Sunday, June 18, 2006

World Cup Post #5

Socceroos vs Brazil preview – Right side needs to be sorted right away
Tony Tannous in Stuttgart

IF the Socceroos are to make any inroads in their blockbuster clash with world champs Brazil tomorrow (German time) in Munich, they will first need to do the job right, particularly down the right.

That’s because the right side of Australia’s team has been the weakest link in the three games since beating Greece at the MCG, a game that now seems an eternity ago.

Against Holland and Leichtenstein in the friendlies and Japan in the epic victory on Monday, the Socceroos have failed to have any success down the right side. Indeed, in all three games it has been plainly obvious that any penetration has come from the left side.

Guus Hiddink has tried a myriad of options, none of them really successful, and against the likes of Roberto Carlos and Ronaldinho, the two players likely to be foraging down Brazil’s left, any hesitation or lack of quality will prove costly, very costly.

Part of the problem is the major loss of form and confidence from Brett Emerton. Once a terror down the right, these days Emerton is struggling to get his game back to the lofty standards he set at Feyenoord and in his early days at Blackburn.

Six months, essentially spent warming the bench at Ewood Park, hasn’t helped.

Indeed, such has been the ineffectiveness as a right sided attacker that Hiddink has shifting him back to right back, where he first made an impression in Europe.

But Emerton has hinted he prefers not to have the defensive responsibility, preferring the freedom to come forward at his own choosing. By playing at right back, his first duty is to defend.

It prompted Hiddink to throw him into central midfield for the second half of the Leichtenstein game, a position he started in against Japan. There, it seems, Emerton can get forward from the right side of central midfield without concern there will be no cover for him.

While always possessing the energy to press, it has been his lack of effectiveness on the ball that has been so evident. Too often Emerton has wasted the ball, largesse Australia can ill-afforded against the Brazilians, who will detect any weakness and target it until it cracks.

Against Japan Hiddink played one of his favourites, Luke Wilkshire, on the right, his job to nullify Alex Santos, but in reality it was the naturalised Brazilian who had the better of the flank. Wilkshire failed to get close enough, and when he did, struggled to keep up with Santos. When on the ball, Emerton and Wilkshire lost too much of it.

Against Holland and Leichtenstein Hiddink had used Sterjovski as an attacking right-sided option, but he was also ineffective on both occasions. To some degree Hiddink’s options are tied by a lack of quality alternatives down the right, but he will have to sort is out quickly.

With Carlos and Ronaldinho offering such a potent threat, Australia can ill afford to be on the back foot for 90 minutes. So Hiddink might play with two wide men in support of Viduka - Kewell and one other, maybe Cahill or Bresciano (the other may come from the middle, behind Viduka).

This would keep the likes of Cafu and Carlos busy defensively, at least for some periods, relieving pressure from the midfield and defence, who can then concentrate on shutting down the likes of Ronaldinho and Kaka.

Perhaps with Emerton back at right back, and Culina playing alongside Grella as a right-sided defensive midfielder, enough pressure can be put on Ronaldinho.

Croatia proved it can be done if the team is disciplined and organised, with Dario Simic and Dario Snra doubling up to deny Ronaldinho space.

While he normally drives infield, his starting position is invariably on the left sideline. What the Croatians did so well was have Simic high up the pitch, tight on Ronaldinho, with others rushing to support. It was compact stuff.

While it created a couple of shooting opportunities for the likes of Kaka and Ronaldo, it was a calculated gamble from Croatia. If you leave Ronaldinho one on one, he’ll carve you up.

The strength of this Brazilian side is that if one, two or three of the stars if off his game, there is a fourth, fifth or sixth that will burn you if given an inch.

Nullifying them all over the pitch is no small feat, but only if the personnel and strategy is right, particularly down the right, can the Socceroos entertain any thoughts of continuing the fairytale and making a gigantic mark on the world cup.

Tens of thousands of Aussies are descending on Munich for the biggest game is Australia’s history and I’ll be among those at the sensational Allianz Arena, providing a birds-eye account of the proceedings. Do visit after the match for a comprehensive review and go the mighty Socceroos.


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