Friday, June 27, 2008

Some tough early stuff on the road to SA

A look at the phase 4 draw

IT could have been better and it could have been worse. That was Pim Verbeek's fair assessment of tonight's draw.

It's a tough one, especially early, but wasn't that exactly what our move into Asia almost 1000 days ago (yes, already two and a half years ago) was meant to be like?

When you looked at the possibilities beforehand and the potential that we could have been paired with two from Iran, Japan and Saudi Arabia, the fact we only got one of the three reads well. The fact it's arguably the toughest, Japan, is not so great.

When you looked at the next pot, 3, we definitely wanted Bahrain, so that's good news.

The fun ended in the next pot, 4, where we drew the floater, or 'the elephant in the room', as Simon Hill described them, Uzbekistan, the first team to get through to this phase, and a nation with players of the ilk of Djeparov and Kapadze, so impressive in the qualifiers and for their club Kuruvchi in the ACL.

Drawing Qatar again wasn't so bad given we appeared to have the edge over them in phase three, but take nothing for granted, especially with the likes of Quintana and Cesar around.

Given the familiarity, it would have been great if Qatar had landed in position four, meaning the first game (matchday 2) was away in Doha. Instead, it's a tough trip to Tashkent. Here's Pim;

“They are very Russian-orientated; have a few players with top clubs in Russia and are physically strong, skilful players. They did very well at the Asian Cup last year and were very good when we went there with Korea.”

The positives are it lands on a Fifa date, and given Tashkent's proximity to Europe, the logistics don't look so bad, with the likelihood of a friendly four days earlier, when the other teams are immersed in matchday 1.

After hosting Qatar on matchday 3, the matchday 4 and 5 away double in Bahrain and Japan look tricky given they aren't on Fifa world cup dates.

Bahrain we had the edge over in Asian Cup qualifying, both home and away, but the short preparation won't help. Fingers crossed by the time the Socceroos jet into Japan there is a neat little buffer developing at the top of the table.

Indeed, with three of the first four games away from home, the odd slip-up will mean that pressure mounts, on the manager, team and the nation, and given our lack of exposure to such a lengthy qualifying route, that would be dangerous territory.

Much better, I would have thought, to build some early momentum and a little buffer with early wins at home, rather than having to chase from behind with the pressure mounting, and a matchday 10 home blockbuster against the Samurai Blue waiting. As Iraq proved in phase three, it's ain't easy chasing.

But such are the vagaries of the draw that the Socceroos, seeded, didn't have any choice but to load up late at home.

So, while the FFA might be relatively satisfied with the logistics and the prospect of a crescendo, the main hurdles do appear to be early, with only one home match this year, and three in the back half of the phase.

As such, Verbeek believes qualification will only be decided in the final two matchdays, at home to Bahrain and Japan, which would be massive for the FFA coffers and the game's exposure, but it's sure going to make for a nervy 12 months (or more), exactly what our move into Asia promised.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wishlist for tomorrow

Socceroos vs China, md6 preview

A PLACE in the next phase guaranteed, it's time to let the hair down tomorrow. Ok, there's no Nicky Carle, but there's plenty to sink the teeth into, so here's my little wishlist;

1. Seeing Stuey Musialik make his debut; long time readers of this blog know how much of a fan I am of this kid and how I've been tracking his progress very closely since the inception of the A-league, and watching him develop into one of the brightest prospects I've seen come through our local ranks. I've often described him here as the team 'tempo-setter', the kind of deep-lying 'quarter-back' that can be a fixture in the Roos holding midfield for the next decade or more. In season one he was short on opportunity, in version 2 he was incredible (along with Nick Carle the main reason for the Jets resurgence and great play), but I sense he went off the rails a touch last season as injury and the occasional distraction affected his form. Now he has made the move to Sydney, and speaking to John Kosmina during the week, I sense he's back on track, as evidenced by his call-up here. Would be great to see him get some time here, and anyway, as I hinted here, on ability he should be well ahead of Jedinak in the pecking order.

2. Seeing some other kids do well; two other players I have written heaps about on this blog in recent time are Holland and Djite. Looking forward to seeing how they handle their opportunities. Looks like there could also be one for Topor-Stanley, who has emerged from nowhere over the past two years. Given the dearth of left-sided defenders and Carney's recent uncertainty defending, I've been looking forward to seeing how Topor-Stanley goes as a sitting defender, someone you can plonk in a back four simply to defend, which might be useful in some tough away games over the years to come. Conversely, there have been times where he has done a brilliant job as an attacking option for the Olyroos, as we saw on this night. On the other side we might also see Zadkovich.

3. Michael Beauchamp having an assured night; this first phase of qualifiers has shown how much we rely on Neill as a defensive organiser. North has been doing well, but Beauchamp continues to look uncertain, as Paul Okon has suggested. Would be great to see him have a blinder here and give Pim and the rest of us a little more comfort heading into the next phase. Head up Megsy, you can do it. More time for Spiranovic, that's exciting.

4. Seeing Michael Petkovic have a blinder; with Schwarzer's occasional judgement errors in dealing with lofted balls, we really need someone to step up and put a bit of pressure on him. Would be great to see Petka barking instructions, commanding his box, and producing four or five top-quality saves, but that might depend a bit on the previous point, and the next one.

5. Seeing the Chinese come out and have a go; China have missed out on the next phase due to their ultra conservative approach and the fact they haven't been prepared to throw men forward. Would be good to see them come out and play a bit, and not see any of the reckless rubbish they have reputation for producing when things go against them.

6. A rousing Roos performance; following on from their good win in Qatar and ahead of the June 27 draw, we're looking for a positive Roos showing. Looks like the pitch won't help, but hopefully there's a great party mood and the boys and Pim deliver.

Here's an exciting 11, in 3-5-2, which could easily become a back four if you push Topor-Stanley back;


Thursday, June 19, 2008

More Euros analysis on 442

....and a little more on the Roos

How good where the Russians this morning!

They were brilliant, and you can read more in my latest Euro 2008 Blog over at FourFourTwo.

Reckon the Ruskis are very much a chance of springing an upset against the Dutch on Sunday morning. At the very least, it should be a wonderful open spectacle, in keeping with the beautiful mood of this tournament

Here are my thoughts on the rest of the qf's...

Portugal vs Germany
Portugal, on current evidence, should have just a little bit too much for a German side with far too many question marks (right midfield, attack and the manager’s unconvincing selections and tactics), but you never discount the German resolve, especially with Ballack around.

Croatia vs Turkey
Two of the most united and spirited sides. Turkey are depleted, but have unearthed a gem in Arda, while Altintop, pushed forward in the second half against the Czechs, was brilliant, teeing up all three. And they are playing without the pressure, so watch out. Croatia are rested and have sorted out their left side, with Rakitic a revelation in the past two games and complimenting the drive of Pranjic, who was a mess in the opener. After an excellent game against Poland, Klasnic should also be putting pressure on Olic for a forward birth. Indeed, Bilic might just fancy having a go at the Turkish rearguard and play two up front. Despite the expectation, I fancy the Croats.

Spain vs Italy
What to make of the Spaniards? Brilliant against the Russians, they were far from that against the Swedes, who didn’t afford them the space that Russia did. Suffocated in midfield, Xavi and Iniesta were often out-muscled, and, without the service, Villa was absent…until he popped up in the 93 minute. Certainly Italy will provide their stiffest test to date, and despite the absence of Pirlo and Gattuso, their depth means they will still be able to choose a midfield including De Rossi, Ambrossini, Cameronesi and Aquilani, not bad in anyone’s language. And surely Toni must score eventually. Certainly the Azzurri have looked a bit more solid at the back in recent times and, as much as I’d love to see the likes of Torres and Iniesta advance, I just sense Italy is gathering momentum and timing a run.

....and well done the Socceroos. From the off you could tell they were really up for this and that Verbeek had instilled a far more positive mind-frame and structure than we'd seen of late, with Bresciano, Holman and Emerton buzzing about all over the place, forcing the Qataris to become ragged. Defensively, there were still a few headaches, with Beauchamp especially given the run-around by the dangerous Quintana, who threatened for large periods of the first half. Ultimately the Socceroos had just too much run and physical strength for the Qataris, who were punished for leaving their injured skipper, Kone, hobbling around for 16 minutes. The other noticeable aspect of this game is that the Roos appeared to handle the conditions far better than they have ever handled the heat. Perhaps they'd finally acclimatised? or perhaps the focus on the negativity of the manager in the build-up had taken the attention away from the heat? The mind works in strange ways. In any case, it's job well done for now, and the focus shifts to Sunday in Sydney, a chance to look at a new 11 and have a party. One of the strangest statements in the build-up to the game was the reason given by Verbeek for Nick Carle's non-selection. Apparently, with the Bristol pre-season still a few weeks away, Carle needed to rest and get himself in Bristol first 11 (as if he isn't already). It has created an almighty stir over at Jesse Fink's latest TWG blog, and a little birdie I spoke to earlier today suggested there's more to the story than the need for Carle to shape up for next season, as if we didn't suspect that already.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

TRBA Euro 2008 Blog on FourFourTwo

....and a spot on the ongoing Socceroos wc qualifiers

JUST in case you were wondering where my analysis of the Socceroos 1-0 loss to Iraq in Dubai on md4, my apologies, I've been getting up early mornings, frantically jockeying between the IQ and the HDD recorder, watching Euro 2008.

I did watch the Roos match, choosing that live over the Euros opener, but just haven't found the time to punch out my thoughts. In short, I felt our luck finally ran out, and once Emad Mohammed's wonder strike (I'd rather believe, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Schwarzer creep off his line) gave the 'hosts' the upper-hand, Verbeek's negative tactics and Australia's propensity in the second half of the second half to knock unimaginative crosses into Kennedy from deep positions on the left and right (Carney was the most culpable, with Wilkshire, pushed to the right side of defence to allow Emerton to bomb on, not far behind) really didn't give the Roos a chance.

Brett Holman looked dangerous early in the second period, combining well with Kewell. At that point the Socceroos were still trying to play on the counter and pinch an equaliser, but when Kennedy and McDonald came on, the momentum shifted, Iraq retreated and the Socceroos resorted to route one, trying to picking up some second ball scraps.

Alas, there was no such luck, or no Timmy Cahill, the master of the second ball.

On the flip side, at least the defending was better than md3, with Coyne looking ok and North having another excellent game, while Wilkshire, Culina and Valeri worked the house down in midfield.

Now comes a tricky md5 tie in Doha, and on the evidence of this md2 home victory over Iraq, the Qataris will take some beating at the Al Saad. Certainly, against China last week, they continued to look organised, despite having their share of luck. Forsatti, who has done so well since the debacle in Melbourne, might finally have his revenge.

The Socceroos would do well to be weary of the duel South American threat that is Cesar and Soria, and must not give away free kicks anywhere near the box. Cesar can sure deliver a ball.

Another loss, coupled with an Iraqi win over China -very likely given China's lack of potency up front - will sure make for a nervous md6 back in Sydney.

All eyes will sure be on Doha...with all fingers crossed.

But in the meantime, if you've been tuning into the Euros, or you can't get access but wish to keep up with the analysis and debate, be sure to check out my Euro 2008 Blog over at FourFourTwo.

If you didn't catch up with the news earlier today, for the next few week's I'll be sharing my thoughts on the tournament on FourFourTwo, but will continue to dissect our World Cup campaign and all things round ball over here. My first Euro 2008 piece is here, so be sure to pop by and say hello.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Euro 2008 Preview - Part 2

THE preview of groups A and B is here. With the group of death kicking off tomorrow morning our time, here’s the rest;


Assets; depth of the squad in all the thirds, tactical adaptability (they can sit back and soak, press and take the initiative and adapt to any tempo that’s required) and mental strength. Cannavaro may be out, but they still have the experience of Buffon and Zambrotta at the back. In midfield, Pirlo will pull the strings with his wonderful set pieces and distribution, class act, with the donkey work done by De Rossi and Gattuso. In attack they have plenty of potency with Toni supported by a player I think will make an impression at this tournament, Di Natale, while Aquilani supports from behind.
Deficits; just how much will they miss Cannavaro and Totti, two leaders with undoubted quality. Also, Donadoni, such a quality player, is untried as a manager at a major championship.
Conclusion; despite the absence of two key figures, I still feel the Azzurri have the quality to go all the way.

Assets; so much quality in the front third with Sneijder, van der Vaart, van Persie, Afellay, Robben, Huntelaar, van Nistelrooy, Kuijt and Vennegoor. Sneijder in particular has had a terrific season at Real and is such at threat over the dead ball.
Deficits; keeping the five or six of the above-mentioned happy when they don’t make the starting 11 (at least that won’t be such a problem in the opener with Robben and van Persie expected to miss). While strong in the front third, van Basten doesn’t have so much quality at the back and in the holding midfield, so getting his unit organised will be the key. Ironically, they struggled to score goals in the qualifiers but had a terrific defensive record (15 for, 5 against in 12 games).
Conclusion; because of the tough group, limitations at the back and in the holding midfield, I think they’ll struggle to get out of the group.

Assets; In Ribery and Benzema, they have two of the world’s gun youngsters, the former one of the most destructive counter-attackers going around, and their only real creative threat out of midfield, while the latter looks a complete striker, great on the ground and in the air.
Deficits; at the back there are many questions marks, especially about the recent form of Thuram and Abidal for Barcelona. Indeed, how Mexes and Evra are not ahead of them is the pecking order is a mystery. Abidal offers nothing. Surprised also that Sagna isn’t ahead of Sagnol on the right. Indeed, there’s very much an old-guard feel to this side, with Makelele and Vieira in central midfield, while talents like Toulalan and Nasri bide their time. Injury issues over Ribery and Vieira can’t help, while Henry is coming off a terrible season at Barca.
Conclusion; They’ve certainly got the experience, but I sense Domenech’s blind faith in so many of 2006 team might bring about Le Bleu’s downfall. Their first game against Romania could well decide if they get through the group.

Assets; in a group brimming with big names, Romania are the dangerous floaters. Everyone remembers the Hagi inspired side of the mid to late 90s that sprung surprise after surprise, and this side could also sneak by a couple of the big guns. Mutu and Chivu are the biggest names, but keep an eye out also for attackers Marica and Dica, and attack-minded fullbacks Contra and Rat. Romania offer quality on the counter and the set-piece, and in Mutu they have a player in supreme form.
Deficits; most of these players haven’t been to major championship and it’ll be interesting to see if they can handle it.
Conclusion; if they were in a softer group, I would be confident to say they could go a long way and be the real dark horse. Now it’s more in hope they can get beyond the ‘dads-army’ French and enigmatic Dutch. Either way, would be great if they could produce just some of the quality we saw in the Hagi years.

Group Prediction; Italy are the safest bet to get through, and I’m hoping Romania will surprise enough to get beyond France. The Dutch have a tough draw and there are enough doubts to give them a miss yet again.


Assets; one of the best squads going around, with some brilliant midfielders in Fabregas, Iniesta and Xavi and an absolute gun up front in Torres. Ramos is solid at the back. They have depth too, with the likes of Guiza and Villa ready to come in up front. Spain will control possession through their superior passing and technical game.
Deficits; Too many. Let’s start with the manager, Aragones, who has never impressed at this level, both in team selection and tactical acumen. Witness his recent work in the friendly against USA, a game I watched, in which he started with Alonso ahead of Senna, did some strange things in the wide areas, and left Torres isolated, acres from any support. Things improved in the second period, but it didn’t inspire confidence. Also, Spain can often be fragile physically and mentally, which is why starting Senna would be smart business. They can also be susceptible to the counter, which Hiddink and Rehaggel will love, and are often a little one-paced, with everyone wanting the ball to feet.
Conclusion; should have enough quality to get through the group, but Aragones doesn’t inspire the greatest confidence, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see them dumped early. Would be shocked to see them win the whole thing.

Assets; Aussie Guus, what a genius! Russia has done nothing on the international scene for almost two decades and as soon as Hiddink joins they not only start winning, but start playing with plenty of style and panache, with organisation, tactical ‘control’ and attack the central planks. He is some manager, but we already know that. On the field he has a couple of guns, including Zenit’s Arshavin, Zyrianov and Anyukov. Watch out for central midfielder Zyrianov, who runs everywhere and gets goals.
Deficits; sadly, the creative dynamo that is Arshavin is suspended for the opening two games, while main striker Pogrebnyak is out of the tournament, two huge loses. Without them, who will create and score in the opening two games? Central defence can also be a little cumbersome.
Conclusion; had it not been for the loss of Arshavin and Pogrebnyak, I had Russia toping the group and getting to the semis. Their loss brings them back to the field, but Hiddink should still get them through.

Assets; Rehaggel, as we saw four years ago, is a wily and calculated tactician, and is generally able to get the best out of his men with his ‘defend first’ mantra. There’s a sense they’re still defending well, and they will need to against Sweden. Gekas and Amanatidis offer promise up front.
Deficits; Charistaes, such an influence up front four years ago, has been in terrible form, while the question remains whether anyone can step in to Zagorakis’s shoes? As I noted in my preview of Turkey, I felt Greece were in one of the softer qualification groups, so there is s question of class. There are also doubts about whether Robot Rehaggel has refreshed this team enough since 2004, with many of the old heads still around, especially in midfield.
Conclusion; Along with Hiddink, Rehaggel is one of the best tacticians around, certainly in this group, but he will need to use every inch of that acumen to give the Greeks another run. The surprise element is gone.

Assets; Strong front line, with Ibrahimovich, Larsson and Allback all likely to cause opposition defences headaches. Strong in the centre of defence, where Mellberg and Majstrovic combine.
Deficits; Not so strong in the fullback areas and in midfield, where they are competitive more than they are flashy. Lack of tactical flexibility.
Conclusion; If the big guns in attack fire they can get through the group, but there are enough doubts about whether there will be any ammunition from behind.

Group prediction; Spain have the quality players, which should be enough to get them through, but of it comes down to tactics, the best are Hiddink and Rehaggel. Russia to spring a surprise and make it through, and if Spain and Aragones crumble, the Greeks will be ready to pounce.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Euro 2008 Preview - Part 1

WHILE the Socceroos qualifying campaign continues to grab most of the attention down-under, most of Europe is about to embark on a month-long fiesta of football. Don’t know if anyone else has noticed it, but England’s absence has meant a distinct lack of English press and analysis on the Euros and an email yesterday from and EPL obsessed mate of mine confirmed where most of the English press has been focused this week; Cristinao Ronaldo and the will-he, won’t-he move to Real (as opposed to how he will perform at Euros), Jose Mourinho joining Inter, Mark Hughes joining Man City and Ronaldinho’s links to the same club. In his email, my mate touched on all the above club issues, with no mention of the Euros. ESPN Press Pass last night went along the same lines, burying its tournament preview towards the end of its 30 minute slot.

It’s a shame really, but hardly a surprise given the amount of football available these days. This week, having just subscribed to Setanta for the Euros, I was able to get the Copa Libatedores semi finals, Euro warm-ups involving the Czech Republic, France and Spain, friendlies involving Argentina (Messi and Aguerrro in tandem, watch out Olyroos) and Brazil. Last week, on ESPN, I caught the Germans twice. It’s mayhem, football everywhere.

But for every EPL obsessed fan, like my above-mentioned friend, there’s another five or six who just can’t wait for the tournament. This week I’ve been inundated by mates, all with a vested interest, Greeks, Italians, Croats and Czechs alike, all wanting to share thoughts ahead of the event, and chat about the Roos.

Hectic times indeed. Without further to do, here’s a look at the pluses and minuses in groups A and B, with the remaining groups to follow.


Assets; home advantage is a big one that might just be enough to get them through this even group. Not many goals in this side, but keep an eye on the work of Barnetta and Behrami in midfield.
Deficits; the lack of a genuine goal-getter or craftsman. Frei has been around the traps, but isn’t a guy who’s going to get many, so the Swiss will compete and try and pinch goals at set-pieces and the like. Senderos is often ponderous at the back, so defending high could be a sin.
Conclusion; reckon they’ve done a great job if they can sneak past the Czechs and Turks for second.

Czech Republic
Assets; Karol Bruckner is a very thoughtful and highly respected manager and generally pulls the strings well. The Czechs invariably turn up and play in-synch, stylish, attractive football, some of the best around, and have remarkable team spirit. They are adaptable in that they can play patient build-up or rapid attacks. Ujfalusi is strong at the back and Sionko should catch the eye attacking from midfield.
Deficits; without Nedved, Rosicky and Poborsky, the midfield looks the weakest it’s been in a very long time, but Bruckner will still get the best out of his men, despite some criticism for sticking with the old guard at the expense of the likes of Fenin. He’s hinted that he’ll only play one up front (Koller), with Baros more likely to play on the left, but the Czechs are adaptable.
Conclusion; with this midfield, I’d be very surprised if they got beyond the quarters.

Assets; Ronaldo is the obvious one and Scolari will do well to give him license to roam wherever he likes. No point constraining him to one of the wide spots in his 4-3-3. Elsewhere, Portugal is very strong in the wide areas, with not only Ronaldo, but Quresma, Nani and Simao. In Carvalho they have one of the best defenders in the world.
Deficits; Deco has been ‘off’ for the past two seasons, a shadow of the player that went to Germany ’06, and other than Ronaldo, they don’t really have a gun goal-getter among Gomes, Almeida and Postiga. Without Maniche and Tiago, they don’t look as strong in the engine room. However, their biggest question mark is temperament, how they handle the big occasion.
Conclusion; should at least get to the quarters, possibly the semis, but doubt they’ll make up for losing to Greece four years ago. That was their chance.

Assets; they look strong in central midfield with Brazilian Aurelio and Emre, and according to regular TRBA reader Pinuts Pethia, who watched a few of their qualifiers and has been pestering me to pop up a Euro preview, they offer plenty on the counter, with “skillful and intelligent midfielders able to execute precise passes to hit a team on the break”…couldn’t have said it better myself. Nihat and Tuncay are the quick blokes up front hoping to profit from these passes. Mobility in transition will be the key.
Deficits; by my reckoning, they were in one of the softest qualifying groups along with Greece, but they’re still a big chance to get out of this group. Can’t really see a massive striker to convert their chances, and they look a little soft at the back. No massive personality, like a Sukur,
Conclusion; playing Portugal first doesn’t help, but if they can get a result, get in the mood and build some momentum, they could be the group giant-killer.

Group Prediction; Portugal to finish top, with not much separating the rest. I’m seeing the home ground advantage getting the Swiss through.


Assets; their playing at home, that’s about it. Looking forward to seeing Ivanschitz, who I’ve heard a bit about.
Deficits; should be outclassed, but hopefully, for them, not embarrassed.
Conclusion; would do well to score a goal or two, even better to score a point or two.

Assets; very impressive in qualifying and in Bilic they have a manager on the rise. He is adaptable and, like the Czechs, can play patient ball-possession build-up or rapid counter. One of the most pleasing aspects of their play will be the skill, interchange and mobility in attacking third between Modric, Krancjar and Olic. Particularly looking forward to seeing Modric.
Deficits; the big one is the loss of Eduardo, their main man in the quals. Petric and Olic, the latter especially, will need to step up. There is an old guard including the Kovac’s, Snra, Simic and Simunic, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can still cut it at this level.
Conclusion; should get off to a great start and, if they can top the group and avoid Portugal in the cross-over, are capable of making the semis at least.

Assets; Ballack, what a player. Has been in magnificent form for both club and country over the past couple of months. I watched both their recent friendlies and while others struggled, Ballack ran the show in both. When he came off against Belarus, Germany was 2-0 up, and fell to pieces. Then he single-handedly won the games against Serbia. Klose always does well at the big tournaments and Germany, when things are working, have the mentally to handle the bigger games.
Deficits; Lehmann looks shaky between the sticks and while Mertesacker looks good, his side-kick Metzerlder has struggled since coming back from injury, and even looked a liability in the two above-mentioned friendlies. Meanwhile, Loew is unknown at this level and has shown signs of frustration lately. He has some major decisions to make in a number of positions, like who plays with Klose up front (Gomez, Podolski, Kuranyi or Neuville). On the evidence I’ve seen, I’d go for Neuville, who’s more likely to be used off the bench. Another big one is the right side of midfield where Schneider will be missed. Does Loew go for the attacking but enigmatic Odonkor, the defensive but steady Fritz, or does he shift Schweinsteiger to the right and draft in Podolski on the left? Headaches already for Loew.
Conclusion; two weeks ago, they were my tip to win it, until of course I watched the two recent friendlies. Courtesy of a good draw, I still think they’ll be there or thereabouts, in the final even, but at this stage there are enough questions to make me look elsewhere for an eventual winner.

Assets; extremely competitive and physical, they will be tough to beat in every game. Smolarek was a shining light in qualifying, bagging nine, the best record at this tourni, and is adaptable enough to play anywhere in the front third. A dangerous, counter-attacking unit, Germany will need to be wary in game one. Expect them also to be a threat at set-pieces. Successful Leo Beenhakker is a great man to have on the bench.
Deficits; given they don’t have a deep squad, losing winger Blaszczykowski (thankfully I no longer have to type his name) doesn’t help their cause. While they’re good on the counter, they generally don’t have a lot of craft in the front and middle thirds, thus don’t create that many chances. Seeing how they handle their first Euros will be interesting.
Conclusion; if Croatia or German slip-up in any way, Polska won’t need a second invitation, just ask Portugal.

Group prediction; Poland will be thereabouts, but I’m seeing Germany and Croatia go through. The question being, in what order? Ballack and Klose give the Mannschaft the edge, but their defence will need to gel quick. If it does finish that way, in the cross-over I’d expect Germany to knock-off Switzerland, and wouldn’t be surprised to see Croatia do Portugal.

Coming up in the second part of my Euros previews, I go through the group of death that is Group C and spring a couple of surprises in dissecting Spain’s group.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Euro 2004 - Recounting one Hellas of a tourni

Famous last words; "...hard to see the greeks going all the way"

LONG before I even knew what a blog was, I still had opinions about our beloved game, and especially during a major championships, when you'd usually find my glued to the screen, day and night, notepad and pen in hand, the kettle and alarm never far away, just watching and analysing, getting a bit of sleep in between games, and doing it all over again.

As all my mates would confirm, I was forever keen to share those thoughts and learnings with whoever was in ear-shot, and the mode of delivery throughout Euro 2004 was a series of email spams to a long list of fellow football addicts.

The other day, thinking about the upcoming championships, I was digging through those posts, and thought a few of you might be interested in re-living some of those memories, so here's a collation of my six lengthy posts throughout the tourni, including a classic line in my fourth post, just before the quarter finals, that I could mount a title-winning-case for seven of the eight team was one of my best!!

It's rough, but I hope you enjoy...

POST 1 - Tuesday, 15 June 2004

game 1; expected greece to be well organised, resolute and tough to break down (tipped a 1-1 draw) but didnt expect them to be so hot in attack.....scolari made some terrible selections.....ronaldo should have started for simao, deco for rui costa, nuno valente for rui jorge and ricardo carvalho for couto.....greece were magnificent and will take some beating.....they could be the dark horses.......otto rehhagel is a genius.....dellas and seitardis were outstanding at the back while the midfield hassled unbelievably......they were so swift on the counter, it was great to watch......portugal attack in numbers, but do leave you plenty of space to exploit and the greeks did this perfectly......there also seems to be some tension within and cant go on unless this is sorted narrow-minded of figo to not want deco, although i guess he's protecting his old mate rui costa......he's been warming the bench all season, deco has been winning a champs league, who should start? unless scolari gives the new guard a chance, portugal are gone.....

game 2; spain were very good, although the russians struggled without their regular central defence......thought vicente was awesome in the first half, while exterberria lit up the 2nd......spain could/should have won by more, but didnt have that killer instinct, which could harm them when it matters.....russia need to find a way to get more men forward in support of bulykin cause their defence aint solid enough to hold out for 90mins.......smertin did very well after the first 20mins, but the wide defenders (evseev and sennikov) need to get closer to their men.....some of yartsev's changes were puzzling......alenichev was a real threat down the middle in the first half, only to be shifted to the right for the 2nd when gusev came off.......mostovi was a passenger and should have been replaced, while more is needed from izmailov......i thought aldonin did well, but he was strangely replaced.....spain's defence wasnt really tested here, so hard to gauge how they'll go against better opposition......

game 3; yet to watch it, but from all reports the croats dominated but couldnt find the's one they really wanted/needed to win, especially against ten men.....given they couldnt score, im surprised klasnic didnt get a run......i still think it will come down to the last game between them and england to decide who goes through with france......switz and croatian can now play with no pressure, which makes the group interesting.....

game 4; not a great performance from france, but i thought they did enough to at least earn a draw, but barthez gave them a lifeline and england gave them a present......england under eriksson are more defencive then i've ever seen them, which isnt a bad thing alltogether cause in all likelihood if they open up they'll probably get carved up, like england teams in the past.....they basically played smash and grab and it almost worked......expect all teams to play this compact against france (it worked in the world cup, but here they have zidane, who could make the difference and unlock the tight defences) cause any team that opens up to them is likely to get carved up.....

game 5; both teams struggled with the heat, but denmark had the better of the first half.....they stretched italy with their 2 wide men (jorgensen and rommedahl) and their wingbacks (helveg and nicolas jensen) kept panucci and zambrotta pegged the 2nd half when italy reverted to 4-4-2 by moving delpiero further up they looked a better side tactically as it allowed zambrotta to get forward....del piero is struggling at this level, while totti was hardly given any room by poulsen and daniel midfield i think trapatoni is still struggling to find his best combo, as zanetti and cameronesi didnt do a great deal......perhaps we may see more of fiore, gattuso and pirlo........both keepers (buffon and sorensen) are top quality......the danes looked good, especially early, and will trouble sweden and bulgaria's defences....

game 6; only saw the first half (1-0 at ht), and sweden were on top for most of it......again, bulgaria (like russia) were guilty of isolating berbatov up front, while sweden had more to aim for in larsson and ibrahimovich, and more drive out of midfield in the likes of ljungberg......also, bulgaria were guilty of defening too high up the pitch and playing the offside trap....big no-no against this speedy front 2........i imagine bulgarian heads dropped in the 2nd half.....

tonite, the czechs should be too strong for latvia, but im interested to see the latvian's tactics (how defencive they are?)......also, the dutch will do most of the attacking and should be too slick for germany with the three van's up front (nistolrooy, der vart and der meyde), but the dutch defence will give germany a chance and i'm looking forward to seeing how kuranyi goes at this level....

most impressive and surprising team to date has to be the greeks, who proved you can be defencive but have real potency in attack....but i still say the french are the team to beat, but they have to keep finding ways of breaking down the blanket defences they'll encounter along the way, especially if it's italy.....zidane is the key.....


POST 2 - Monday, 21 June 2004

Subject: what a feast.....

an unbelievable four days of football, where the action and the drama just seemed to get better by the game......

it's a good thing that the afternoon games (2am our time) are over cause the heat really seemed to take the sting out of these games and they didnt live up to the evening (4.45 our time) clashes where it's been cooler, producing hotter football.......

it all started friday morning with the croats waking up from their half-time slumber to put on a show for their fans in the 2nd the end they were unlucky not to get all three pts after mornar skied his injury time opportunity......after not conceeded a goal for about 12mths prior to the england game, france suddenly conceeded 2 in about 5 mins and there are signs of fragilty at the back......silvestre has made two howlers to give away penalties (against rooney and rosso) and looks to be struggling......while much of the blame for the prso's goal went deservedly to desailly for his air-swing, silvestre was also culpable in allowing prso to get to the ball first and turn back inside......and then mornar turned desailly so easily for that chance......both are uncharacteristically panicking and could be a liability in the knockouts....judging by the squad he's selected (many veterans at he expense of promising youngsters such as mendy, mexes and evra) sanitini will probably be loyal to his skipper and silvestre, but their form is a concern, as is that of lizarazu and sagnol.......a more solid back four might be; boumsong (who did well in the friendly against brazil last month), thuram, gallas, lizarazu......another concern is that they still havent scored from open play (unless you count the trezeguet charge-down)..........but wat about THAT flick from zizou??????

the croats were awesome in the 2nd half with rapaic and prso dominant and the back four compact.......they could give the poms a run for their money tommorrow but will need to defend well from beckham's set-pieces.....despite the english camp feeling they outplayed france (i disagree) and are among the favourites for the title, i havent been totally impressed with england, except that they're absorbing pressure better than in the past......wat they do have is proven match-winners, blokes who can pop up and win you a game (basically any of the front 6), so they're always a threat of snatching a win....

the italy-sweden game on sat was a gem, the italians on fire in the first half (the best all round display so far) and then customarily retreating the last 20mins to be sunk by a wonderful bit of zlatan magic.......del piero and cassano roaming behind vieri worked a treat in the first 45 and but for vieri's missed opportunities the italian should have sealed the game early.....the midfield looked much better with pirlo pulling the strings and gattuso and perotta doing the dirty work.......the width provided by panucci and zambrotta was awesome.....but once again trappatoni decided that 1-0 was enough, and as against korea (wc2002) and france (euro200), it wasnt....the swedes, sensing the inititative had been handed to them, pressed on and got their reward......when will the italians learn that 1-0, these days, is barely enough???????

now they have to hope the scandinavians dont draw's going to be sad to see one of these 3 teams go as all have played great football at some stage of the tournament, but i suspect the swedes may have enough potency up front to get over denmark......

then the game of the tournament, if not defensively, then certainly in attack.....just how good are these czechs at going forward and how much belief in themselves (team spirit) do they have to twice come back from being down for late wins......and wat about the tactics of karol bruckner to take off a defender and throw on an attacking midfielder 25mins in, just after they got one back, when conventional wisdom would have said stick to it for a little while.....just how good is pavel nedved, inspiring his mates to a great victory........they will need to defend much much better to challenge for for the dutch, they also made some changes that surrendered the initiative to the czechs (robben esp), but the truth of their loss is that they missed some glorious chances, esp. van nistolrooy's header and van der meyde's volley.....if the dressing room doesnt crumble between now and the latvia game they should have enough creativity to breakdown the resolute lativian (something the germans didnt have) and hope the czechs do them a favour....will be interesting to see how many bruckner rests or wether they want revenge for the euro96 final by knocking out the germans....

and then this morning, another gripping took scolari 2 games, but finally he got his best team on the park and didnt they deliver......many have been clamouring for ronaldo to be included from the start and here he showed why, tormenting poor raul bravo (although he could have got more help from juanito, vicente and albelda)......deco pulls all the strings, while ricardo carvalho and nuno valente have provided the stability at the back......there's a very porto feel about this team now (deco, costinha, maniche, carvalho and valente), so there's a winning mentality throughout.......all five were awesome this morning.......nuno gomes will start the quarter final (pauleta is suspended) and seems to relish the big ocassion......spain looked hesitant throughout the tournament and you sensed saez never knew his best 11, chopping between raul, morientes, torres and valeron up front and between baraja and xabi alonso in midfield, while raul's confidence has obviously been sapped by that horrific finish by real.....

the greeks deserved to go through courtesy of their earlier results but much prefer teams like portugal and spain that come out at them (so they can counter) rather than having to make the running themselves and being picked off on the counter.......france - if they qualify top - could suit greece's style of play in the quarters........

the beauty is, nobody knows wat comes next........

it's been a brilliant tournament so far, and despite being early days, here's a formation that's impressed;

seitarideas (helveg)--dellas-----simunic--------zambrotta


POST 3 - Wednesday, June 23 2004

Subject: conspiracy?????

conspiracy this, conspiracy that, what is it with italians and conspiracy theories?????......first korea, know the nordic conspiracy......

while the 2-2 looks sus to the naked eye, anyone who watched the nordic derby will know that both teams were hell-bent on winning......had it not been for a couple of brilliant Isaksson stops with about 10mins left, denmark would have taken a 3-1 lead and it would have been near impossible for sweden to recover from that........

while it's tough for them to bow out of another tournament without losing a game in normal time, the italians again have no-one to blame but themselves (kalstrom sumed it up beautifully with his post-match comments) was the case against korea, they missed crucial opportunities against sweden and were punished......they dominated that game for 70mins and should have won quite comfortably, but they retreated, tried to protect a 1-0 and copped a goal too late to recover from......

so by the time the sweden-denmark game, italy weren't in control of their own destiny and can have no cause for complaint........time they took a good hard look at their own tactics rather than finding anyone but themselves to blame.....

italy's only valid cause for complaint came after about 75mins when cassano was upended in the box for what looked a penalty....had this been given and converted, the 2-1 scoreline may have affected the way the other two teams approached the remainder of their game....

as it is, both would have been unlucky to bow out, but denmark shaded this game for large periods and were more of a challenge to italy than sweden, so they look the stronger branko said on the coverage, they pass the ball better than sweden and it should be a gem of a game between them and the czechs as both sides like to attack....sweden always have the potency of their front three, but seemed a little weak in midfield in this game.....linderoth will probably come back in for the qf, as may wilhelmsson and svensson, while lucic - if he's recovered - will probably replace the suspended edman....

as for y-day's action, up till then i'd refused to believe all the hype about rooney, but here he turned on a wonderful display, dropping off the front line into the croatian hole between defence and midfield and pulling england's strings.....with just about every touch he was spot on, inevitably using the right option......he had able support from scholes who also kept drifting into the space in front of the croat defence, allowing cole to push forward down the left.......the croats played into englands hands by dropping back after the opener, playing zivkovic in central midfield and just giving up too much space in midfield.......rapaic and sokota were off their games, so prso had little support, but this was by far england's best display in some time, at least from an attacking is needed defencively.....the portugal qf is a tantilising one as the host will try to stretch the england back four with its 2 wide men, figo and ronaldo......they will also throw deco into the hole between england defence and midfield, so england have to decide who drops deeper to pick him up, lampard or gerrard......conversely, costinha and maniche will have their hands full controlling england's narrow midfield play, which sees scholes and beckham tuck in and rooney drop back, so at times they play five through the'll almost be of case portugal's width v england's narrowness......should be a cracker....

as for france, again they were sloppy defencively, silvestre giving the ball away in the build-up to volanthen's goal......that's 3 or 4 mistakes from him so far that have led to goals.....wonder if les bleus are just conserving engery for the knockouts, as again they seemed to be going through the motions at times.....we will find out against greece, who will defend deep, look to deny france's creative players any space in midfield and try to spring forward quickly to test the composure of the french back four, who's confidence can't be high......zagorakis has been great so far, but how will he handle zizou???

tomorrow is another mouth-watering morning, with so many questions.....will the czechs take their foot off the pedal and make changes? (likely) or will they want revenge from euro96 by knocking out the germans? will the germans be more of a threat against a shaky looking czech defence than they were against the tight latvians? will the latvians frustrate the dutch and pinch one through verpakovskis, who will be running at only 1 or 2 defenders on the counter? can they keep the fairytale going? how will the dutch respond mentally to the the shattering defeat by the czechs? how will advocaat tinker with the side? should be another great day in a great tournament.......


POST 4 - Thursday, June 24 2004

Subject: qf's

in this tournament of surprises, dont be surprised by any outcome in the knock-outs.....all four qf's could go either way, and while the french are favourites to beat surprise packets greece, even their defence may be under pressure if the greeks counter-attack as well as they have at times.....

this year's champs league has proved that the balance has truely shifted away from the superpowers, if not forever, that at least at the moment, so i guess none of us should be surprised that two of the biggest traditional powerhouses (italy and german) are's the nature of modern football, where fitness, tactics and crucially, the mental attitude on the day, play as crucial a role as one's technical ability....

unity and belief are keys.......witness how the czechs have come from behind on three occassions, how the swedes have come back twice for crucial late equalisers, how well king otto has arranged the greeks, how structured the danish formation is......with these teams, it is truely a case of the common good overriding the individual ego.......

and other teams are warming to this mantra......the dutch looked more settled than ever this morning, making only one tactical switch (de boer for bouma) and one forced (reziger for heitinga), not tinkering with the front 6........while they'd lost to the czechs, the temptation was there to make changes, but advocaat realised his charges hadnt played bad (in fact they played well but just didnt finish), so he kept bringing davids and seedorf - along with van-d-man - into the starting 11, advocaat has drafted in a winning mentally.....all three are crucial for holland to progress.....

same with scolari, who has winners throughout in his porto fab five.....carvalho, valente, costinha, maniche and deco, while paulo ferrerria can make it the super six if he gets called back in tomorrow......they play together at club level, now they are trying to bring the same winning qualities to the national side.....

even at engalnd, sacrifices are being made by the likes of scholes, gerrard and lampard for the common good.....scholes normally plays in the middle, but here he's playing left, while lampard and gerrard, both attacking midfielders are having to take turns in the hold role....even owen, often the scorer, has become more of a provider.....

team spirit invariably overrides everything, and you sense that only the strongest will survive this test......

another factor which is playing a heavy hand is 'pressure'.....seems those teams that don't have as much on their shoulders are free to play, which explains russia beating greece, greece beating portugal, bulgaria pushing the italians, the swiss holding on against france for so long, a 2nd string czech side beating the germans.....

you can make a pretty strong case for 7 of the 8 teams left (hard to see the greeks going all the way) ......

portugal v england; since carvalho replaced couto, valente replaced rui jorge, they've become more solid at the back, while miguel has given them plenty going forward on the right.....costinha and maniche had their best games against spain, while out wide, ronaldo is the man, and figo, if not at his best, is still a handful.......deco pops up all over the midfield and attack and can kill a team with one touch.....against narrow england, dont be surprised if scolari strengthens central midfield by shifting deco left, starting ronaldo on the bench and bringing in a defencive central midfielder alongside costinha (petit?)......that will clog up the space rooney has been playing in.........then ronaldo can be cut loose from the bench....england have a settled line-up and two central midfielders (lampard and gerrard) that run all scolari says, this midfield can pass better than any previous english midfield we've seen, as we saw against croatia.......but the porto midfielders arent afraid to do the dirty work and i'm sure they will get closer to england than croatia did......rooney was great against the croats, but mightnt have so much room here.......

france v greece; many doubts at the back for france, but you know they will dominate possesion.....greece will sit back and look to counter, but if they conceed early will be forced to come out and play, which will create room for zizou and henry to cut loose.....if the greeks can hold out then the pressure shifts to france, who have hardly been impressive the moment the doubts at the back seem to be overriding the teams natural attacking instincts, so a clean sheet would do wonders for confidence.....greece, as the saying goes, have nothing to lose, and will press and disrupt until they drop.....

sweden v holland; the holland midfield is hotter, with seedorf and davis giving them real drive and penetration, but the swedes have a potent front three and will ask serious questions of the dutch defence, which can at times get exposed.....the dutch will make most of the running in this game, while sweden will look to get the ball forward early through the other end van nistolrooy looks a threat sniffing around for any half-chance, while robben looks a good player......swedens defence isnt as solid as, say denmark, but they will look to get the ball forward quickly and have great team spirit....the dutch will need to match them and fight all the way.....

czechs v denmark; mouth-watering clash, both teams move the ball around beautifully.....czechs are probably the less cautious of the two, prepared to take a gamble and back themselves in any situations, while the danes clog up midfield with 2 defensive central men (gravesen and daniel jensen) and rely on getting the ball out wide to jorgensen and gronkejaer.....the czechs also love to go wide, with poborsky a big threat on the right, while nedved loves driving the team through the middle.......the danes have looked more solid at the back and will probably defend deep so that henriksen's lack of pace isnt exposed.....

all four are fascinating duels and terribly hard to pick.....


POST 5 - Friday, 25 June 2004

Subject: Blow it like Beckham

wat a game, wat drama, wat a good is this tournament???????????

england can have no complaints about this one, again they were simply outplayed by a better passing team, as was the case at wc2002 (brazil) and euro 2000 (twice, to portugal and romania)......the worse thing england could have done here was score early and try to sit back and protect it, which is pretty much exactly wat they did, but for the odd burst forward by we've already seem at this tournament, even the masters of protecting a lead (italy) eventually caved into the wave after wave of attacks.......

how ironic that a tottenham benchy (postiga) was the man to sink them in normal time.....

then campbell thought he'd scored and so did the fox commentators, but a look at the replay shows that urs meir got it absolutely spot on as terry had his arm over the shoulder of ricardo, which of course stopped him from jumping.......defininite foul.....

portugal made all the running and got their it great to watch teams, like the portugese, czechs, dutch and french, where every player (except silvestre) is so comfortable on the ball.....

england showed great spirit to come back from the rui costa rocket in extra time, but in truth they failed to display the type of football they showed against croatia.......perhaps, by praising rooney so much, they'd thrown all their eggs into the one basket, claiming he was the man to take them all the what happens when he limps off???????

by scoring so early, england thought is was sufficient to just hack it upfield......fatal......

wat about scolari, gesturing to his players after going 1 down so early to relax, take it easy.....great re-assurance, and then to wip figo off for positga......he obviously reasoned that he needed more bodies in the box to support nuno gomes........there were too many outside the box and not enough inside............bruckner has proved you have to take gambles, and this one paid off handsomely for big phil.......

and wat about the great eusebio, wat on earth did he wisper into ricardo's ear before the shootout????


POST 6 - Monday, 5 July 2004

Subject: euro wrap

it ended as it started, unpredictable yet so glorious for the greeks.....

while us purists inevitably prefer our teams to play pretty and attack, we have to respect those, like greece, who play to their limitations and sacrifice individual glory for the team good......seeing seitarideas man-mark henry, then baros, and sacrificing his own attacking instincts tells a story in itself.....watching charisteas track back down the right all tournament told of an unbelievable committment......perhaps it was the fear of copping a rehaggel spray???

once again we see how a 'team' can beat a team of stars......that's how this greek team will be remembered, and you have to say good luck to mightn't always be the prettiest football, but they know that if they open up to teams with greater technical ability they'd likely get carved up......

rehaggel has set out a template that no doubt others will try to is one built on stiffling the opposition threat with brilliant organisation and unbelievable committment, and then countering and asking questions of your opposition......most of these greeks weren't known to many at the start, but now they are very famous indeed.....the champions league proved that the tide is shifting, and these days everyone knows some much about everyone else.......

robot rehaggel summed it up perfectly when he said after the game; "the world has become a sitting room and people know what is going on everywhere"......if you do your homework and put in the effort, anything is possible....

it's been a wonderful tournament, which probably faded a little at the end as caution inevitably overrode the more cavalier approach we saw earlier.......

in the end it's best summed up by the fact that no one particular player stood out from the rest, making it a little hard to pick out the team of the tournament, but below is mine, based more on consistency and progress than standing out for one or two games.........others will think maybe rooney, nedved, cech, stam, kapsis, robben or van nistolrooy........

player of the tournament? probably go to any one of the three greeks; seitarideas, dellas or zagorakis.......the captain, just......


as for the goals of the tournament, here's my top 10;

1. maniche (rocket) v holland
2. larsson (diving header) v bulgaria
3. tomassen (volley over isaksson) v sweden
4. baros (volley from koller chest-down) v holland
5. ballack (left foot scorcher) v czechs
6. heniz (free kick) v germany
7. ibrahimovich (back-heel) v italy
8. zidane (free-kick) v england
9. owen (flick) v portugal
10. baros (chip) v denmark


If you've made it this far, you must be Greek. Regardless, I hope you enjoyed the re-collections and could relate to some of the thoughts. What were you re-collections of the tourni?

And do visit again over the next month as I cast an eye over the '08 version.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Job done, but much improvement needed

2010 World Cup qualifier, Socceroos 1 v Iraq 0

A GREAT result more than it was a great performance, a job done rather than a job well done.

This was a great contest and a wonderful game, but history won’t remember it as one of the Socceroos’ most fluid recent performances as the Iraqis did more to lose the game then Pim Verbeek’s men did to win it. We were lucky.

But for some wastefulness in front of goal from the likes of Hawar Mulla Mohammed, Younes Mahmoud and Emad Mohammed and a couple of strong moments from Schwarzer it might well have been the Iraqis with the momentum as Australia’s campaign shifts to a fortnight in the heat of the Middle East.

As it is, the Socceroos now sit on seven points from three games, knowing that one more win will take them to 10 points, the figure Verbeek believes will get them over the first hurdle.

If and when they do get to the next phase, and face the likes of Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Uzbekistan, one thing’s for certain; the performance, especially in the heart of the defence and the final third, will need to improve.

In many ways, this was very much a below strength side, especially in the two areas I mentioned above, and both areas will improve with the eventual return of new fathers Neill, Sterjovski and Kennedy.

Right from the start and contrary to the pre-game talk from Verbeek that Iraq had come to sit, Adnan Hamad’s men exposed the insecurity and inexperience in the heart of the Roos defence, coming at Australia, pressing high, and creating some uncertainty, especially from set-pieces.

With the skipper putting himself about in the style we grew familiar with at the Asian Cup and Hawar, Emad and Mahdi Karim stretching Australia with their pace and width on the vast and patchy Suncorp pitch, it might have and should have been a different story.

Emad was unlucky to hit the cross-bar early, before finding himself inside the box, unmarked midway through the first period after some poor defensive work from Carney and Beauchamp (Carney let his man Karim duck inside, Beauchamp went across to rescue and left his man, Emad, unmarked). Fortunately, they were rescued by Schwarzer, who stayed up as long as possible.

Later in the half, Mahmoud failed to hit the target with a free header, six or seven yards out. Australia was leading a charmed life in making it six clean sheets on the trot.

In and around that, the Socceroos had a couple of chances, the best falling to Mark Bresciano after some lovely interchange between he, Kewell and McDonald. In truth, that early move was one of Australia’s best moments in the game.

Kewell, after a disappointing performance against Ghana a week ago, was back to his exhilarating best, his touch, movement and leap proving too slick for the likes of Haider and Ali Rahema. He looked trim (who didn’t in the new-look fitted strip, a flattering one for the players, not so flattering on most of us fans), young and fresh.

Having seen some highlights of him burning Zadkovich in training on Thursday evening, it wasn’t a great surprise to see him doing so well here. You sensed he was in the mood.

After warming up with a couple of headers in the first period, his bullet early in the second, teed up by Wilkshire, was a reminder that, on his day, there hasn’t been a better player in the green and gold, ever.

The hope now is that his body can hold up over the next two years, especially throughout the crucial games that a sure to come in the next phase. But would you bet on it?

One thing that appears more certain is that the Socceroos, with the likes of Grella, Culina and Wilkshire in midfield, and Emerton chiming in from right back, will continue to control possession well. Certainly, the Socceroos did a far better job of controlling the midfield (in the process nullifying the threat of the Asian Cup nemesis Nashat Akram) than they did against Ghana.

Problem was, for all their neat ball-possession, there wasn’t enough forward support of Kewell and McDonald. Cahill was definitely missed.

But perhaps not as much as Neill. Often the space between the defensive line and the attack was far too spacious, and the midfield had acres to cover.

Hitherto Jade North has looked extremely comfortable alongside Neill, but here he had the responsibility to organise, and it was a task he probably wasn’t ready for, especially against such quality opposition. I thought the Jets skipper played well, especially in second period, cleaning up a number of Beauchamp bloopers, but he will need more time alongside Neill to develop into the composed “boss” that is required at this level.

Carney also needs games and time and was again caught out a couple of times as Iraq got in behind and ducked inside, but he made up for them with a couple of timely interventions.

In the second period, the Socceroos were again lucky to survive a couple of Emad and Mahmoud efforts, but Iraq’s best chance came late when Hawar beat the offside trap, only to have the ball hold up a touch, forcing him to volley straight at Schwarzer.

Verbeek by then had introduced the likes of Holman and Djite, the latter doing a couple of good things, including teeing up a chance for Holman, who shot wide.

Overall, this was far from an impressive performance, lucky even, but in the context of what’s required to get through this phase, is should be enough.

If Qatar and China draw on Tuesday morning our time, Iraq will be only three points from second, and still in with a sniff, but a win, to either side, will make it much much harder for the troubled Asian Championships.

As Verbeek said post-match, knowing Iraq, they will fight to the end, so a tough trip to Dubai awaits.