Monday, August 14, 2006

Opportunity to make a telling impression

Asia Cup qualifier preview, Socceroos vs Kuwait

JUST over seven weeks since our national football team bowed out of the World Cup in now legendary circumstances to the eventual winners, the eyes of nation of newly coverted football tragics turns to Aussie Stadium and a date with a Kuwait team on Wednesday night.

When tickets went on sale last month, this correspondent was among the many long time Socceroos fans simply blow away by the level of interest. People who have never been near an A-League game, barely knew the NSL existed or never came close to kicking or catching a ball where ringing and texting to let me know they had their tickets.

In the kitchen, over the boiling kettle, people wanted to discuss the world cup, wanted to know more about their new found heroes, wanted to learn about the history of the game, wanted to know more about its future.

Suddenly, finally, the Socceroos and the game are hot property, and while there has since been some disappointment that the first 11 won't be on show, there is also some hope that many of the new converts will be seeing a new generation of national team regulars, players they can follow for the next 10 or so years.

So, for the 18-man squad selected yesterday by Graham Arnold, there is a new pressure to deliver on the expectations. Suddenly there will be less tolerance of mediocrity, performances will be analysed from top to toe. Players and managers will have to step out of comfort zones, seize their opportunities.

When the Socceroos played their first game in Asia in February, a come from behind 3-1 victory over Bahrain in Manama, it barely made an impression back home. That was pre-Germany.

Now comes the first foray post world cup, an opportunity for so many to make a telling mark: Arnold and John Kosmina have the chance to make a point for the local coaches; Alex Brosque, David Carney, Travis Dodd and Joel Griffiths get a chance to showcase their pace in the front half; Mark Milligan, whether at the back or in midfield, can show what he learnt under Hiddink; Stuart Musalik, Kristian Sarkies and Matt McKay will hope for some minutes in midfield; Kevin Muscat and Steve Corica have been dealt the opportunity they thought would never come again; Alvin Ceccoli, Jade North, Sash Petrovski and Clint Bolton get another opportunity to impress at this level.

Clearly, opportunity abounds. In the past, there was always a despondent feeling whenever a home-based national team was selected, almost an inevitability that they'd struggle to make the grade, and too often it filtered through to the players.

But these are different times, the A-League providing a level of professionalism, in training and application, that was missing in the NSL. These players are faced with pressure and attention on a weekly basis and they are mentally tough as a result.

Those that can't cut it won't be in the A-League, let alone the national team.

So the home based Socceroos shouldn't have anything to fear, particularly against a home-based Kuwait side that leaked 12 goals in two lead up games. But Arnold and his troops will do well not to underestimate a nation that has historically had the edge over Australia, and still managed to draw with Bahrain, the team Australia struggled against for 45 mins.

Watching Kuwait train, the thing that stood out was a lack of size. Tall and thin is probably the best description, so the Socceroos will look to impose a physicality over the game, not a dirty physicality, but a strong running game that might over-power the visitors, particularly with the home crowd adding volume.

If Arnold learnt anything from Hiddink, it will have been about preperation, never underestimating any opposition, and the Socceroos boss will do well to ensure his players are mentally focussed and physically up for the game. After all, Kuwait come here with a manager under fire. Indeed, the training camp last week was an opportunity to ram home the strategy, and Arnold is reported to have been pleased with the uptake.

Looking at the squad, the one area of conjecture is clearly in central midfield and who will screen the the backline, the crucial role played so splendidly by Vince Grella in Germany. Musalik is the only natural holding player in the squad but failed to crasp the pre-season cup semi final on Saturday night and indeed looked to be carrying a slight niggle when replaced midway through the second half.

The smart money appears on Milligan, who played in midfield for Sutherland in the NSW premier league pre world cup and in a couple of games for Sydney FC since, being given the responsibilty, although Muscat (currently playing there for Melbourne) remains an alternative.

Another option, less likely, is the use of Queensland's Matt McKay, but he is more the box-to-box driving type, rather than a player who will sit and distribute.

Up front and out wide there are also some nice little posers for Arnold, with numerous players in form and begging for a start. Dodd looked impressive against Sydney on Friday night, scoring one and creating a good opening for Greg Owens with a subtle run and pass that was lacking in his formative football years, while Carney and Brosque have been enjoying themselves in the pre-season, creating and scoring. As vice captain, Archie Thompson appears a certainty, while Petrovski and Griffiths also have claims. No room for all six. At best, four will start.

Whatever the make up of the 11, all will be looking to make sure they don't let the chance to wear the green and gold slip.

1 Comments:

Anonymous bobby said...

good read - i agree its a big chance for so many players. yes theres pressure, but if they want to reach the top, thats what they have to deal with. i'd also go with milligan in midfield - from what i saw last year he's a decent passer.

can't wait to see who grabs their chance and to read your post match report.

Tue. Aug. 15, 12:06:00 am AEST  

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