Cahill and Co., and all the Reds
Socceroos v Qatar analysis; In answer to a question on how important Tim Cahill was for the Socceroos, Pim Verbeek told the press on the eve of the game last Wednesday that they'd be in a position to judge about 15 minutes after the scheduled full-time whistle. Truth is, if anyone needed convincing, they only had to wait about eight minutes, as Cahill got on the end of a wonderful move involving a one-two between Wilkshire and Emerton, a beautifully dinked Wilkshire ball into the path of a clever diagonal Carney run and a couple of neat headers from Carney and Kennedy. The finish was classic Cahill. Soon he was at it again, getting on the end of a cross and following in to win himself a penalty (even though I felt he made the most of Abdullah Kone's minimal contact). 2-0, game over. How important is Cahill again? Truth is he wasn't the only accomplished performer on another wonderful night for Verbeek and the Socceroos, one that sets us up beautifully for a South Africa run. Behind him, holding the midfield, was the technical master Culina, begging for the ball and pulling the strings with accuracy. Further back was the returning Moore, who settled after a nervy start, but the real rock at the back was Neill, who I felt did a wonderful job shadowing and frustrating Quintana. Of late, since Moore's 'retirement', Neill has been sitting off and allowing either to North of Coyne to be the man-marker, while he surveys things from deeper. Here, with Moore back, Neill played the role of pest, allowing Moore to mop up. On their right, Wilkshire was again magnificent, combining well with Emerton. It appears a natural combo. Less effective was the left side, but it was hard to be too negative against a Qatari side that was completely outclassed, spooked even. The fact we could afford to carry McDonald said plenty about the opposition, who appear to be world-beaters and play some great stuff against everyone but the Roos. Verbeek's work ahead of the game, in the media and on the white-board, was spot on.
All aboard the Red Rattler; talk about rattling a few cages. Adelaide United's ACL run has been as uplifting as it's been surprising. At the start of the campaign, coming off a disappointing A-League v3, where they conceded far too many goals, Aurelio Vidmar's side was all about being solid defensively, happy to graft its way through the first phase. It wasn't pretty, but understandable. Vidmar said at the time that the attacking structure would follow, and he's been true to his word. Against Kashima, in a gripping return leg of the quarter final, one of the best games I've seen of late, they weren't always in control, but after surviving a few missed chances early, they made Marquinhos and co. pay, proving too physical and powerful, especially on the flanks, where Cassio, Jamieson, Cornthwaite and Dodd dominated. It was some night, and Hindmarsh was rocking. Onto the semi against Kuruvchi, and while the visitors looked in control for much of the opening hour or so, remarkably the Reds won it in a canter. While Cassio and Diego grabbed most of the headlines, for me the real hero was Fabian Barbiero, who was a surprise pick in the holding role but was an absolute monster in the opening hour, sprinting shuttles between Djeparov and Rivaldo. So true was Andy Harper's comment that no player deserved to score more than Barbiero. Not far behind him was the kid Mullen, while Cassio exploded in the second half. Stranger things have happened, but surely the Reds have done enough and appear destined for a final, possibly against the other Reds, Urawa. In truth, the hosts Gamba controlled the first leg, with the magnificent number 7, Yasuhito Endo, pulling the strings, but Urawa survived, and now go to their wonderful Saitama home with an away goal. One of those for Adelaide tomorrow and it'll be just about impossible for the hosts, but given Adelaide's defending in the nine ACL games to date, the three-goal margin should suffice.
The other Reds; without wanting to get carried away too soon, great to see the Reds of Liverpool really giving the EPL an early shake. Truth be told, there wasn't much expectation at the start of this season (compared with the start of last season, when all the hype had the title coming down to a battle between Liverpool and Chelsea, only for Man Utd to beat them both), but Rafa Benitez's men have been showing some real steel so far, and playing some wonderful football to boot. For once, they've even been able to notch an early win over their fiercest rival. Ok, they've had to come back from behind one or two times too often, but the reality of most of those wins, including the one over Man Utd, is that Liverpool were great value for their victory, controlling games and creating chances galore. A couple of the real stars so far have been a couple of the blokes who've had an up and down time at Anfield so far, Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuijt. The former, said to be on the way Arsenal in the pre-season, has not only been keeping Mascherano out, but has been doing a great job controlling games for Liverpool. Out on the right, Kuijt has been dynamite, and is finally starting to reap the goals his workrate justifies. Behind them, Martin Skrtel was outstanding before injury intervened, and seeing if Agger can fill the void will go a long way to deciding how far Liverpool go. One of the features of the win against Man Utd was the work of the fullbacks, Arbeloa and Aurelio, who have so far provided Liverpool with wonderful drive to go with the defensive steel. It's been a great start, but it's early days, and with Chelsea pending on Sunday, and 20 years of heartbreak to reflect on, Reds fans like yours truly know not to get carried away.