Saturday, May 24, 2008

Kingston's Town not enough but it leaves Pim plenty to ponder

International friendly wrap, Socceroos 1 v Ghana 0 and Matildas 2 v Canada 1

Tony Tannous @ the SFS

FOR 90 odd minutes last night, the SFS was Laryea Kingston's playground, but in a reminder of just how fickle, unpredictable and unjust this game can often be, the team that controlled it in the main ended up with nothing.

In a game that failed to scale any great heights, it was The Black Stars' dread-locked driving number 7, Kingston, a player normally on the fringes for his country, that grabbed his opportunity and illuminated this game with his drive, first touch, ability to hold the ball up under pressure, skill to extricate himself from trouble and find a teammate when under pressure, passing range, both long and short, with the inside and outside of his right peg and overall decision-making.

Even within a couple of minutes of the kick-off it was obvious this guy was a special talent, and his work in the first half really should have been enough to wrap this game up for the visitors by the break.

Currently at Hearts in Scotland, it has hitherto been a journeyman career for the 27 year old Kingston which has seen him go to Libya, Israel and Russia, but on the evidence of this performance against the Socceroos, here lurks a clearly talented footballer with the ability to play at a much higher level.

At times his work resembled that of his missing team-mate, and Ghana's biggest star, Michael Essien, and the Socceroos never really got to grips with him as he combined with Anthony Annan to dominate the midfield.

Sadly for Kingston and his teammates, they were unable to capitalise on their territorial and possessional domination, and their shooting was terrible.

In the first half the Socceroos were never able to deal with Kingston's movement, as the inexperienced holding pair, Mile Jedinak and Jacob Burns, retreated and allowed him too much space when he drifted in from his starting position on the right of a midfield diamond.

David Carney and James Troisi, Australia's left-side, looked lost and neither knew who should pick him up when he drifted to the right, and clipped in some lovely balls to the willing but isolated Goliath Junior Agogo.

The Roos were struggling.

Indeed, about 30 minutes into the game, Australia under the pump, I looked up the spine and there wasn't much experience around. Of course, Mark Schwarzer was there, but in front of him were Jade North, Michael Beauchamp, Jedinak, Burns, Kewell and Joel Griffiths. Among that lot, only Kewell can be considered experience at this level , and even then he isn't experienced in the important position he was playing, in front of the two screeners, behind the striker, alongside the flankers.

How the Roos missed a calming, ball-demanding influence of a Vince Grella, Carl Valeri, Nick Carle or even Stuart Musialik, once the latter gets his act together.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; for all Jedinak's good work in the A-League, he isn't equipped with the tools to run a team in the holding role at international level, especially against higher quality, which clearly Ghana offer.

Jedinak is a midfield breaker, not a maker.

He is not the ideal link-man, the type to demand the ball from his defenders and play out, a strategy which has clearly been behind the Socceroos successful and eye-catching style over the past few years.

Maybe Verbeek learnt this about Jedinak last night. I guess that's what these games are for, but for me it was obvious in Singapore, and much earlier in the A-League.

Anyway, his decision to pair Jacob Burns alongside him meant the Roos had two workaholics in the holding role, but little subtlety on the ball. Burns's use of it was horrible in the main.

Clearly Verbeek, keen to give Culina time and without Valeri, Grella, Carle and Luke Wilkshire, was limited in his engine-room options, but even then his reluctance to introduce James Holland till late in the game was puzzling. At least the Jet likes to demand the ball, hold it, turn, and look to link with feet.

Rarely have we seen such an inept Roos central midfield, with Kewell as big a culprit as anyone. Playing in the advanced central midfield role, he rarely went back to help out his inexperienced holders and demand the ball. It was good he got the best part of 90 minutes, but his lack of involvement was worrying at times, and he was well looked after by Annan.

Clearly Kewell is not as strong as he wants to be, and his ability to go through the gears, the power that caught the eye in his early years, is dead. It probably has been for years. Maybe he needs more time or maybe his body has had enough?

Now Verbeek needs to work out if he can afford a half-fit Kewell in his starting 11 over the next month or if he's best utilised off the bench. A headache indeed.

In the attacking midfield role Kewell offered little forward penetration (like a Tim Cahill or Brett Holman) and an inability to control possession (like a Carle). Out wide he just couldn't go past his man like the Harry of old. Perhaps he has dropped in the pecking order when weighed up against others?

Higher up, Joel Griffiths tried and tried, but was without the service, while Troisi, the club-less Olyroo, needs more time and more games. The one shining light in the front-third was Mile Sterjovski, a man who played the first 45 minutes at the Asian Cup and has hardly been sighted since, despite some impressive stuff for Derby.

Most of time he looked a class above his peers, including Kewell, and took his goal beautifully, profiting from a rare John Mensah slip. While fatherhood beckons, fingers crossed we see more of him over the next month.

At the back, there was good and bad.

While the fullback space was worrying (Adam Griffiths confirmed what I saw against Singapore, that, on the ball, with or without pressure, he makes some daft decisions, and David Carney had his least impressive game in Green and Gold) at least there were some positives for Verbeek in the heart of the defence.

Jade North, continuing his good work from Singapore and China, looked composed when defending and comfortable in trying to play-out from the back. Indeed, he was the only defender with the range of passing to play-out.

While Michael Beauchamp was tragic with the ball at his feet (especially when it was on his left side, under pressure), he was very competitive in his man-marking duties on Agogo and eventually got on top after the big man gave him some early headaches.

Matthew Spiranovic, belatedly locked-in, was given about half an hour, and looked very comfortable at this level. He made his tackles, covered the ground surprisingly quick, and looked relaxed. Looking forward to more.

Schwarzer, for all his hesitation on the ball, was strong and made one save sharp save late on, down low at his near post.

But overall, the performance leaves Verbeek plenty to ponder, and no doubt most of it will focus on his teams inability to maintain the ball. He said as much;

"We made it easy for Ghana to play long balls, we failed to win many second balls, we gave the ball away too easily and our final passing could have been better," he said.

'“This is what we will work on next week. We have to improve, definitely, because this is not the level of football we can normally play.”

To play at this "normal" level, Verbeek will definitely need some ball-playing central midfielders, which he should soon get through the likes of Culina, Grella, Valeri and Carle.


MEANWHILE, in the earlier game, it was a case of the brilliant Matilda's in the first period and the lucky Matildas in the second.

In the first they totally dominated for all but a five minute period and deserved their 2-0 lead. Smaller than their opponents, Australia were far too quick and mobile, keeping the ball on the deck, finding feet, getting it out wide, and getting good balls into the middle, where the ever-willing front duo of Kaitlin Munoz and Sarah Walsh competed.

One of the features of this half was the pace in which the Matildas counter-attacked. On one occasion, Melissa Barbieri caught a cross and the Matildas broke in numbers, the ball switched from the left, through the middle and out to the right, where a chance was created from a first-time cross. It was rapid, incisive, and thrilling, just wonderful play.

Only when Canada started to win some set-pieces and slow the game down did they look a threat.

The second period was completely different. Australia was bogged down, and it was Canada's great physicality that came to the fore. Had it not been for the fact they hit they crossbar twice, they might have rounded off a miraculous comeback.


Blogger Mike Salter said...

A little unfair on Adam Griffiths IMO, Tony...I'm not his biggest fan, but I thought he actually did OK last night, better than Carney on the other flank and Beauchamp in the middle.

You put your finger on our problem in the middle last night; two grafters, without the constructive "half-back" that you need in that 4-2-3-1 formation that seems to be all the rage ATM.

Had there been someone like Musialik or Valeri beside Jedinak in the middle last night (rather than Burns who was very ordinary as usual), it might have been a different story. For the job he was detailed to do, I felt that Jedi actually did a decent job. But he always took the option to pass square or (even more frequently) back, and Burns never got any decent balls forward either, hence the 'roos ended up just shuffling it back to Schwarzer to hump upfield again. It wasn't pretty.

No need for panic, after all, that was not so much our B team as our C team in many respects. But you wouldn't exactly say that the spectators got their money's worth.

Care to catch up at Gabbie tomorrow, BTW?

Sat. May 24, 08:06:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Mike, granted, defensively I thought both Griffiths and Jedinak did decent jobs, just that I was looking for alot more from guys playing in their positions on the ball.

They both played in crucial spots where it's incumbent on them to get on the ball and use it well, esp at home...

I haven't seen either offer enough in an offensive sense, remembering that both positions are critical is setting the teams tempo. They weren't the only ones guilty of passing it sideways or backwards - way too much of that.

Agree, no need to panic at all....A ball-playing, tempo-setting central midfield will make all the difference, i'm sure.

Will touch base re the Gabbie..

Sat. May 24, 09:57:00 pm AEST  
Blogger john said...

Looked to me like the Socceroos wanted to win against a better team.

Mon. May 26, 06:53:00 pm AEST  
OpenID australianfootball said...

I thought Carney had a decent night, didn't do too much wrong in my book. Otherwise, pretty much agree on everything else.

Really enjoyed the women's lead up game. At least they showed that they can play without key stars who are over in the US.

Tue. May 27, 12:55:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No need to panic??

Yes there is.. what is worrying me is the next generation of Socceroos that are coming through.. and im talking about the a-league players.. apart from very very few.. the rest are void of the technical abilities to play at the NT and its a huge concern...

This is why you hear people banging on about the need for coaches in the A-league to encourage possession football and players with technique... i mean look at the Ghanian players from Ghanaian League.... they had way more technique than our players....

its a worry, whether you want to admit it or not.. how long can we rely on the old guard? (Socceroos from WC 2006)

Thu. May 29, 10:46:00 pm AEST  

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