Depth in numbers saves the Socceroos
Pre Asian Cup friendly, Singapore 0 v Socceroos 3
NO doubt about it, last night's 3-0 scoreline flattered the Socceroos. But it also proved that Graham Arnold has a deep squad and plenty of attacking options, something that could prove telling in the heat and humidity of Asia throughout the upcoming month.Ultimately, it wasn't until Harry Kewell and Archie Thompson were introduced in the final 30 minutes, against the tiring Singaporeans, that the gulf in class between these two sides really told.
For much of the opening hour, the hosts, led defensively by skipper Aide Iskandar (#5) and inspired by the front duo of Indra Sahdan and the very impressive and mobile Khairul Amri (#19) punched well above their weight.
Indeed, it wasn't until the hard-working defensive midfielder Mustafic Fahruddin and skipper Iskandar limped off late in the second period that the Socceroos were finally able to put the game to bed.
Pressing the Socceroos all over the pitch, Singapore were able to frustrate Australia's attack, especially our two wide players in Marco (or is it Mark?) Bresciano and Mile Sterjovski. They took a particular liking to the Palermo man, snapping at his heels and getting in his back every time he dropped to receive the ball.
Meanwhile, Singapore's English left back Daniel Bennett was doing an admirable job of denying Sterjovski the ball.
Even our big man up top, skipper Mark Viduka, was rarely allowed the luxury to receive and turn, Singapore's wonderfully named Nigerian stopper, Precious Emuejeraye, doubling up with Iskander to restrict Viduka from facing goal.
But the big man, in his current form (and mood), is such a class act he was able to withstand the pressure and do as he does best - bring his teammates into the game. His reward was a couple of much-overdue goals, hopefully a sign that he is about to dominate these smaller Asian defences.
No-one profited more from his offerings than the second striker Brett Holman, ghosting into the box late to get on the end of a number of chances. Still feeling his way into the national set-up, the pity was that he often rushed, subsequently snapping and mis-hitting his chances.
On another night, with a Cahill, Kewell or even a Carle tucked in behind Viduka, Australia might have racked up a few early ones.
As it was, Singapore gradually got themsleves into the game, and looked particualrly effervescent on the counter-attack. It was clever work from their Serbian manager, Radojko Avramovic, who set out a neat template and has clearly got this team ticking in the right direction.
No one was more impressive than Amri, a constant headache for our back four, whether he popped up on the right, left or through the middle. A class act, it is little wonder he has bagged so many in the S-League.
Profitting from his workrate was his co-striker Indra, who had a number of chances either denied by the post or the big frame of Mark Schwarzer.
Perhaps the Socceroos had been guilty of underestimating the hosts a fraction. One of the sloppiest in the first period was Lucas Neill, who twice gave the ball away in trying to build from the back.
The first time he left Patrick Kisnorbo isolated and the Leciester man reacted to an early long ball by fouling his man and earning a yellow. The second time he was no doubt greatful that Schwarzer stood up to Indra.
Indeed, the back four often looked shaky, rarely being in touch with each other. There is little doubt the Socceroos currently play an attractive game built around controlling the ball. But it is also a high risk game and the team must remember that it not only has to control possession, but it has to control the opposition.
That can hardly be said of last night's performance. Singapore provided somewhat of a template for other teams; if you like to build through the counter-attack, Arnold's men often looked prime for the picking.
How Arnold handles the balance between getting enough men forward and not leaving the team exposed could decide the Socceroos fate in Bangkok (and beyond, if there is to be one).
I have already written about the importance of finding a replacement for Scott Chipperfield, and last night only served to emphasise the point, with Luke Wilkshire doing an ok-ish job without ever really looking at ease. Given his wonderful service, in whatever position, over the past 12 or so months, he still appears the safest bet.
Indeed, it wasn't the greatest night for the defensive axis, with Emerton also below his best, partly due to an excellent contribution from Singapore left midfielder Si Jia Yi, while Vince Grella had one of his more quiet nights of late, looking tired. Little doubt the conditions and the recent double-sessions played a part.
But the good news is that they were able to ride their luck enough for Kewell to again make a sparkling contribution in the green and gold. While Liverpool fans - my hand is up - are often left frustrated by Kewell's injures and hot and cold form, there is no-one who can doubt his efforts and match-winning contributions for the Socceroos over the past 11 years.
The hope is that he can stay on the pitch long enough over the next 28 days to win Australia some silverware. Little doubt his partnership with Dukes offers mouth-watering prospects.
With the likes of Bresciano, Culina, Emerton, Sterjovski, Neill and Viduka coming off taxing European seasons, the hope is that the freshness of Kewell, Cahill, Thompson and Carle can provide a spark.
Little doubt that Arnold is blessed with one of the deepest squads in Asia and that could prove telling.