Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Big challenge in the battle of the feelgoods

Socceroos v Ghana friendly, preview

A LONDON battle between two of the real feelgood stories of the world cup promises much, a real test of Australia's recently acquired ability to control football games in midfield and at the back.

The Socceroos of recent months have shown a wonderful tactical appreciation for the game, learning the fine art of controlling games through a domination of possession, creating an over-lap of numbers in midfield and at the back and seamless transition of the ball and players between the three sectors - back, middle and front.

Kuwait City aside, where everything was amiss, it's generally only been in the front third where the Socceroos have struggled to find the regular potency.

But against a hot-to-trot Ghana, one of the most dynamic and powerful teams in world football at the moment, a real eye-catcher at the world cup, and minus a number of regulars (Neill, Viduka, Kewell and Cahill among them), this promises to be Arnold's biggest test to date, particularly when you factor in a limited preparation (only one training session) and what appears likely to be an experimental backline.

The old adage that you build from the back has been thrown out the door, and with Moore added to the list of 'outs', Arnold appears likely to give chances to Kisnorbo and possibly Thwaites, both in from the cold.

It will be a massive chance to make an impression, particularly as the likes of Beauchamp, Milicevic, Valkanis and McKain have failed to grasp theirs over the past few months.

With so many players being given chances of late, it's all about being as high up the pecking order as possible come the Asia cup next July.

While the Roos look light on for experience in the centre of defence, it's the opposite out wide, where Emerton and Chipperfield are in the midst of their most productive Socceroos days.

There's little doubt the quick, powerful front-man Asamoah Gyan will cause the odd headache, and much will depend on how the midfield duo of Grella and Culina (make it a trio if Wilkshire gets a start) cope with one of the most dynamic midfields in the world game.

In Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah, the Black Stars have a powerful, technical and mobile midfield the envy of most nations. Watching them tear strips off the Czechs and US at the world cup (not to mention they had Italy and Brazil on the rack for periods of their other two games) was one of the true delights of a cup dogged by negative tactics.

Essien, in such brilliant form for Chelsea, is the key, and was missed against Brazil where Ghana committed too many men forward and were exposed on the counter.

Had they had some more experience and composure in the front third, and a little more experience at the back, who knows, they might just have gone on a bit further. As it was, to get out of such a tough group was right up there with the Socceroos feats.

Grella, these days the key man for the Socceroos (not just because he's been handed the armband), will have his work cut out dealing with the pace and drive of Appiah and Muntari, but if he and Culina can get their fair share of the ball to the likes of Bresciano, Sterjovski and Aloisi, there might just be some change out of the Ghana defence.

Having said that, I was both surprised and impressed with how organised they were against the Czechs and USA. The key might be to bag one early and make them come out a bit, but recent results (wins over fellow world cup finalists Togo, Japan and South Korea, the latter two away last month) highlight that this mob are now more switched on than ever.

It promises to be a beauty, and one of the most fascinating aspects will be to see how Kasey Wehrman has developed since his days as a Brisbane Striker. Now 29, he promised so much as a kid, but even as a late bloomer has a few good years in him if he can grab his chance.

Arnold is on the record as saying he will use all six available subs, which will probably disrupt the continuity of the game but at least give him, and us, a chance to see the likes of Stefanutto, Holman and Griffiths.

It won't be easy against quality opposition, but this is another step on the road to learning more about ourselves.


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