Thursday, June 15, 2006

World Cup Post #3

Croatia prove the job isn’t quite done for the Socceroos
Tony Tannous in Berlin

IF any further evidence was needed of the importance of the Socceroos thrilling come from behind victory over Japan, than it was there in abundance in last night’s (German time) fantastic group F clash between Brazil and Croatia.

One-nil it ended to the world champs thanks to one sublime piece of individuality, but from an Australian perspective, it was the performance of Croatia, now likely to be Australia’s major rival for a second round birth, that caught the eye, or at least visualised how it difficult it will be to get out of the group.

They may have lost, but the performance was top notch, full of aggressive play, good technique, movement and organisation.

In one of the standout games of the first phase, the Croatians were disciplined but tough, matching a strong Brazil across all parts of the pitch. At the back they were tight, deep and organised. Simunic, Tudor, Simic and Robert Kovac are an experienced backline and never allowed Ronaldo and Adriano any space to get in behind them, forcing the Brazilians to resort to shooting from a distance, an invitation Kaka gleefully accepted.

In midfield the likes of Srna, Babic, Krancjar and Leko never allowed Ronaldinho space, doubling up on him, crowding the middle and keeping him wide. The thing so impressive about Croatia’s shape was how compact it was. They never gave Brazil room to play.

The battle between Babic and Cafu was particularly eye-catching, the Croatians using the space down their left cleverly. Brazil play a narrow midfield, with Kaka playing in front of Emerson, thus placing emphasis on Cafu to patrol the right flank.

It was a wonderful battle, both players going at each other for most of the match. Points even.
Up front, the duo of Prso and Klasnic gave the Brazilian back four a working over. Most people think of Brazil as merely an attacking unit, but here they had to produce one of the best defensive displays to keep out these two busy front-men, proving they have the defensive steel and desire to do it.

Lucio and Juan, and Cafu and Carlos either side of them, had to work overtime to keep a clean sheet, particularly in the second half. It was high quality front play, but even better defending.

In midfield, Ze Roberto and Emerson were also immense, rarely allowing Krancjar to sneak forward and getting back to help their back four. After limping out four years ago, Emerson seems hell bent on making up ground. He was everywhere.

All over it was a high quality affair, fittingly sealed by a high quality finish.

The Croats were clearly up for it, but they do have a reputation for lifting for the big games and then taking their foot off the pedal when expected to win. Temperamental, moody, enigmatic, call it what you will, but they can play.

On this showing they are still a strong chance to progress with Brazil, but can take nothing for granted. First they have to get past Japan and hope Brazil do them a favour against the Socceroos. Then it’s game on in Stuttgart.

The Socceroos, already on three points, are in the box seat, but last night was a reminder that it’s far from over.


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