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Asian Cup – Australia vs Korea Republic…..All square, but oh, how it hurt!

Mile Jedinak’s first international goal for Australia could not have come at a better time when the Socceroos got a valuable and deserving 1-1 with fellow Asian Cup heavyweight, Korea Republic in their Group C clash on Saturday morning.  But Socceroos’ coach, Holger Osieck could have some selection nightmares ahead of the Bahrain clash and beyond…..

The good:

1.        A unique and “un-Asian” style.  Whilst the Socceroos lack the pace, fluency and technique of many of the other teams at the Asian Cup, the team’s never say die attitude, discipline and physical strengths may well give opposing teams headaches when attempting to break down this Australian side.  Jedinak’s equalising goal epitomised the Australian style – Lucas Neill was quick to float a ball across the face of goal from a Luke Wilkshire cross and Jedinak had no right to challenge Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong for a high ball but did and impressively beat him to it. 

2.        Mark Schwarzer.  Australia possesses the tournament’s best goalkeeper and Schwarzer played a fitting part in the match, saving superbly late on. 

The bad:

1.        Too predictable, too slow and an inept passing game.  Like the India game, the Socceroos, unlike the Koreans, played a long ball game in preference to a short and quick passing one.  The Aussie tactic of crossing towards Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell at every opportunity was clear once again and one wonders whether such a tactic will reap rewards against a more organised and disciplined defence.  Further, the Koreans’ pass and move groove clearly rattled the Aussies, as evidenced by the number of fouls, particularly Jedinak and Ognenovski, committed.  Finally, the Aussies’ passing and cheap turnovers left a lot to be desired at times. 

2.        Poor defending.  Football is one of those rare games where one defensive lapse can be the difference between success and failure.   Whilst the Socceroos’ defending was excellent for a majority of the game, just how five Socceroos’ defenders let Ji Dong-Wong gain possession and cut back to an unmarked Koo Ja-Cheol for Korea’s goal still baffles and frustrates me.  This was the second defensive lapse in two games.  Whilst the Indians failed to capitalise last week, the Koreans didn’t.  Nor will the likes of Iran and/or Uzbekistan (future potential opponents for the Aussies in the Asian Cup).

The ugly:

1.        Injuries to three first team regulars – Jason Culina, David Carney and Luke Wilksire. I have regularly been vocal about the Aussies’ lack of squad depth….the three aforementioned players will be hard to replace if the diagnosis isn’t favourable.  Whilst Valeri is a straight swap for Culina, he lacks his experience. Of greater concern are the full back positions – Carney (a left winger by trade) has become custodian of the left back position by virtue of a lack of competition and options for that berth, whilst Wilkshire, is in my opinion, Australia’s second best and most consistent outfield player.  Second only to Tim Cahill…..Osieck may be forced to re-shuffle and moreover, test the mettle of his pack.

2.        Harry Kewell’s (constant) whingeing.  Once again, it was refreshing to see a fully fit Kewell get the better of his opposing defenders.  His whingeing with fellow teammates, opposing players and officials was however, disappointing. This was not the first time Kewell has brought this ugly side into his game (read: harassing and “touching up” the match officials after Australia’s group game against Brazil at the 2006 World Cup and his verbal tirade against the referee after being controversially, but correctly sent off against Ghana at last year’s World Cup).  Kewell is a professional footballer first, an underwear model second.  He should start acting more like the former and stop dicking around.

All in all, Australia will now fancy its chances to progress to the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup, knowing all but a loss against Bahrain tomorrow morning will be enough to see them through.

But the Asian Cup is to Australia, what the World Cup is to heavyweights Brazil, Germany and Italy.  Qualifying for the knockout rounds should be viewed as a mere formality.  Not reaching the semi finals would be deemed a failure. 

This is when the real tournament starts.

Mark “The F word” Fiorenti

Asian Cup – Australia vs India….An upsize without the Big “Mac”

Australia commenced its Asian Cup campaign with a 4-0 romp against a technically inept India in the early hours of Tuesday morning.  Nevertheless, the Socceroos’ passing game and strike rate needs to improve if we are to progress to the semi finals and beyond of this tournament. 

Socceroos’ coach, Holger Osieck employed an expansive 4-4-2 formation opting for Cahill and Kewell up front (the latter surprisingly in favour of Scott McDonald) and Brett Emerton and Holman pushing high down the flanks and Mile Jedinak partnering Jason Culina in the centre of the park in front of a defensive back four. 

The positives included:

  1. Two goals from Mr Consistency, Tim Cahill, who is surely Australia’s most important player and is now on par to becoming Australia’s highest goal scorer.  The ‘F Word’s man of the match.

2.   A lively performance from Brett Emerton in both defence and attack on the right hand side of the  park.  Cahill’s first goal came from an Emerton delivery, as did Holman’s headed goal.

3.   A fully fit and firing Harry Kewell who scored with a beautifully struck shot.

There were, as alluded to earlier, some concerns though….:

  1. A sloppy and wasteful second half.  Yes, the game was arguably in the bag by then, but the passing left a lot to be desired at times and the crosses did not always find their intended target.  Further, Australia may rue the goalscoring chances it missed if Group C comes down to goal difference.
  2. An inept passing game.  For much of the 90 minutes the Socceroos preferred a long ball game to take advantage of the small Indian players, rather than employ an intimidating, short and quick passing game.  This tactic will not be successful against the pacy and technically sound South Koreans.
  3. Scott McDonald.  “The Mac” lacks bite in attack and yet again, failed to open his goalscoring account for the Socceroos after 22 games.  Against a country ranked 142nd in the world, no less.  Scotty appears incapable of scoring even in the “House of the Rising Sun”.  One must now wonder if he will be given another chance.  Burns, and even Kruse must surely be given a look in….

In short, Australia’s performance was sound and solid but it is hard to imagine the Asian Cup’s other heavyweights “quaking in their boots” after this performance. 

But at least there were clear signs from the players and coaching staff that this team is determined on making up for the disappointing failure of 2007. 

Tougher tests await in the shape of the South Koreans who put in an excellent performance against Bahrain, comprehensively beating them 2-1 and playing the last part of the game with ten men.

I wait with bated breath….