Rating the Socceroos’ Chances in Germany

   

John Aloisi after slotting the penalty that got Australia past Uruguay and into the World Cup

It may  not seem  that long ago that John Aloisi planted that penalty in the top-right corner of the net to send the Socceroos through to their first World Cup finals in thirty-two years. And it has been a long-time coming for Australian soccer fans who have witnessed a succession of qualification  farces, which whether due to FIFA  polito-kicking, maladministration or sheer rotten luck have seen World Cup campaigns  synonymous with a repetition of narrow, agonising defeats.  

This agony  of fate can be  encapsulated in one dramatic match, the Australian-Iran qualifier at the MCG, which in a matter of minutes saw the atmosphere of premature celebration dissipate as Iran, outplayed for the majority of the game,  nicked two quick goals to steal through to Paris.

From that moment onwards it almost seemed part of some form of  cosmic pre-destination that the Australia team would never partake in the biggest individual sporting competition in the world.

Yet, after more signs of hope, followed by more disappointment this finally changed. This would all change with the arrival of the phlegmatic Dutchman Guus Hiddink who answered the new football association’s emergency call  to  revitalise an ailing team that had been soundly trounced at the Confederations Cup. For arriving in the managerial hot-seat  with little preparation time  before the pivotal playoff with the fifth-placed South American team, there was an abundance of pessimism about  the prospects of  defeating a  Uruguayan team that had overcome  both Brazil and Argentina in earlier  qualifiers. However, after two engrossing legs the Socceroos did just enough to send the Uruguayans packing in a delightful act of revenge.

So can the man affectionately known across the country as GOOS emulate his previous success with the Dutch and South Korean teams and send the Socceroos through the later stages of the finals, or will the trip to Germany be short-lived as the world cup novices come a cropper to more experienced opposition? Well despite media reports to the contrary Australia should have every opportunity to progress beyond the first rounds, the group draw we received is reasonably favourable to us (we avoided the group of death that included Argentina, Holland, Ivory Coast and Serbia and Montenegro). And while we share a group with the defending champions Brazil, we are more than capable of competing with both Japan and Croatia.

The Socceroo Line-Up

Having watched the last half a dozen games, the Socceroo line-up going to Germany should be the strongest we have committed to a competitive event. And what a contrast today’s  national squad  makes with its  European-based professionals to the local part-timers that took to the national stage at 1974. I have to say that Australian soccer has definitely evolved in quality, despite years of perceived public apathy, endless internecine squabbles and poor infrastructural support.  It has to be a sign of progress that no longer can the national team be characterised as “pluggers” in  adopting the long-ball tactics favoured by struggling lower division teams. We might be some way off the precision of Holland, the individual skill of Brazil and the durability of the Italians but the ugly predictability of days gone are mostly behind us.

For the gradual improvement is evident in the amount of players that have established themselves at some of the elite teams of Europe. And  what in particular that  has really impressed me over the last five-years has been the improvement in midfield, which for too long had lacked the creative spark to threaten the world’s top defences. This has all changed with the arrival of goal-scoring midfielders Marco Bresciano, Tim Cahill and of course prodigal son, Harry Kewell whose return from injury was a significant factor in trumping the South American opposition. And it would be remiss to neglect the man sitting  in the holding role  Vinnie Grella who often performs the role of unsung hero through his patient positional sense and ball-winning prowess. And when you can add the likes of Josip Skoko, Jason Culina it shows there is plenty of depth to add to the midfield mix.

Up-front which had  also for some time been a bugbear for the Socceroos, a lack of goals costing the team so much in its 1998 and 2002 qualificatoion efforts also looks back on the improve. For  with Mark Viduka back from injury and  returning to  scoring form at Middleborough and John Aloisi impressive in recent national outings, there is much more to be hopeful in this area. And with an improved supply from midfield inspired by a more confident attacking outlook encouraged by Hiddink, this team finally has the potential to breach the defence of some of the stronger teams.

However, it is at the back where this team could again be exposed. Unfortunately as many past outings attest the Australian backline has proven all too vulnerable, having for some years lacked pace, been prone to brain-explosions and lacked the fluidity to connect with the players further up the field. Fortunately the defence has had a little bit of luck with the return to match-fitness of Craig Moore (after being in the doghouse at Borussia Monchengladbach and Newcastle earlier in the season) whose experience and poise should buttress the back three. Add to this the good news that Tony Popovic is back playing regular football at Crystal Palace and combine these two veterans with one of the Premiership’s most underrated (and yellow-carded) players Lucas Neill and  the Socceroo defence has a much firmer footing at the back than on many previous expeditions.

That just leaves the wing-backs, which are something of a contested decision. For game one I’ve given incumbent left-wing back Scott Chipperfield the nod over Stan Lazaridis whose injury ravaged season at under-performing Birmingham has not helped. While I’m making a guess following watching Guus Hiddink’s decision to deploy Jason Culina at right-back for PSV that the versatile midfielder might be shifted to replace the often over-extravagant Brett Emerton on the right who has lacked consistency at Blackburn for some. That just leaves the custodian of the goals with Mark Schwartzer (assuming a full recovery from a fractured cheekbone) will hopefully continue his fine penalty-saving record in international competition.

So the Australian team should look something like this:

Viduka Kewell Bresciano Cahill Grella Chipperfield Culina Popovic Moore Neill Schwartzer Subs: Kalac, Bolton, Lazaridis, Kisnorbo, Vidmar, Beauchamp, Emerton, Skoko, Milicevic, Thompson, Aloisi, Brosque

Coming Soon: Rating the Opposition (Japan, Brazil and Croatia)

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14 Responses to Rating the Socceroos’ Chances in Germany

  1. Ken Parish says:

    I’ve been wondering where we’d get a soccer correspondent to complete Troppo’s coverage of football codes, and here we had one on the team all along.

    It’s great news, esepcially as you say with the World Cup imminent.

    However, if you could avoid inserting *font* tags in your text that would be really good. I just spent 20 minutes going through and stripping them all out. The site works by stylesheets which dictate the font and size, and it creates an untidy appearance to insert ordinary html tags in the text bodyIf you prefer to avoid actually writing your post in the WordPress WYSIWYG window, you’d be best to write it in plain text in Wordpad or something, and then just use WordPress to complete your formatting.

    Anyway, welcome back to Troppo posting. Now, if only Geoff Honnor and Wendy could see their ways clear to posting occasionally, we’d be right back to vintage Troppo days again (well, better really, because we’ve got Nicholas).

  2. Bring Back Rudi Gute says:

    Was there a better feeling that watching Aloisi slot home that penalty. Unfortunately we played all over the Uruguayans that night but didn’t put the goal in the net.
    peope who were there tell me you couldn’t leave until 5am!

    no Culina’s workrate is needed in the midfield and you can’t have too many attacking mid-fielders. leave Emmo at right back.
    Lucas and Moorey should be a good and pacy back two.

    I would like to think Erlich and his pace has a place on the bench.

    both Poppa and Skoko are too slow.

  3. Bring Back Cruyff says:

    That was Bring Back Rudi Gutendorf, Brian Green, Jimmy Shoulder.

    Haven’t we had some great coaches

  4. Scott Wickstein says:

    Craig Moore has been injured nearly the whole time at Newcastle United, but finally found fitness at just the right time. He was one of the best afield last weekend, and actually made the Geordie defence look sound for the first time since Woodgate was fit.

    Schwartzer has been in sensational form, as has Kewell.I think we can hope for second spot in the group. Sucks that we’ve not been able to keep Goos though :(

  5. david tiley says:

    We want Wendy.
    We want Geoff.

  6. Stephen Hill says:

    Scott – I agree, I just watched the game with Birmingham and Moore made some vital interceptions and contained Heskey pretty well, which with such a combative striker is no easy feat. It’s good to see him getting an extended run and Roeder sticking with him after the absolutely shocking start he had on debut where he conceded a penalty and booted the ball into Lee Bowyer for an own goal (and as Kieron Dyer can attest the last person you’d want to boot the ball into is Bowyer.) Don’t know what happened to Moore in Germany, I think he was getting a run until Dick Advocaat got sacked. Still when on his game one of our key players.

    BB Punster – You could be right about the midfield being a little stacked with AMs, almost went with Cahill as an impact-bench player and sticking Culina on the right. Don’t know what has happened to Emerton, he was superb about two, three years ago.

    I haven’t seen Elrich play for a while, but if he is getting good reports from Lyn Oslo in Norway, you are right he should be one for the bench. Ahmad used to be a killer on the right flank at the Parramatta Power, unfortunately at Fulham he is stuck behind Steed Malbranque.

    I’d still go with three centre-backs for safety’s sake and what Popo lacks in pace he makes up for in courage. I thought he was excellent in the first-leg against Uruguay when he played a full ninety despite having struggled to get a match at Palace for some months. It’s also a darn shame Thwaite is in a contract dispute with his team in Romania otherwise he’d be in contention for one of the three spots in central defence.

    I used to be of the same opinion about Skoko, but he was one of the few Socceroos that put his hand in the last Confederations Cup debacle. Solid if unspectacular.

  7. Stephen Hill says:

    That should hav read about Skoko: “was one of the few Socceroos to put his hand up in the last Conderations Cup”

  8. Amanda says:

    Excellent to see football at Troppo (or anywhere). I agree we can definately make it past the first round and the competitiveness of Croatia and Japan is a good thing. If we can’t get enough pts out of those games to finish second, we don’t deserve to be in the 16 so thats OK.

    I enjoyed the Guus feature in the Good Weekend on Sat.

  9. Bring Back Noddy says:

    to my mind Guus ( pronounced Hoos) is not needed now. I agree with Fozzie. The match against Bahrain ( previously fifth best Asian team) shows we don’t need a coach in the highest group to get to the world Cup now.
    Remembering they were a 2nd cum 3rd best team.

    I would blood Beachamp for the defence. He has the goods.

    with guus having more time with the squad I believe we will go further than the second round.

    Injuries mean our key men will come in fresh.
    This is very important.

    Oley Oley Oley Oley Oley

  10. I don’t think Australia has been handed any favours by the draw. We were of course always going to cop a high-ranked seeded team but we didn’t necessarily have to cop Brazil; we also got two other decent treams in Croatia and Japan as well. So to get through to the knockout stage, we’ll need to play very well. But that’s as it should be, I suppose.

    We could have gotten lucky and landed in group H with Spain, Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia (instead of Tunisia), or Group G with France, Switzerland, and South Korea (instead of Togo), in which we would have been the second ranked team according to the much more useful ELO football rankings (the FIFA ones have some very notable anomalies, Australia’s lowly ranking and the United States’s ridiculously high ranking amongst the most obvious).

    Looking ahead, the Asian championships are going to be very exciting; Iran, Turkey, and Japan should be very tough but beatable opponents for the title.

  11. James Farrell says:

    A great survey, Stepehen. Looking forward to the next installment.

  12. Scott Wickstein says:

    Group H is ‘lucky’? I hate that definition of luck. Avoiding Shevchenko is fine by me.

  13. James Farrell says:

    “Coming Soon: Rating the Opposition (Japan, Brazil and Croatia)”

    You have four hours to come good on this promise, Stephen. What about a prediction, at least, for Game 1? It might loosen the knot in my stomach.

  14. Stephen Hill says:

    My internet has been down for a couple of days. It is now posted however, I’ll go back and proof-read it after dinner.

    regards,
    SH

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