Thursday, May 25, 2006

Forget the result, this is all part of the broader World Cup plan

Socceroos vs Greece, preview

GUUS Hiddink is right in saying that the focus on tonight’s World Cup warm-up against Greece at the MCG shouldn’t be about the result.

While most of Australia is hoping the Socceroos take off with a rousing victory in front of bumper and jovial gathering, the ultimate goal is to get the result on D-Day, when it most counts, in Kaiserslautern on June 12, against Japan.

This match is merely a step in that direction, and while Hiddink knows that a positive result will instill his men with the right mind-frame as they head to Europe, ultimately he will keep the big picture in mind.

And for him that means that this match is about preparation, both physically and tactically. So on the one hand he will look to get the right mileage into his players’ legs and on the other he will be fine-tuning his tactical blueprints ahead of the real action in 19 days.

On the physical side, it has been fascinating to see Hiddink and his conditioning unit, lead by conditioning coach Anthony Crea, pushing the boys hard in the four or five days ahead of this game. The sight of the Socceroos huffing and puffing after a beep-test on day one of the camp was not one many expected, including the players themselves.

Conventional wisdom is to taper off in the few days leading up to a big game, but recognising that the big game is on June 12, the freshening up will be done in the days ahead of that match. As such, this game becomes a vital part of building up the fitness, especially for those players Hiddink feels need it.

As assistant manager Graham Arnold pointed out yesterday, the players aren’t here for a holiday, it’s all business. So a planned afternoon on the golf course has been cancelled, replaced by guess what? More training.

Fitness first, rest later, that appears to be the modus operandi.

While the Greece match is a crucial part of the physical build up to the Cup, the tactical side is equally as important, some would argue more so.

In terms of the three opponents the Socceroos will be facing in Germany, Greece doesn’t appear an ideal template for either of Japan, Brazil or Croatia.

Of the three, physically the European champions are most similar to Croatia, Australia’s final group opponent, big and tough. There is no doubt they will provide a stern physical battle tonight, and Hiddink will hope his players come out of it hardened, but not jaded.

Yet tactically they play differently to all three Socceroos opponents, preferring to sit back and rapidly counterattack. When they do have the ball, they move it forward at pace, combining quick movement of the ball and players like Stelios Giannakopoulos and George Karagounis breaking forward in support of a lone striker, normally Angelos Charisteas.

Again, Croatia is probably the closest of the three opponents to Greece, although the Croats are arguably as comfortable at building up play as they are at playing on the counterattack.

The Greeks like to test their opponents’ patience, defending deep and cramming the midfield, so for the most part it will be the Socceroos controlling the ball and trying to unlock the Greek defence.

These are unlikely to be tactics the Socceroos will encounter in Germany, at least not in the group stage. All three opponents there will try and control periods on the game through possession, and aim to put pressure on the Socceroos defence.

So the dynamics of tonight’s encounter are intriguing, if not necessarily providing absolute insight into what the Socceroos can expect to come up against tactically in Germany.

What Greece should provide going forward is good movement of the ball and rapid mobility off the ball, and the Socceroos will definitely have to deal with this throughout their World Cup sojourn.

So tonight’s game will be as much a mental battle for the home side, both in the discipline needed to thwart Greece on the counterattack and at set pieces, and the patience needed going forward to break Greece down.

It appears Hiddink has opted for what is nominally a 4-2-3-1 formation for this match, and possibly beyond. If Greece, as mooted, play with one up front (likely to be Charisteas), you can be sure that Hiddink will ask his two fullbacks, expected to be Brett Emerton on the right and Scott Chipperfield on the left, to push on into midfield, ensuring the Socceroos can control that area.

Defensively, this allows to Socceroos to have one central defender (likely Craig Moore) marking Charisteas and the other, likely to be Lucas Neill, providing the cover, as he did so splendidly in Sydney in November.

Offensively, by pushing Emerton and Chipperfield forward, it allows the two wide men to get further forward in support of Mark Viduka. Just who these two are will be one of the intriguing aspects of Hiddink’s selection. Had Harry Kewell been available, he would have been the obvious choice on the left.

Now it provides an opportunity for someone like Mile Sterjovski or Archie Thompson on the left. With Emerton playing a deeper, more defensive role, there is also an opportunity on the right side of the Socceroos attack.

Had Tim Cahill been available to play in behind Viduka, there is every chance Marco Bresciano could have been lining up on the right, giving the Socceroos a potent attacking quartet of Viduka up front, with support from Kewell (left), Cahill (central) and Bresciano (right). As it is, Parma’s attacking midfielder could be deployed behind Viduka tonight, creating an opportunity for either Sterjovski or Thompson on the right.

If Hiddink gives Josip Skoko an opportunity to impress behind Viduka, then Bresciano will start in one of the wide roles, meaning either Thompson or Sterjovski miss out.

These attacking options are the areas of the pitch Hiddink will tinker most with. Defensively he seems set on a back four with two guys, Vince Grella and Jason Culina, screening them.

By having the adaptable Chipperfield and Emerton in the back four, Hiddink then has the option of instantly reverting to a back three in the event of an opponent playing two up front. Chipperfield can slide infield and become a left stopper, with Emerton pushing further up the pitch.

Australia could well be faced with such a scenario tonight if Otto Rehaggel decides to partner Charisteas with George Samaras.

If a team play with three forwards, then Chipperfield, Moore and Emerton become the stoppers, with Neill providing the cover.

Every scenario has a solution, giving the Socceroos tactical control. So long as there is one spare man at the back, she’ll be right, that appears to be the motto under Hiddink.

These are the things that Hiddink will be looking for tonight. As long as his players adapt to the various scenarios thrown up by the game, Hiddink and his brains trust will be content knowing they have taken another significant stride on the way to Germany.


Blogger Adrian said...

Nice comments, mate - wish this was the general level of knowledge I had to deal with!!

Thu. May 25, 04:21:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

mate, i saw your link on the smh blog, good work but talk about taking the fun out of the game...So clinicial in your disection of the game, but you're right, the result is irrelevant other than to give the players a pick me up and hit out before the wc....

should still make for a great game, cant wait, go the sooceroos


Thu. May 25, 05:02:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Adrian and Tom,

Thanks for your thoughts.

Sorry to be so clinical, just trying to provide an insight into what we might see tonight and how it's related to what we might see in a couple of weeks.

Glad you enjoyed the read, enjoy the game, and yes, go the mighty Socceroos.


Thu. May 25, 05:39:00 pm AEST  

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