James Farrell has very kindly asked me to post my thoughts on the Australia vs Germany World Cup Finals tie to be played tomorrow morning.
So far, for me, the tournament has got off to a relatively entertaining start. The opening game between South Africa and Mexico was a promising beginning: a fast, skillful and open match. Argentina vs Nigeria was similar with the bonus of Messi in sparkling form (and of course some lovely sideline flicks from the incomparable Diego).
First things first though. FIFA has done it again with the ball! Players aren’t confident in hitting it. It flies too long and doesn’t curl. It seems to me that they are concentrating on keeping it low to avoid it skying away. I’ve felt it in a shop. It’s light and is covered with a rough skin, perhaps to help players bend it? This is just ridiculous. If FIFA wants a new ball, they should just tell Adidas to produce the Champions League ball and name it and wrap it however it likes!
Secondly, the stadia look terrific, especially the one for the opening game.
On to Australia. We are in a tough group with three teams of contrasting styles. Germany plays a similar game to us: very tight, with attacking tending to flow down the wings. Serbia’s has a very cerebral and technical style that can really hurt us. And I would imagine that Ghana’s game will be very similar to the way South Africa and Nigeria play:physical and fast but skillful with attacks coming quickly and from all directions.
Before our qualifiers, I said that we could be good for a point against Germany. They didn’t impress in the qualifiers and provided we could defend well, and closed them down in midfield, our two styles would nullify each other.
But we haven’t played well in our friendlies. I know that they are only that, and we have had some star players injured, but what you want to see is a team that has cohered. And we haven’t.
You only have to compare us now to our side under Guus just before the previous Finals. He had definitely, and very quickly, blended a tight unit. The team pretty much picked itself and had been playing together successfully for a while.
And a good soccer team is not best described as a machine, but as an organism whose functioning is dependent on an almost unconscious continual feedback loop among its vital components, the players. This understanding takes talent and time to fashion, and a coach’s primary role is to try to create this out of his squad. (This is how the Golden Team of Hungary was fashioned and what Guus did with South Korea in 2002.)
This takes us to Pim. And it is this cohesion that he has failed to achieve as evidenced in our generally unconvincing qualifiers in the World and Asia Cups.
He seems more an auditor, than a coach, ticking boxes on some pro forma checklist from a coaching manual. He certainly lacks the fire and gusto of Guus (remember Guus on the sidelines defending his team in the match against Japan). Pim seems to take little joy from his role in a match, with the same dour expression even after a good passage of play. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him kick or juggle a ball, and all soccer players, no matter how old or in what role, love the ball (q.v. Diego again).
To wrap up, I think Australia will put up a brave fight. We are mentally tough and I wouldn’t overrate the Germans. But the following is a list of the issues that we may have.
1. Neill and Moore don’t seem to be working correctly together at the moment. We need to fix these holes in the middle of our defence.
2. Our midfield needs to be reshaped. Grella is not a central playmaker, a la Pirlo or Xavi. That is what you want there and Grella doesn’t have the vision. The only other option I can see that we have is to play Cullina there. Grella is better slotted into one of the other midfield roles.
3. Our play is too stereotyped with lots of meaningless square passes in the midfield, and we don’t play vertically enough and attack quicker and more incisively.
4. We miss Viduka to hold the ball, dribble and create scoring chances in attack.
5. We need Cahill and Bresciano to be more involved and creative.
Here’s hoping that Australia can start with a win. In soccer, everyone loves to beat Germany!