Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Encouraging signs from the home-based Roos

While there’s already been much dissection of the Socceroos 2-0 victory over Kuwait last week, here are a few more tactical and technical observations to mull over.

Patience is a virtue; it was a great to see a home-based Socceroos unit using the smarts to get a job done. Too often in the past local based units have huffed and puffed, not been able to blow the house down, and inevitably been reduced to tears by a lack of concentration or sloppy mistake at the back. Not this time. While it wasn’t always the most polished performance, the Socceroos demonstrated they are thinking on an off the field, being patient and getting the job done. Clearly the Hiddink legacy is alive and well in Australian football. With 15 minutes left the Socceroos kept pressing forward patiently, kept their discipline and eventually cracked the stubborn Kuwaiti unit. Good signs that our home-based Socceroos didn’t panic, both on an off the field.

The pivotal move; the Socceroos shaped up at kick-off in a 3-4-3 formation, with Clint Bolton screened by a three man defence of Jade North at right stopper, Mike Valkanis at left stopper and Kevin Muscat central. The four man midfield comprised Travis Dodd on the right, Mark Milligan anchoring, Steve Corica nearby and Alvin Ceccoli on the left. The front trio saw Joel Griffiths through the middle with Dave Carney to his right and Archie Thompson to his left. Kuwait meanwhile played with a 3-5-2, with the three central midfielders Jarah Al Ataiqi (number 18), Abdul Rahman Al Dawood (number 8) and Khalaf Al Mutairi (number 10) outnumbering Milligan and Corica in the centre. It was little wonder Kuwait controlled much of the first 20 minutes. Everything they did came through the deep central midfielder, no. 18 Al Ataiqi, who was feeding the tricky front man Bader Al Mutwa, the Kuwaiti number 17, who was dropping off the front line to create an extra number in midfield and plenty of headaches for Graham Arnold. The Socceroos were struggling. Midway through the first half came the pivotal move of the game, when Carney dropped off the front line into central midfield, ahead of Corica and Milligan and behind Griffiths and Thompson. He had essentially moved onto the 18. It did a few things – evened the numbers in midfield, stopped Kuwait playing through Al Ataiqi, created some space for Dodd to roam forward down the right (and test the stamina of their left-wingback Fahad Shaheen, the number 30) and lessened the burden on Corica to do all the creating. Basically, Carney had a free role and it was no surprise that Australia’s fortunes improved once he moved central. Suddenly Dodd was springing forward and Carney was feeding him at will. Largely ignored in the post match analysis was that fact it was Carney ‘s no-look ball into space that set Dodd free for the Socceroos second, a sublime pass demonstrating vision, feeling and weight. While much was made in the build up about the understanding of the Sydney eight, everything good Australia did essentially came from an almost telepathic understanding between Carney and Dodd.

Milligan’s mental mettle makes a mark; there has been much post match speculation about who where the Socceroos best players on the night. Personally, I thought the performances of Carney and Dodd were the stand-outs, mainly because they were involved in the most crucial moments in the match. When the game was on the line, there to be won or lost, it was these two who influenced the play most, responsible for both goals. After a sloppy opening 20-odd minutes, their general play wasn’t bad either – Carney did a lot of good stuff on the ball in the middle, whether it was driving forward and shooting or getting on the ball and slipping it into Dodd’s path, while the Adelaide flanker was equally as impressive defending as he was going forward. Clearly both are as confident as they’ve ever been. Another player who is on top of the world at the moment is Milligan, who was deployed in the crucial holding role in midfield, a position normally given to an experienced player. With no Vince Grella or Josip Skoko available and the likes of locals Noel Spencer and Angelo Costanzo not considered, it was time for one of the younger brigade to step up, either Milligan or Stuart Musalik. Emboldened by his experiences in Germany, it was Milligan who grabbed his chance and had an encouraging debut in the role. Not everything he did was efficient, a few times he gave the ball away either through mistimed short balls or over-hit long balls, but overall he turned well and feed his teammates on most occasions. The one thing that stands out about Milligan is his willingness to demand the ball, not an easy thing for someone so young, but crucial to playing this role. A few days earlier I saw Musalik playing for Newcastle in the pre-season cup, where he was treading his way though the game rather than seizing his opportunity to demand the ball. Milligan has shown he has the appetite to become a regular Roo.

Not everyone grabbed their chance; defensively he was as rock-solid as ever, but going forward and particularly with his distribution, Ceccoli was sloppy. Too often he over-hit the ball in search of Thompson and when he did eventually find the mark in the build up to the opener, it was with his wrong foot. Thompson and Griffiths also failed to make their mark up front, while Valkanis was shaky when faced with a tricky striker running at him, as I’m about to explain.

Al Mutwa the marvel; while much of the focus was on the Socceroos, Kuwait was reasonable without being brilliant. Ultimately they didn’t have the stamina to see out the match, but they were good on the ball, kept it on the ground, tried to play it out of the back, kept their discipline and shape and counter-attacked swiftly. He didn’t get on the score-sheet, but their front-man, the tricky number 17 Bader Al Mutwa (pictured above playing for Kuwaiti outfit Al Qadisiya in the AFC Champions League, courtesy of www.afcchampionsleague.com) showed he is a class act, proving a constant menace on the ball, particularly when driving at Valkanis. Seemingly, Kuwait were quick to identify Valkanis’ weakness on the ground and often the Adelaide defender was found retreating as Al Mutwa jinked and danced one way and the other. Highly rated, he is reported to have been the top scorer in the Kuwaiti league the past couple of seasons and it was easy to see why. If the A-League is looking to spread its wings and attract talent from all over the world, than this is the type of quality we need. I, for one, could watch Al Mutwa any day.


Blogger Simon O'Toole said...

Great analysis as usual, Tony! I always enjoy reading your blog, and look forward to more throughout the A-League season, not to mention the remaining Asian Cup qualifiers. Are you heading to Kuwait for the return leg? I've heard that the Kuwaitis - and in fact most of the Arabian Penisular - love their football. It should be an awesome atmosphere!

Wed Aug 23, 08:47:00 am AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks Simon, your feedback and interest is appreciated.

Unfortunately the football budget failed to extend far beyond the experience of a lifetime in Germany, so at this stage I'll be watching the Roos o/s adventures on the box.

For me it's always great to see football from all parts of the world, and I believe we can learn bits and pieces from everyone and every game, whether it's Kuwait or Brazil.

They do love their football in the middle east and the Kuwaitis will definitely been keen for a result as the second Asia Cup spot is still up for grabs, so looking forward to it.

Wed Aug 23, 10:19:00 am AEST  

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