Thursday, November 16, 2006

12 months on from Uruguay and the Socceroos have fine-tuned the art of control

Friendly match analysis, Socceroos 1 v Ghana 1

BUT for a late moment of hesitation at the back, in all likelihood born from a lack of familiarity between Schwarzer and Kisnorbo, yesterday morning’s performance by Arnold’s Socceroos against an in-form Ghana was both exciting and re-assuring.

Exciting because of the fluency on display and re-assuring because it proved that this team, despite a limited preparation and some big name absentees could still demonstrate control over most facets of the match.

The Socceroos looked a team, full of fluid play, understanding and tactical acumen. Here they pressed the Black Stars high up the pitch, rarely allowing them to play out, crowding out the likes of Essien, Appiah and Muntari, at least until the latter found a bit of room during the second half.

When the green and gold had the ball, Emerton and Chipperfield would flood forward, creating the extra numbers in midfield and out wide, stretching a narrow Ghana and offering the drive that was sorely lacking against the Italians in Kaiserslautern.

All the time they were fed by the wonderful central midfield pairing of Grella and Culina, two men clearly relishing the responsibility of running the show.

Nearby was Wilkshire, once an unlikely member of the team, now growing in his comfort levels by the game. Like Culina and Grella, his beauty is also in his simplicity, such a modern day trait.

When you add the three of them up, throw in the overlapping fliers in Emerton and Chipperfield and the retreating Bresciano, who appears under instructions to drop infield from the left (thus meaning he gets closer to Aloisi and open up some space for Chipperfield to attack down the left), you have a midfield the envy of many, both in numbers and quality.

As I touched on in my preview, the seamless nature of their transition was a sight to behold, well drilled and in touch.

While the Ghanaians were missing their first-choice central defenders, particularly Mensah, (Dickoh, responsible for the penalty, looked shaky as a fill in), and strangely started with Gyan on the bench, Arnold’s men still had to deal with a formidable midfield.

While Ghana had their periods when Grella went off after the break, Muntari at the heart of most of the good things, for most of it the Socceroos looked in control. Had it not been for the outrageous efforts of Kingston, both as a shot stopper and sweeper, it would have been at least a one goal margin.

To a large degree the performance reminded me of some of the Czech Republic performances over the past decade of so – a ‘Team’, familiar with each other, on the same page. Anyone who steps in understands their role.

When he burst onto our shores over 12 months ago, Hiddink spoke openly about getting a bunch of players he admired to ‘think more about their football and understand their roles’. While he appreciated the players’ physical capabilities and the Australian mentality, he reminded everyone that the game is played in the head and quickly set about imposing his finer ‘detail’.

Everyone spoke glowingly about how much they learnt, none more so than Arnold. Now he is adding his own little touches and this was the Socceroos finest display to date under him.

While he craves to be his own man, Arnold isn’t moving too far away from Hiddink’s template, clever work from a man learning and adapting from the best.

His use of so many players since the World Cup is a case in point, a reminder to them that complacency and mediocrity won’t be tolerated. Witness his use of Beauchamp, McKain and Milicevic, all given their chances of late.

This time Arnold played Kisnorbo in central defence, and despite the odd moment of hesitation, he grabbed his opportunity, demonstrating the same poise he showed as a teenage debutant for South Melbourne. Particularly impressive was his strength in the air, but he also made a couple of good covering challenges.

A natural born leader, he also appeared to assume responsibility when Moore was replaced at the break by Thwaites, just the thing a manager would look for.

Also relishing his minutes, not for the first time, was Holman, as productive driving forward in this game as he was against Bahrain in February.

Much has been made about who might emerge as a back-up for Grella in the crucial holding role. While Wehrman isn’t young, he deserves another crack at some stage, but the work of Stuart Musalik at Newcastle over the past month suggests he might be there or thereabouts in a few years. At the very least, he has already shown signs of development since being given a taste in August.

Elsewhere, it would also be nice to see Stefanutto get a run.

One area that continues to cause concern is the Socceroos lack of productivity from set pieces. It was a major sticking point in Germany, with the delivery from Bresciano and Chipperfield, both from free-kicks and corners, often not up to scratch.

If the team aspires to take the next step, and clearly it does, this is an area that will need hours of work. Here Bresciano’s delivery produced one brilliant Kingston save from a Moore header, but countless others were wasted.

At least Aloisi, both yesterday and 12 months ago to today, isn’t missing penalties. Long may that continue.

ASIA CUP FOOTNOTE: Disappointed to learn today that we won't be seeing two guys who have certainly been among my highlights of 2006, Kuwaiti's exciting prospects Bader Al Mutwa and Khalef Al Mutairi, at next year's Asia cup after they were beaten 2-1 in Manama overnight. The result and subsquent qualification for the finals certainly justifies the Bahrain Federation's decision to throw all their eggs in the one basket and send their under 23s here last month. Not only did it provide vital prepartion on the road to Beijing, but it allowed them to rest four first team players on yellow cards and prepare them for this morning's do or die clash.


Blogger Simon O'Toole said...

Hi Tony, a great analysis yet again.

Just on the Kuwaitis: I'd really love to see Al Mutwa and Al Mutairi in a competetion like the A-League. I remember them being very exciting and dynamic, and surely could only bring something different to the league. Although I think they may be happy with their current setup - but there'd be no harm in trying.

Fri. Nov. 17, 09:12:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous dhd said...

Gday Tony,

Excellent piece, I have been hoping for Patrick Kisnorbo to get another gig, I thought he showed good judgement and maturity all those years ago at South.

We do appear to differ on at least one equation...

When I add Grella (1), Culina (1) and Wilkshire (0) together, I still get 2. I've tried it over several matches and get the same result everytime.

I came to love football in my 20s (10 years ago or so) and have never played and trained with a team, so I can well imagine that some aspects of technique and team-play might elude me. ....... But when i see Wilkshire, i see a lack of guile and invention that must be a delight for opposition defences. I thought his frustration at being easily outpointed against the Netherlands pre World Cup - the straight red - was telling.

I think players that will work for the team and play a system are not to be undervalued, but if many are not capable of judiciously throwing out the rules and turning a player every now and again, its too easy for defences to marshall and limit our attack.

The way Emerton has picked up his game in the last few years is an example in my mind of a player who has had his unidimensionality pointed out to him, and he's done something about it. He still tries to skip past people along the sideline, but now if someone buys the dummy he can charge infield to great effect.

Maybe I'm too impatient. Still, I was very pleasantly surprised by the assured performance the boys put it. I really thought we'd be shown up.

cheers Tony, keep up the great work.

Fri. Nov. 17, 11:14:00 am AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Hi Simon and dhd, thanks for your ongoing interest and comments...

Simon, I agree and I've said it before that it would be great to see the likes of Al Mutwa and Al Mutairi given a chance in the A-League.

While Im not sure we can compete financially with some of the Arab oil-rich nations, it would be interesting to test the waters.

Fred, a light livewire in the Al Mutwa/Mutairi mold has certainly fitted in, and I'm of the opinion there should always be room for quality technical players. Culture is always a massive bridge, but with the right support, anything is possible.

dhd, as for Wilkshire, I also admit to being very sceptical at first and even throughout the world cup, but I sense he is warming to the responsibilty. A decent first touch helps him, and with a better placement of a first half header, he might have been on the scoresheet.

It's true, he's not liekly to create too many openings, but managers appear to like him cause he can do a job, most of the time.

His next 12 months in the green and gold will be fascinating.

Fri. Nov. 17, 06:15:00 pm AEDT  

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