantly harrying the opposition, and the only player consistently “closing the space”. He offered enough pushing forward with some decent service and runs off the ball. He popped up in the box in the second half and blasted straight at the keeper.
Richard Garcia – 5
Another disappointing display from the Hull boy, who presents so much to the judging table, but seems to lack any real taste or finesse. Unfortunately, he is another player described as anonymous at best. David Beckham was present in the stands to witness Garcia amass a grand total of 7 touches. He did little to enhance his starting chances and will hopefully make way for a fit and rearing Brett Emerton.
Tim Cahill – 7
Cahill was quiet during his limited game time and didn’t return after the break; apparently nursing a worrying neck complaint. In typical Cahill fashion, he produced a smashing finish to keep Australia within striking distance. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to find enough of the ball in the Australian set up and hasn’t passed to Kennedy once yet. Worrying indeed.
Josh Kennedy – 6
Kennedy is still a legitimate concern. He causes his fair share of problems for the opposition, but hasn’t scored for a steadily growing period. He missed at least one guilt edged chance last night with his noggin and another big chance at his feet. Clinical is unfortunately not the word. To be honest, Kennedy looks lazy, disinterested and out of depth. Constantly with back to goal, and giving away possession on countless occasions, when the bean pole isn’t ruthless with his head, it is difficult to justify his spot in the team. A returning Kewell has started the inevitable grumblings from supporters to start Australia’s golden boy at the top of the formation. By contrast, Harry seems to attract the ball and action at all times, and is always genuinely exerting himself for the cause. The talismanic figure has been sorely missed, and his impact on the side has been underestimated by many. Personally, I’d still give Kennedy the starting spot, and play Kewell as a genuine number 10 from the bench after we trail by a goal at half time against the Germans. (3 – 1 is the tip… same as last time against Japan… Cahill twice, same as last time…)
Off the bench, Valieri pushed his claim for a starting berth, fulfilling the pivot role with consummate ease. One particularly accurate diagonal ball caught the affection of Simon Hill, but his efficiency has long impressed FFTD. Robust in the middle of the field, he is doing his chances no harm. Vidosic had limited chances, but still embarked on at least one of his characteristically long winded runs. Rukavysta was afforded minimal time on the pitch, but had one shot on target and could be a valuable asset when goals are at a premium.
In attack Australia showed plenty of the “attacking fluidity” Pim Verbeek would have been searching for. The Socceroos were patient in their build up (often painstakingly so) and dangerous every time the ball was swung towards Jesus up front. It is particularly heartening to report, with conviction, that the Socceroos always seem a chance to score when the cross comes in. (Particularly true from the right sided Wilkshire) The other dominant positive was the fitness that seemed to shine once more. At the back end of both halves the boys looked the stronger – true of their last 2 outings as well. At altitude this could be an enormous factor. There were plenty of negatives however. Against a quality opposition forward line, the Aussies leaked plenty of chances. Despite the American’s star striker “Altidore” looking decidedly bored on the sideline, replacements Buddle and Findley caused plenty of problems. They beat the offside trap, scored off a cross and found the backline achingly slow. With comparison to the US, Australia looked lethargic and disjointed up front for the first 70 minutes. Under Hiddink a prominent feature was a defence that started from the strikers. Supremely fit, the Aussies afforded their opposition minimal time on the ball over the 90 minutes. I kinda miss Guus shouting for his players to pressure, pressure, pressure.
Overall, a high-quality match that was played at roughly a 87% intensity. With a final week to prepare, the Aussies will look to apply the finishing touches to a developing machine. England here we come…