What the Socceroos have to do before the World Cup
Remember the good old days of Australian soccer, when a 0-0 draw to the Dutch would spark jubilation in the crowd, shirt swapping on the pitch and a victory speech from the coach?
I can almost picture old Eddie Thompson saying how delighted he was with the result, and what a privilege it was for his boys to mix it with some of Europe’s finest. Eddie, a wonderful servant of the game and one sadly missed, would be delighted with 1-0 losses, such was our standing in the game and the lack of really meaningful matches.
How times have changed. Saturday night’s draw was dire. We should have been beaten comfortably. It exposed a host of deficiencies. And thanks to the game’s new-found maturity in this country, people are not afraid to admit it.
So where do we go from here? I’ve saved Pim Verbeek the trouble and come up with my five-point plan that will make the yellow rabble a green a gold goliath in South Africa next year.
1. Don’t sack Pim.
There are a lot of influential people in the game who are sick of the Dutchman’s dour style, both in the way he has the team playing and how he goes about his business generally. But, in the fair dinkum stakes, you don’t sack a coach who ensured World Cup qualification at the earliest opportunity, and has the unqualified support of the competing egos who make up his team.
No one could accuse Aussie Pim of not putting in. He looked like death warmed up when he picked up a stomach bug in a recent Asian Cup qualifier (he’s not much of a looker at the best of times). But Pim soldiered on, and it’s hard to imagine anyone working harder in the Socceroos cause. But that’s not to say Pim doesn’t need to change.
2. Forget about Guus.
It is Verbeek’s misfortune to follow Guus Hiddink. And Pim is also lumbered wih the expectations of “the Dutch method” that Aussie soccer has so fanatically embraced. Fans want Johan Cruyff-style Total Football. Not the stodge produced on Saturday night.
But while Guus had his team playing an attractive, expansive game at times, he also found it hard to score goals. Just one in 180 minutes against Uruguay, and none against Italy or Brazil.
And Pim was also incredibly lucky. Everyone remembers the Socceroos scoring three goals in the last 10 minutes against Japan, but conveniently forget Tim Cahill’s foul in the Japanese box after he had levelled the scores. How different history would have been if the referee had awarded a penalty, as the official match review concluded was the correct decision.
3. Embrace Aussie sporting culture.
Australian teams play to win at all times, and don’t accept defeat until the whistle is blown. Occasionally, we don’t accept defeat even then.
This is not jingoism. It is fact. If you could bottle the essence of Australian sport, every team in the world would want it.
My favourite moment of the 2006 World Cup was not Harry’s goal against Croatia. It was when Vince Grella ran his studs down Ronaldo’s shin. It may have been an act of thuggery, but he got away with it. And it spoke volumes about the attitude of Australian soccer – we don’t respect reputations, we’re not overawed by anyone, and we are here to win.
4. Make some hard decisions NOW.
The World Cup is eight months away, and let’s face it, Brett Holman is not going to become a world class player is that time. Sure, he chases hard (usually to win back balls that he has given away), but Brett’s not up to it.
It’s the same with striker Scott McDonald. Surely his time must almost be up. One or two more chances Pim, then find us a new striker.
5. Let Josh Kennedy be himself.
I keep getting the feeling Kennedy has been playing as a Mark Viduka stand-in over the last couple of years. He is being asked to lead lead the line in a 4-2-3-1 formation, and making a good fist of it, but have a look at the bloke!
Seven foot tall and seven stone. I can’t really see him holding up international defenders with the ball at his feet and his back to goal, as Dukes did.
But Kennedy had been blessed with a divine head (in more ways than one). Let him do the damage in the box. If that means playing two up front, then play two up front.
In Viduka, we were blessed with a player who could be the lone striker. Now we don’t have one, and we are not going to find another in eight months. The time has come to be pragmatic Pim. If you can’t make the team fit the structure – change the structure.
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