Friday, June 16, 2006

World Cup Post #4

The one that got away

I've had a couple of emails from back home wondering where my preview of the Socceroos v Japan game was? Truth is I was at an internet cafe in Frankfurt about to post it, just before charter train to Kaiserslautern was due to leave, when I got the call it was about to take off. Post the story or miss the game? Easy choice, so here it is, better late than never.

THE anxiety kills. After an abbreviated first night of sleep in Frankfurt, it’s a short train trip to Kaiserslautern aboard a chartered ‘Aussie Express’ and, after a 32 year wait, finally the eyes of the world will be fixed on our beloved Socceroos.

I had the good fortune to travel from Hong Kong to Frankfurt with Koichi Goto, a keen and knowledgeable Blue Samuari fan, who was travelling to Germany for his third World Cup, after following his team to France ‘98 and his home town of Sapporo four years later.

This time he was travelling more in hope than total belief his team can progress to the next round, appreciating the difficulty in getting out a group containing Brazil, Croatia and Australia. No blind enthusiasm from Koichi, just honest and informed appraisal.

Much of his cautious approach was centred around Brazilian legend Zico, Koichi arguing that, while he is largely popular back home, those in the know know he hasn’t always pulled the right moves at the right times.

Refreshing to hear when you have someone like Hiddink in your corner who might exploit and tactical deficiencies.

Yet Koichi was travelling ticket-less, so there must have been some expectation? "It’s a tough game, the most important game, and I didn’t want to miss it."

He described it as too close to call, and, as has been the general perception in Australia, was concerned about how the Japanese defence would function, particularly if bombarded with crosses and set pieces.

He was particularly worried about central sweeper Miyamoto, he of the masked face in 2002, a diminutive presence, good on the ground, but supposedly suspect to the aerial assault.

He offered further insight into Japan’s 3-5-2, predicting Miyamoto would be flanked by Kakazawa at left stopper and Tsuboi on the right, with naturalised Brazilian Santos at left wing-back and Komano on the right, given an opportunity due to an injury to Kaji.

While good going forward, Santos is not so effective the other way, leaving holes that Hiddink will look to exploit by having a player stay wide right, possibly pulling Kakazawa out of the middle to cover Santos, leaving space in the middle for Cahill to attack from deep.

Just who Hiddink uses wide will probably decide how effective the Socceroos are at pinning Japan’s wing-backs back. There is much intrigue around this, with Hiddink, as he does, keeping everyone guessing, particularly with injury concerns over Kewell and Cahill.

Kewell, whether as a starter or substitute, could be crucial to providing the ammunition from out wide for the likes of Viduka and the late arriving Cahill (and possibly Kennedy and Aloisi off the bench) to attack aerially.

It might be that he alternates with Bresciano, taking turns on the right.

Fukunishi, Japan’s defensive minded midfielder, is crucial for them, responsible for tracking runs from the likes of Cahill, Bresciano and Skoko.

The battle in midfield will be hot and competitive, Fukinishi and the excellent ball players Nakata and Nakamura up against Grella, Culina and any one from Cahill, Skoko or Bresciano.

If the Socceroos can dominate and control these areas, at least for parts of the game, they might be able to pin Japan back on the flanks and provide the crosses to test Miyamoto and Co., particularly if they can drag the tallest of the trio, Kakazawa, wide.

Defensively, the Socceroos will have to deal with the movement of Yanagisawa (if he isn’t deemed fit after an injury, it will be Tamada, goal-scorer against Malta), who will try and drag the central duo of Moore and Neill wide, creating space for the tricky Takahara to weave his stuff around the box, which he did so lethally against Germany.

While Australia will look to ask questions of Japan’s defence, the key to getting a result will be to remain composed and organised at the back. There were signs against Holland of some frailty at set pieces and some diving-in around the box, problems that will be exposed at this elite level.

The Socceroos will be weary not to defend too high up the pitch, knowing the speedy Japanese attack can exploit any space in behind. Equally, if they defend too deep, that will create space for Nakata and Nakamura. Getting the defensive line right and remaining compact from front to back is crucial, and if the Socceroos do get it right, a result is achievable.

Knowing that a loss would dent the second round ambitions of both sides, it wouldn’t surprise if a stalemate eventuated.

After such a long wait to be back on this stage, a win would be lovely, a defeat is too hard to imagine. Here, the result more than the performance, is paramount.

Onwards to Kaiserslautern we go.


Anonymous Nick Benson said...

Hi Tony,

I work with Evelyn and she has passed this website onto us to have a look at - i have had a read of your articles and think that they are awesome, they are great reading material. Keep it up as we are constantly checking to read your next article.


Fri. Jun. 16, 03:22:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous EVELYN AZAR said...

Hey Tony

Its Ev... this is great reading!!
The whole office is reading your stories daily.

Hope you having a great time - I'm sure you are.

Sonia and livvy are great.

Take Care

Fri. Jun. 16, 03:25:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks Guys for your support,

Am having a great time, only a little while now till the Brazil clash...cant wait

Do enjoy....


Sun. Jun. 18, 07:33:00 am AEST  

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