Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pim’s puzzler – the strategy for Japan

World cup qualifier preview, Japan v Socceroos

A FEW little selection puzzlers for Pim ahead of tomorrow night’s crucial world cup qualifier, and as usual, how the manager shuffles the deck will decide how much the Socceroos come away with.

Give the short preparation, with the whole squad only together for a day or so, anything more that a point would be an almighty achievement, especially in light of the fact the Blue Samurai have reportedly been together for weeks.

‘Win at home, draw on the road’ has been the Verbeek mantra since day one, and his away selections and strategies, but for an attacking minded outlook in Qatar in the first phase, have generally followed the philosophy.

Cram the midfield, play with one up front (often a midfielder) and get the wide men funneling back into the midfield in order to deny the opposition space. When in possession, keep the ball, but don’t commit too many men forward at any one time. It’s often calculated, safety first football, and it’s hard to fault the manager when you look at where he has the Socceroos almost a year and a half out from South Africa.

It is hard to see Verbeek veering too far away from that, especially against a Japanese side stacked with neat ball-playing midfielders of the ilk of Yasuhito Endo and Shunsuke Nakamura.

Give guys of this quality time on the ball and it’s carve-up time. Give them too many set pieces and the aerial powerhouses Tulio Tanaka and Nakazawa (he of Gamba fame) will be licking their lips.

The Japanese philosophy is generally fairly predictable, and it’s built on patient keep-ball play, with the ball moved from side to side, allowing the wing-backs to involve themselves in the forward thrusts. When the ball is out wide, at the feet of a wing-back, a midfielder will go out to meet him and try and create an overload. They then try to break teams down through some intricate play in an around the box.

It’s often picturesque stuff, but its success or otherwise often depends on the pace at which the ball is moved.

At the Asian Cup, under the tutelage of Ivica Osim, that movement of the ball was nice to watch, but too often failed to result in anything meaningful in the final third. Put simply, the ball movement was too slow.

As such, it will be interesting to see tomorrow how swiftly Japan can move the ball, and whether they can make an impression on the structure of the Socceroos, which has, in the main, been well organised (at least from a defensive perspective) under Verbeek.

The Socceroos will do everything humanly possible to disrupt this rhythm, which is why we can expect Verbeek to again stack his midfield. The interesting thing will be to see how high up the pitch the Socceroos press, for the Japanese can certainly pull you apart if you press too high.

Let’s face it, a draw would not prove too terminal to either side, and as such I wouldn’t expect either side to go full throttle for 90 minutes.

Perhaps Verbeek though, sensing a bit of unease from his counterpart Takeshi Okada and looking to apply the killer blow, will have an early crack at the Japanese, for surely an early Socceroos goal would really shake the Japanese.

Conversely, Japan, knowing the Socceroos haven’t had the greatest preparation, should come out firing and try and get on the board before the Roos shape settles into a familiar pattern.

The tactics, and the battle to see who can wrestle the initiative, should make for fascinating viewing.

As such, much will be told by Verbeek’s 11, and while he has the potential to spring a surprise, it would be a surprise if he did.

For starters, the back three picks itself, with Schwarzer behind a central duo of Moore and Neill. If Chipperfield is deemed fit, he starts. If not, it’s a risky start for Carney, or maybe a better defensive option like North or Coyne.

Wilkshire seems the obvious choice at right back, but with Emerton out higher up the pitch, Verbeek, if he want the totally suffocate Japan, might deem Wilkshire necessary in midfield, which might open up right back for someone like North. Neill could also play on the right, or left, for that matter.

In midfield, away from home, there seemed little doubt Verbeek would go for twin holders Vinnie and Mini-Vinnie, Grella and Valeri, however the news filtering out of Japan (via Fox Sports FC) about Grella limping out of training throws that plan in doubt.

If he doesn't pull through, the options are plenty. Jedinak could be a straight swap, but the more likely option would see Culina slotting in alongside Valeri, which would mean Verbeek has to find an extra body for his midfield.

One option is to bring Cahill back into midfield and bring in Kennedy (or McDonald) up front, or push Wilkshire into midfield and leave Cahill up front, as had originally been mooted.

If Cahill does play in midfield, it is likely that Holman will be shifted to the right, and asked to break forward along with Bresciano on the left.

If Verbeek is really bold he could start Sterjovski on the right, but the noises emanating out of the camp suggest the attacking options like Sterjovski, Kennedy and McDonald will be kept for later.

While the options are bountiful, the likelihood is Verbeek will go for a familiar look, and that could just be enough to suffocate the game and give the Socceroos the draw they covet. A scoreless one for me.


Blogger Hamish said...

Thanks Tony. I've been waiting for you to do something like this for this game and am glad you did. Much to consider as usual, and well written.

I'm not quite as football-erudite as yourself, but I just can't wait for this game. Even if the score is 0:0, and it seems to be a popular tip, it will be a cracker. In all likelihood these are both World Cup teams, with their good players, the stakes are high, the rivalry is crackling, and 70,000 people will be cheering for the Japs. Whoooot!

Tue Feb 10, 09:44:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

thanks for the comment and ongoing interest hamish..

there's certainly more to consider now that Grella appears to be in doubt. if he doesnt pull through, it's a bit of a blow, so fascinating to see how Verbeek reacts.

It willl force his hand and he has to make at least one 'unexpceted' call.

Whichever way he goes, it's very exciting, and while i've tipped a 0 nil, can easily see a couple of set piece goals, one to each side.

Interesting that Uzbek are playing Bahrain, and the winner (if there is one) joins qatar on 4, so the 3 could soon be slugging it out for third, meaning a draw could suit both the socceroos and japan...

Tue Feb 10, 09:59:00 pm AEDT  

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