Saturday, August 09, 2008

Out-passed and out-classed, but the Olyroos survive

Beijing Games opener analysis, Olyroos 1 v Serbia 1

GIVEN the context of an average performance, Thursday night’s 1-1 result with Serbia was just about as good as it could have been for the Olyroos, and at least keeps them alive.

What the game demonstrated above all else was the significant gap in technical “on-the-ball” ability between the two sets of players.

Graham Arnold touched upon this in the pre-game press conference, when he noted that his largely A-League based squad had been found out in the warm-up games by the greater pressure applied to the man on the ball at international level, and it was evident here.

There’s no doubt about it; not only are the Olympics a massive step-up from the A-League, they’re also a massive step-up from the 14 Asian qualifying games.

What was largely disappointing about the performance was the space between the three lines. Clearly the tactics were to defend deep, and use the pace of Rukavytsya and Thompson to try and catch out the supposedly slow Serbs.

Nothing slow in the mind about twin central defenders Jovanovic and Rajkovic, who I thought were wonderful, comfortably handled the Olyroos “early outlet” stuff.

The only time they did look slow was the only time Australia managed to get in behind them, when Carney danced around right back Tomavic and squared it in behind the central defenders for Rukavytsya and Zadkovich to attack and score.

The pity for the Olyroos was that there wasn’t enough of this, and it wasn’t until Celeski was introduced late that there was any drive or momentum out of central midfield.

The main reason the Olyroos weren’t able to apply any consistent front-third pressure was because their strategy was built on defending deep, and countering via an early long ball.

The talk before the game from the Australian manager was that they would keep the ball and patiently build it up but the reality was that soon as any heat was applied by the Serbs, most of the boys coughed it up. Technical deficiency.

Perhaps the most culpable was the skipper, Milligan, whose want of finding a long target highlighted a weakness in his long passing game. Credit to Arnold for making the decision to replace him, even if the skipper didn’t like it.

Contrast Australia’s passing with the cultured Serbs, who had more lefties than the Free Tibet protest down the road. Was that just a coincidence or something deeper, something to do with the way their players are developed? You certainly see many more lefties in South America as well.

Anyway, the Serbians taught Australia a thing, or two, or three about how to build up sustained pressure; you get it, keep it, give it, go to the man on the ball and ask for it back, then give it again and move to support. All the while the team is moving up, building pressure.

It was neat, calculated combination play, with everyone in touch with each other; left back Kolarov would get it from Rajkovic, find Tadic high up on the left and go forward to support him. Gulan would push across from central midfield, and suddenly there were three players all ‘in-touch’.

On the other side the impressive Tosic would cut in, link with central midfielder Fejsa and striker Rakic. Beautiful to watch, and no major surprise given that a number of players are based in Italy, Spain, Germany and France.

Contrast that with the Aussies, whose play was stretched, with players running away from each other, and the passes not sticking. Fundamental stuff.

Fortunately for Arnold, his strategy to defend deep at least ensured Australia didn’t cop a hiding, but, conversely, it didn’t allow his team to play. The central defenders and keeper stood strong, with Serbia unable to take advantage of their control. Rarely did they get in behind, so credit to the Olyroos defensive organisation.

Spiranovic reminds me of a Melbourne Cup stayer; put him to sleep and he does the job, and then bang, all of a sudden he explodes, and boy did he look comfortable galloping forward, especially on that run. Hopefully for Australian football he can see out the two miles.

Along with Carney, Celeski and Federici, Spiranovic was a rare shining light.

The goalscorer, Zadkovich, worked hard, but struggled when on the ball, the front two were generally chasing shadows, and the fullbacks, McClenahan and Topor-Stanely, where too busy dealing with Miroslav Djukic’s wonderful use of the flanks to offer anything coming forward.

Ultimately though it was a result, and could have been even better had Celeski’s effort not been deflected onto the post. His cameo highlighted that the Olyroos may have been better served pressing higher, and taking it to Serbia.

The danger now is that if they come out and try to play against Argentina tomorrow, Messi, Aguero, Riquelme and co. will carve them up. Indeed, even if they decide to sit back and absorb, it’s not looking great either way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

the two highlights for me happened off the field (that, in itself says a lot). Channel Seven referred to the game as 'football' not soccer for the first time that I can remember, and there was a football ad on Channel 7

Sat. Aug. 09, 11:24:00 am AEST  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

Very fair analysis always. :-)

Let's face it, we were outclassed (Spira and Federici - a pleasant surprise) throughout. Nikita and Archie was a lousy combination up front (particularly given the apparent, erm, "early release" use one of the many euphemisms for hoofball) and the individual technical deficiencies were shown up, particularly when the Serbs started to pile on the pressure.

An interesting small point: it seemed that our fullbacks had no idea at all that the wide men were likely to cut inside. Lack of preparation on Arnie's part?

Credit to him, though, for a good and brave substitution.

Sat. Aug. 09, 11:33:00 am AEST  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

Sorry, that was meant to be "apart from Spira and Federici".

Sat. Aug. 09, 11:35:00 am AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Anonymous, channel 7's handling of the game was better than I expected to be honest....

Mike McCann, while average, was at least better than having Gordon Bray.

Ok, they cut to the press-conference (disgrace) and decided to take a commercial break in the 40th minute (strange why you wouldnt just wait for half time having got so far?), but in fairness i was expecting a few more commercial break...

They didnt skip minutes when they went to commericals and extended the coverage beyond the scheduled 11pm finish...

Afterwards, matt white showed highlights/goals from the other games, and I was pleasantly surprsied...

Some credit due.

Sat. Aug. 09, 11:52:00 am AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

..An interesting small point: it seemed that our fullbacks had no idea at all that the wide men were likely to cut inside. Lack of preparation on Arnie's part?...

Mike, hope you're well bud...

Seems to me that the Serbs knew a little more about us than we did about them...Tosic and Tadic were wonderful on the wings I thought, so silky, Tosic in particular kept ducking in onto favoured left peg and we never dealt with it...

I liked the two driving midfielder's as well, Gulan and Fejsa...their 4-1-4-1 looked far more fluid than our system, which was 4 at the back, 2 holding midfeilders, and then couldnt quite work out what was happening in the front third...

Sat. Aug. 09, 12:10:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i had a little giggle at this line ...

The danger now is that if they come out and try to play against Argentina tomorrow, Messi, Aguero, Riquelme and co. will carve them up.

i`m expecting fortress australia


Sun. Aug. 10, 02:06:00 pm AEST  
Blogger john said...

It was fortress Australia.

Sun. Aug. 10, 09:22:00 pm AEST  

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