Monday, February 04, 2008

Finally, a real WC campaign to sink the teeth into

2010 World Cup qualifiers; Australia vs Qatar and beyond

SO Wednesday night it begins, the start of our first ever world cup qualification campaign through Asia.

Fair to say it hasn’t exactly been the smoothest of build-ups.

Our first Asian cup last year was a disaster for all concerned; the FFA, the ‘caretaker’ manager and the players. Then, shortly after deciding to go with a ‘big-name’ foreigner, the FFA had to deal with a stunning about-face from Dick Advocaat, who decided to stick with the Russian Ruble. Then, after a very public process, Pim Verbeek was eventually appointed in December ahead of Phil Troussier, giving the Dutchman six or so weeks to assess whether the locals had the gear to get the job done in our first qualifier.

What has he learnt in that period? Well, in the main, the A-Leaguers, both on the training paddock and on A-League matchdays, haven’t quite stepped up to the plate, or so we’ve been led to believe, forcing Verbeek to go with the ‘safer’ option, or the one he knows more about, the Europeans.

Problem with that, because it’s not an official world cup qualifier date, is that most of them, bar the peripheral Jacob Burns and James Troisi, have barely set foot in the country, giving Verbeek no more than 48 hours to work with his preferred 11, if indeed he knows what that is. Factor in his number one’s arrival tomorrow and it’s only one full training session together.

Not helping him, it appears, has been a lack of total support from the Australian football establishment, be that the governing body, media or even the odd A-League manager.

Indeed, it is hard not to imagine that he doesn’t quite have the total support of his right hand man, Graham Arnold, given that a couple of Arnold’s closest confidants, Robbie Slater and John Kosmina, have been among the most vociferous Verbeek snipers.

Surely if Arnold was in total support of Pim - and we haven’t heard anything from the former caretaker since Verbeek’s appointment - these noises wouldn’t be emanating.

In all, it doesn’t quite paint the healthiest of pictures, especially when you weigh it up against a Qatar side that’s been together for the best part of a month and played three warm-ups. At least the FFA came to the party late and flew the Euroroos over in first class comfort.

Yet, for all the drama, in a strange way, all of this has made us a little more cautious and humble, which I sense might be a good thing.

I remember thinking, and writing (as I occasionally did at the time for, shortly before the two-legged world cup playoff against Uruguay in 2001, just how unrealistic some of the expectations was of us knocking off the Uruguayans.

I mean, here we had an ‘L’ plate manager, Frank Farina, coming up against a bloke who had been driving around the hard-to-navigate roads of South America roads for what seemed an eternity, and we were expecting him to get the job done.

Ultimately, we now know, Victor Pua proved too wily for Farina over those two legs, and our optimism/arrogance was shot.

The good thing is we seemed to learn from that experience. Next time around the ‘i’s’ were dotted, the ‘t’s’ were crossed, little other than the odd spot kick was left to chance, and Guus Hiddink did what he does best.

Then, ahead of our first Asian Cup, giving we’d done brilliantly in Germany, the arrogance and short-mindedness was back. Turn up and we’d win.

It showed a complete lack of respect, and we copped a left squarely in the jaw, with most of Asia looking on in amusement.

Now comes a qualification campaign that is sure to have its hurdles, so it’s great to see an element of caution in the air.

There are so many questions that lie ahead; just how will Verbeek handle the campaign? How will he juggle the home and away games, the balance between the locals and Europeans, playing at altitude, playing in the heat? Now will the player respond to his promptings?

It’s all so damn intriguing, and after years of envy at the rest of the world, complaining about the vagaries of a two-legged lottery to decide our world cup fate, it’s just wonderful to have a whole campaign to look forward to.

Given the tough draw and the belated campaign launch, fingers crossed it extends beyond the initial six games.

Results will ultimately be the judge, and the three home games will be crucial. The style, if it ever comes, can follow.

Qatar are said to be here to sit and counter, so an early Roos goal would be lovely.

If it doesn’t come, nerves will jangle and patience will be the key, so cool heads are called for. For the record, I sense, or perhaps I pray, that the home ground advantage might just swing it in our favour. 1-0 Australia.


Blogger Neil said...

"It’s all so damn intriguing, and after years of envy at the rest of the world, complaining about the vagaries of a two-legged lottery to decide our world cup fate, it’s just wonderful to have a whole campaign to look forward to."

Tony I would have to agree. Can't wait for the coming months of qualifiers and the glut of Socceroos games - something that can only benefit all involved. Our fate is much more in our hands now that we are in Asia.

Australia 2 Qatar 0

Tue. Feb. 05, 07:56:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with you Tony, tomorrow night is something to be worried about due to the lack of preparation (and the amount of preparation for Qatar) and also the Arnold factor. I am still finding it hard to understand how someone can fail in a job and still be appointed as assistant of that role, and also be in charge of the next crop of internationals. I believe that Arnold will be wanting Verbeek to fail to try to make his own shortcoming look less pathetic. We can only trust that Verbeek has a strong enough personality(and judging by his comments - he has) to not pay attention to any 'advice' Arnold may give him. The whole football community should be giving their support to Verbeek to ensure that we do qualify for the next stage (first things first).

Tue. Feb. 05, 12:43:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger Adam said...

Great article TT, when the hell is someone going to sack Arnold? Even our glorious corporate games squad wouldn't benefit from his input

Tue. Feb. 05, 09:19:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger pippinu said...

Good post - I too am leaning towards 1-0 (our way of course).

The Arnie situation is intriguing - it's hard to imagine any other world class manager accepting his predecessor as one of his assistants - I wonder what say Pim had in that regard.

On the positive - Pim passed his first test with flying colours - getting pretty much all the players he wanted to fly across en masse. How many of us would have predicted that that was possible a few weeks ago? At the time, I honestly thought there was no chance.

His 2nd test is moulding them into a winning outfit tonight.

His 3rd test will be dealing with the likes of Thwaite (and maybe others) who have flown across the world to get zero game time (and in this respect, I am recalling specifically the Zelic/Farina stoush from about 8 years ago).

Wed. Feb. 06, 09:05:00 am AEDT  

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