Pleasing result, but performance gives Guus plenty to ponder
Socceroos vs Holland wrap
IF the World Cup warms ups are about performance ahead of result, than last nights (Australian time) 1-1 draw at Holland will pose a few questions for Guus Hiddink and Co. ahead of our opener with Japan on June 12.
Skipper Mark Viduka and others spoke in the lead up about this game being a real test of where the Socceroos stood heading into the showpiece.
The obvious answer after this performance is that there is still a significant gap to close between the Socceroos and the truly top teams like Holland, not really surprising when you look at the respective rankings, but disappointing after such an accomplished display against Greece.
One all it ended, but had it not been from some brilliant stops from Mark Schwarzer and some wasteful finishing from Johnny Heitinga, it could have so easily been four or five for the Dutch.
While Hiddink attempted to put a positive spin on the performance after the match, sighting a degree of contentment with his sides tactical showing, deep down he will have been a little disappointed his unit couldn’t compete more evenly with the Dutch, particularly on a technical level.
Quite simply the Dutch controlled the match, never allowing Australia to build any passing momentum. It was almost an exact replica of the Greece game, only in reverse.
What was so impressive about Marco Van Basten’s side was not only their blistering and in-sync work with the ball, but also the way they pressed the Socceroos all over the pitch, never allowing Australia to breath.
Every time an Australian defender or deep central midfielder had the ball, they were faced by two or three charging orange shirts, forcing the Socceroos into error as they rushed to play the ball forward.
When it did get to the front quartet of Viduka, Sterjovski, Bresciano and Culina, too often it failed to stay up there. Only Viduka was able to consistently hold off his two central defenders, Ooijer and Mathijsen, showing the requisite strength and technique required to compete at this high level.
Perhaps is was tough training schedule over the past couple of weeks, or the increased expectation after the Greek showing, but for whatever reason, Australia were unable to keep the ball and struggled to place enough pressure on Holland when they had it.
The Dutch, all comfortable in possession, particularly under pressure, initially pinned Australia back with their two wide men, Robben and van Persie, stretching both Emerton and Chipperfield respectively and creating space in the middle for the impressive Sneijder to string his passes, bring van Nistolrooy into the game and allow Cocu and van Bommel to drive from midfield.
If van Persie wasn’t attacking on the outside, he would drop off the backline and clip some delightful balls into the path of the driving central midfielders, who were shaking off the likes of Grella and Wilkshire far too comfortably.
If Hiddink had experimented by giving Wilkshire an opportunity alongside Grella and shifting Culina further up the pitch, in the attacking midfielder role, it clearly hadn’t worked, our central trio outplayed by Sneijder, Cocu and van Bommel.
It wasn’t till the second half, with a number of forced substitutions and adjustments in the centre of the park that Australia started to get into the game.
One was the injury to Sneijder. Holland and fans of the World Cup can only hope it isn’t a serious one, such was the artistry of his work. The other was the send off of Wilkshire. With half an hour left, it forced Culina deeper, alongside Grella, as the Socceroos moved to a more narrow 4-2-2-1, with Cahill driving from the left and Thompson from the right in support of a busy and strong John Aloisi.
Suddenly the Socceroos looked more of a threat with 10 men then they had with their full quota.
If Sterjovski had played himself into the managers mind with a busy performance against Greece, then this is one he’ll want to forget, but he wasn’t the only one having an off day, joined by Grella, Culina, Emerton, Wilkshire and the central defensive duo of Moore and Neill.
Only Schwarzer, Viduka, Chipperfield and the second half substitutes Cahill, Aloisi and Thompson can be satisfied with their contributions.
The pleasing thing, no doubt, was that the team did what Australians do best, hang in there and fight, forcing a result against high quality opposition. If they can do that over the next three weeks, then they’ll have gone some way to qualifying for the second round.
In the meantime, it gives Hiddink and his players more work to do, and, if it lowers expectations a touch, that mightn’t be a bad thing altogether.
What were your thoughts on the Socceroos performance? Did the players look tired, where they simply outclassed, or did Guus get a few things wrong? Post a comment.