Schwarzer – Wilkshire, Moore, Neill, Chipperfield – Grella, Valeri – Culina, Garcia, Emerton – Cahill.
4-2-3-1 or 4-6???
On Sunday’s edition of Sportzfan Radio my fellow panellists asked me what tactical approach Pim Verbeek would employ against the Germans. I responded by saying, “Pim will park the bus in front of the German goal”. Put simply, his primary and in fact only objective would be put up to eight or more Socceroos’ players behind the ball and attempt to preclude the Germans from scoring.
Park the bus he did, but the tyres were flat and the engine(room) dead. Further, the driver was confused and frustrated, ultimately seeing red. All this whilst Pim overlooked that he had not one, but a few decent ‘spares’ in the trunk and forgot the newer model at home.
When the abovementioned Australian team was announced just after 4am, I no longer needed my shot of espresso to wake me up. Rather, I needed something to drown my sorrows. I couldn’t help but feel the game was already lost before a ball had even been kicked.
In fact, you could sense it in the build up all week. The players were paying far too much respect to Germany in the press (a very un-Australian trait) and the modus operandi was simple, not to lose.
The abovementioned starting line up confirmed as much. It sent a clear message – we’re here for a draw.
Pim Verbeek’s tactics were downright negative but more worringly, nonsensical.
For two and a half years Pim put his faith in a gameplan which focused on an ability to shut teams down and edge out hard-fought victories. It worked beautifully throughout our qualification campaign – 11 victories, 3 draws and no losses. Need I say more….
But the one time when safety was the highest priority, Pim recklessly sent out a combination of players who played out of position in a system he had never tried before.
Against three time World Cup winner and Euro 2008 finalist, Germany, no less.
Don’t mention the war…..
Well Pim, you just got one. The reasons for:
1. Josh Kennedy had started the previous two games for the Socceroos (scoring in one of them) but was consigned to the bench, with Cahill asked to play as a lone striker and target man. We all along knew a ‘striker’ of Scotty McDonald’s height and physique couldn’t cut it in that position (that’s why the poor fella didn’t make the cut – because he was played out of position far too many times under Verbeek) so why play Cahill, an ‘attacking midfielder’ who is of similar physique up front on his own??? Worse still it rendered Cahill, the driver of the bus and Australia’s most important midfield player, virtually useless. No wonder he saw red!
2. Culina, a holding midfielder under Verbeek’s entire reign, was now a left winger, presumably to stop Philip Lahm’s marauding down Germany’s right flank, but his capacity to launch attacks with his long and short passing game was nullified.
3. The omission of Marco Bresciano (a player who is capable of creating chances and scoring the odd goal) and the selection of Richard Garcia in his place was baffling. Garcia, by all accounts only made the cut because of Rhys Williams’ injury but here he was starting (and yes, you guessed it, playing out of position!) against the Germans.
4. Last week I lamented to my Sportzfan radio colleagues that Vinnie Grella seemed more intent on leaving studmarks on opposing players’ knees than winning the ball in midfield and breaking up opposing plays – a role that is so crucial to the way Verbeek’s side operates and that Verbeek ought to rein him in or drop him. Against the Germans, Grella appeared slow, lost and overawed by the occasion. That showing earned him “the early Shower award”.
I can only hope Pim Verbeek gave him the “hairdryer” treatment afterwards…..
And what of Harry Kewell? He had trained fully for a week and Verbeek himself was saying for days it was a straight fight between he and Kennedy for the lone striker’s position.
Both were on the bench.
And neither were introduced as substitutes!
With Saturday’s game against Ghana now rendered a must-win and Cahill suspended, Kennedy, Bresciano and Kewell (the latter duo who have both barely played all year due to injury) could have all benefited from a 20-minute cameo against the Germans.
Instead, defensive midfielder Mile Jedinak and inexperienced, rookie striker Nikita Rukavytsya were handed run outs. Jedinak, at 0-4 presumably as an act of damage control and Rukavytsya presumably to….. (I’ll have to get back to you on that one).
From start to end, Verbeek’s decisions were ridiculous and illogical.
But let’s not take anything away from an excellent and flawless German performance. I regularly said the Socceroos’ best hope against the Germans was a draw but in all likelihood, we would lose.
By one or two goals.
But 4 zip?! C’mon………Aussie, c’mon.
Yes, we may have still lost the game but had our best and strongest line up started in their familiar positions, I doubt we would have lost by such a margin. Moreover, we would have lost honourably.
Whilst many may be surprised by the Socceroos’ showing against the Germans, in some ways the loss was four years in the making.
The signs have been there for some time, but were papered over by hope, optimism and a relatively straight forward qualifying campaign along with a number of positive friendly results against reputable international outfits.
Under Pim Verbeek, the Socceroos have not played a decent game since last August’s 3-1 win over the Republic of Ireland.
Nearly 1,000 minutes of football have been played since then. The embarrassing loss we saw at the hands of the USA last week was a long time coming and provided the reality check we needed. Pity it didn’t come earlier…..
Whenever I have been asked about the Socceroos on Sportzfan Radio, I have consistently argued:
1. Pim Verbeek’s game plan was and still is one dimensional, the modus operandi being all about scoring first, shutting out the opposition and then winning a game by that one goal margin. All well and good against the likes of Qatar and Bahrain but what are the chances of going ahead against the likes of German and assuming we do, keeping them out?! Further, I have voiced concerns about Pim lacking a plan ‘B’ and queried whether the Socceroos could adequately respond tactically during matches. We all saw that (non existent) plan B against the Germans.
2. Argued the Socceroos’ current starting eleven is in many ways a carbon copy of the class of 2006. The problem of course is that the players are four years older and (with the exception of Schwarzer and Cahill), are no longer playing at the elite levels they were four years ago. Did Verbeek bother to look at and ‘blood’ any other players?
3. Argued there are many players in the Socceroos’ squad and worse still, the starting eleven, based on their reputation, rather than form and have done little to justify their continued and unchallenged place within the Australian set-up. For instance, I have regularly argued our central defensive duo of Craig Moore and Lucas Neill are slow and old and (especially in the case of the former), “past it”. That is why Captain Socceroo no longer plays in the English Premier League – it is arguably too fast for him. And as for Craig (what club does he play for again?), need I say “Moore”. All this whilst Verbeek constantly overlooked in-form defenders Eddy Bosnar and Sasha Ognenovski. In fact, they played no part whatsoever in the qualifying campaign. A travesty. And don’t get me started on former Socceroo and Joe Marston medallist, Simon Colosimo.
Some of you reading this may think I am too pessimistic (especially considering I tipped the Socceroos to lose or at best, draw against the Germans). The worry for me was not the loss, but the lack of creativity, passion, motivation and above all, the magnitude of the loss.
Further, we now have to take on the Ghanaians and Serbians with the tried and ‘tired’ formation, no plan B, an out of form Kewell and absent our best player.
Am I conducting the post mortem too early?
….Or perhaps too late?
Endnote – If you haven’t read my previous blog – “The World Cup Form Guide”, please do so. One thing you will glean from it is this – idealism is a personality trait I have in abundance. In relation to the Socceroos’ fate I say this. Pim will leave his post for the street stalls of Marrakesh soon enough, but the clear out should not and will not end there. Whether it be Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkard or Marcelo Bielsa, the new gaffer should be judged by one K.P.I. and one K.P.I. only in his first 6 months at the helm, “You don’t need to win the Asian Cup. But don’t play not to lose. And above all, be Australian. Be Fresh, Brave and Bold”.
It could be one of the best things to happen to Australian football for a while.
And gave the best country on earth a second chance at the best game on earth.
“The F Word”