Asian Cup – Australia vs Bahrain….The Golden “Mile”, but I’d love a Kilkenny to calm the nerves

On Wednesday morning the Socceroos progressed to the quarter finals of the Asian Cup after beating Bahrain 1-0. Mile Jedinak was once again the hero with his second goal in as many games with a stunning long range effort in the 37th minute. But on the performance shown against Bahrain, the Socceroos’ next opponent, Iraq, the current holders of the Asian Cup, no less, will not be suffering from insomnia….

I’ll start with the lowlights, because they “overshadowed” the highlights….

1. A sloppy and disorganised midfield. I lost count of the number of times our players, particularly our midfielders, either gave the ball away, misplaced a pass and/or failed to assist our defenders by absorbing pressure when the Bahrainis launched wave after wave of attack. It is clear our midfield is unimaginative and that the emphasis is on graft rather than craft. For what Jedinak brings to the team in goal scoring ability and “screening” the defence, his inferior distribution skills makes him a liability when the team wants to dictate matches. Socceroos’ coach, Holger Osieck may have a dilemma on his hands….

2. Lack of squad depth – Osieck was forced to make three changes to the team that drew against Korea Republic, with the injured trio of Jason Culina, Luke Wilkshire and David Carney all replaced by Carl Valeri, Jade North and Matt McKay, respectively. The former trio were all sorely missed. Valeri, whilst high on energy does not have the passing ability of Culina. North, a capable defender, lacks Wilkshire’s energy and running ability. Finally, McKay, playing out of position at left back, was exposed, particularly early on against the Bahrainis. To add salt to the wound, Brett Emerton was needlessly booked and as such, is suspended for Sunday morning’s clash against Iraq. Being without Wilkshire already hurts, but the prospect of being without both he and Emerton means the Socceroos have a very weakened right flank….one hopes our physios are working overtime to get the aforementioned trio back into the starting line up.

3. Missed opportunities by strikers, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill. Kewell wasted a golden opportunity in the 32nd minute, firing a shot into the body of Bahrain goalkeeper Mahmood Mansoor from close range, whilst Cahill put a header well wide in the second half. Strikers can get very few opportunities. The Bahrain game was no exception. Hence the need to convert the good opportunities! Goals win games – that’s why strikers get paid the most and “pull” all the good looking girls. Against Bahrain however, I wasn’t convinced Kewell and Cahill could even “pull” a beer.

The highlights:

1. Neil Kilkenny. Kilkenny’s 20 minute cameo towards the end of the match was inspiring. It was refreshing to see someone assist our attack. The boy’s hunger for the ball, ability to hold possession and accurate passing ability could be a solution to our lack of combination play in midfield.

2. For the second game in a row….Mark Schwarzer. But for Schwarzer’s three remarkable saves in the second half, the Socceroos would have been sent packing.

3. The Socceroos did not concede a goal. Moreover, they only conceded one goal in all three group games. Put simply, the team is hard to break down and as foreshadowed in my previous blog, the team’s mental fortitude and never say die attitude is an asset no other team in Asia, arguably possesses. Whilst I, along with many Socceroos’ supporters would love our team to emulate Spain’s World Cup winning team of 2010 and “pass and move” their way to ultimate success, sexy football does not always win football tournaments (read: The “Cryuff inspired” Netherlands’ World Cup teams of 1974 and 1978). On the other hand, discipline, unity and self belief can (read: Italy and Germany’s World Cup winning teams of 1982 and 1990, respectively).  In short, it is not inconceivable that the Aussies could simply grind their way to their first Asian Cup championship.

The Aussies will face a stern test against Group D, runners up, Iraq on Sunday morning. Osieck certainly has some work to do, but so too do the players. At the back of their minds will be a chance to seek redemption – the Iraqis played the Socceroos off the park in the group stages of the 2007 Asian Cup, comprehensively beating them 3-1.

But so too did Uruguay in 2001, ultimately qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.

One need not be reminded of what happened four years later….

I’m more excited than the last time I attended an all you can eat buffet.

Mark “The F Word” Fiorenti