Sunday, 27 June 2010

Australia - the wash-up

In the end, it was as I predicted. Not that I'm wanting to gloat, and I wished it had all ended differently. But Australia's failure to progress from the group stage was always going to be the most likely outcome.

Pundits and Aussie coach Pim Verbeek pointed to our 4-0 drubbing by Germany as the reason for failure. Not sure I agree. After that game we knew wins against Ghana and Serbia would get us through. We didn't achieve that - and didn't get through.

We weren't helped along in our quest by being down to 10 men in two games. Tim Cahill's red card in the second half against Germany was probably harsh, although his tackle was reckless and naive. Harry Kewell's first half red card v Ghana, despite the hysteria in Australia, was merited. It capped a thoroughly miserable campaign for Australia's pin-up boy (well, Channel 9's at least). But we did have chances to put Ghana away, even though we were disadvantaged numerically. Wilkshire, Kennedy and Chipperfield would have wished for calmer heads and a more adroit touch when faced with gilt-edged chances.

Our strike force always looked under-strength. Verbeek chose only three strikers in his squad - Kennedy, Rukavytsya and Kewell - didn't select any to start against Germany or Ghana, and none of them scored in the three group games. Richard Garcia was bizarrely given a forward assignment in the Germany debacle.

In midfield, it was a very mixed bag. Grella totally down on form, then fitness. Bresciano struggled to impress, a victim of an injury-interrupted few months. Culina went missing for long periods. Cahill only showed against Serbia what he was capable of. Valeri certainly wasn't the worst of this bunch. Emerton did quite well given his long absence leading to the finals. The best, incredibly, was the much-maligned Brett Holman. He was sparky in each of his appearances, and scored a wonderful goal against Serbia. In hindsight, Pim should have given him more minutes.

The concerns in the middle of defence, amplified in the warm-up games, were there for all to see against Germany. Moore, exposed in that fixture, lifted for the Ghana game, which will be his last in the green and gold. Lucas Neill didn't have a great tournament, as player or captain. Beauchamp was an adequate replacement for Moore against Serbia.

Luke Wilkshire contributed throughout, albeit out of his depth on occasion. Chipperfield was poor against Germany, but came back well in his Socceroo swansong. Carney battled gamely.

Pim Verbeek lost his nerve before the Germany game, upsetting team balance with a bizarre line-up bereft of attacking intent. Although pundits such as Craig Foster were totally unforgiving in their damning of Verbeek, the Aussie boss got his tactics more or less right in the last two games. His legacy for Australian football however will be rather anonymous.

Australia now faces a challenging road for 2014 qualification, with the 2006 generation probably all gone by then. Moore and Chipperfield have retired, and Emerton, Kewell, Bresciano, Neill and Grella unlikely to go beyond next year's Asian Cup finals. Culina, Cahill and Schwarzer may last a little longer. Wilkshire, Valeri and Holman may form the basis of the next challenge.

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