Monday, July 23, 2007

‘We got what we deserved’

Quarter Final, Japan 1 v Australia 1 (Japan won 4-3 on penalties)

AUSTRALIA’s best performance of a disappointing tournament, but it was undoubtedly a case of too little, too late. The damage had been done on matchdays 1 and 2, against Oman and Iraq, forcing the Socceroos to travel from Thailand to Vietnam, into territory and conditions that Japan had spent the best part of three weeks in.

We got what we deserved, punished for believing we could waltz into Asia and do as we pleased. By the time we realised it wasn’t so easy, we were facing up to the Asia’s most successful team of the past decade, with our confidence and ego severely dented.

Guess it’s better to learn the lessons now than in the crunch world cup qualifiers that lie ahead.

Here Arnold stuck to the troops that had done the job, albeit unconvincingly, against Thailand, offering a reprieve to Lucas Neill, in for the suspended Luke Wilkshire.

Interestingly, Neill, reckless in the opening two fixtures, wasn’t handed the responsibility of controlling the back three from the middle. Instead, Mark Milligan was rewarded for an awesome display against the Thais, and, but for the moment of hesitation and confusion that resulted in Naohiro Takahara’s equaliser, he had another eye-catching evening.

Neill had to be content with a spot on the right of a back three, forcing Emerton into the right wing-back role.

Otherwise, it was status quo.

Ditto for Japan, whose wily manager Ivica Osim was hoping to exploit Australia’s recent vulnerability.

Truth is that the Samurai Blue never really got into top gear, struggling, like the Aussies, to play an up-tempo game in the early evening heat and humidity, and rarely managing to get in behind a dogged and deep Socceroos rearguard.

Instead, they played at one pace throughout, bossing the game, controlling the ball and the opposition, without every managing to hit full-throttle.

This was mainly down to some determined defensive work from the Sooceroos, who, cajoled by the sideline coaching of their manager, finally showed the requisite application and organisation, particularly through midfield. Vince Grella, up until his unlucky send off for a stray elbow, was having his best game of the tournament, and Australia’s midfield was all the better for it.

The fact that Arnold spent the early going shouting instructions to his men told not only of a man under pressure, but one who perhaps hadn’t done the requisite preparation ahead the game. It was a strange sight and sound at this level of football.

Regardless, the Socceroos reacted well to their managers promptings, doing a good job of keeping Japan’s two major creators, Shunsuke Nakamura and Yashuhito Endo, away from the 18 yard box, meaning that most of Japan’s limited drive was being supplied by the unlikeliest of sources, defensive midfielder Kengo Nakamura.

The Roos discipline, not to give away free kicks around the box, was good.

Problem for the Socceroos was that they were defending so deep that they were basically inviting Japan to control possession and the flow of the game. The times Australia did get on the ball we looked better than we have, knocking it around with patience.

But once again were unable to sustain any possession in the final third.

This was largely down to the brilliant defensive performance from man of the match Yuji Nakazawa, who was clearly intent on making up for Kaiserslautern, rarely allowing Mark Viduka and John Aloisi an inch to breathe, as if that wasn’t already hard enough in the conditions.

He was a monster, making it his prerogative to shut-down Australia’s skipper, seen as our most dangerous threat, on the ground and in the air. While he’d talked the talk in the build up to this match, here he backed it up.

Even when Kewell came on, Nakazawa was often nearby.

Fitting that it was he who stepped up and dispatched the final spot-kick to seal Japan’s passage to the semis. Smashing penalty after a smashing performance. Some redemption.

Even when the Socceroos were reduced to 10 men, it was clear we were playing for penalties, knocking the ball into the corners, trying to milk up time rather than build-up some possession. Only when Nick Carle was introduced late did Harry Kewell have anything resembling someone to play with.

Courageous it might have been, but smart?

Well, cast your mind back to K-Town just over 12 months ago when Italy proved that you can be down to 10 men and still look a threat going forward. Evidently, we still have a bit to learn.

Most of those lessons will be about ensuring no short-cuts are taken on the road to South Africa, for, if this tournament has proved anything, it is that we still have a long way to go in the grand world of football.

2 Comments:

Anonymous dhd said...

Tony,

I watched the game in Catalunya via a pirate internet broadcast in Chinese. Such is the international profile of the tournament.

I wasn´t sure if the prominence of Arnold´s barking on the sideline was because of the source of the telecast - but i gather it was not from your post.

What disappointment the entire tournament was. We were flattered by the scoreline against Thailand as you said. Arnold can´t have it both ways, claiming that Australia´s rightful place was beyond the semis but playing a fearful game against the likes of Thailand. They were technically our superior in that game, but like against Japan, we backed off and invited them to control the ball and tempo.

sigh.

dhd

Mon. Jul. 23, 10:59:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

dhd, good to hear from you, no, arnold's barking was prominent even on the fox coverage...I couldnt believe what I was hearing at times, it reminded me of a sat afternoon in the local competition, coaches instructing their teams through the game.

guess you'll be sad not to see fred when you get back, but a friend of mine (thanks AA) was out at Skilled Stad on Sunday and reports that the new Costa Rican hernandez has some good touches.

Throw in Kaz Patafta and there is hope the Victory can do ok again this season, but a back-up striker for Archie and Allsopp wouldnt be the worst move.

Tue. Jul. 24, 12:03:00 am AEST  

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