Monday, February 23, 2009

Playing pragmatic isn’t always a closed shop

NO DOUBT the context of youth and disappointment needs to be factored into an assessment of these words from gun Roar youngster Michael Zullo, but they also emphasise the festering attitude that has been doing the rounds of late; that you can only gain a result by playing positive, go-forward football, all the time.

Let’s get one thing straight for starters. It wasn’t for the whole second half that Adelaide put up the shutters. Indeed, for the first 15 minutes of the second stanza I felt they had a calculated crack at Queensland, with the objective clearly to pinch a second on the counter.

As Andy Harper noted during his commentary about 15 or 20 minutes into the second period, it was a surprise that Adelaide hadn’t tried to shut-up-shop earlier.

The decision, for me, to shut up shop effectively came in the 75th minute, when Cristiano was replaced by Agostino.

The Brazilian is a player capable on playing in a counter-attacking formation, and he almost proved it with an enterprising run and volley from the right-hand edge of the box that was drilled hard at Reddy.

Agostino is an altogether different player, a target man that likes to get on the end of things inside the box. He is more suited to pressing style, when Adelaide are on the front foot and he can hurl himself around, trying to get on the end of crosses. A counter attacker he isn’t.

So, by introducing Agostino, Vidmar was effectively only using him to hassle and pressure the defenders. Adelaide killed any hope of trying to grab a second. That’s when the ‘closed’ sign went up.

And in any case, what’s wrong with attempting to kill the game after going one-up. The reality is that you have to be organised and extremely disciplined to pull it off, and only the best teams have the ability to defend a lead for long periods.

Teams all over the world try to do it. It’s a gamble. Sometimes it works, but often it doesn’t. Italy, for example, has had as much success at defending a lead as they’ve had failures. I vividly remember the 2000 European championship final, when France’s Wiltord banged in an equaliser deep into stoppage time, and Le Bleus went on to win it in extra time. The Azzurri, in clichéd style, had gambled on defending their 1-0 lead and lost.

Aurelio Vidmar gambled on Saturday, had his fair share of luck, and won.

Of course, we all love teams that win with quality and class, none more so than this correspondent, but even the classiest teams often rely on a degree of pragmatism to get what they want.

I remember Barcelona winning their only European cup a few years ago. That belated success was on the back of a pragmatic approach, as I wrote at the time.

One can’t always win playing pretty, and while we love it when it works, very few are successful at it consistently.

Indeed, it’s an admirable quality to be able to acquire results, something that Australian teams (national and club) have traditionally not been very strong at.

There are signs though that we are learning, and learning quick, and Pim Verbeek and Aurelio Vidmar have lead the way in this regard over the past 12 to 18 months.

There was a fair degree of criticism in the blogsphere and beyond about the Socceroos’ cagey, defensive performance on the road in Tokyo. Given the context of the opposition, our preparation and the need to consolidate top spot, some of the comment lacked perspective, I felt.

Catching up with a Czech mate over the weekend, we got talking about Australia’s run. He agreed Verbeek had done an outstanding job in getting Australia to where we are, and sighted an example from his own country ahead of the 1996 European Championships when the then Czech coach Dusan Uhrin and his striker Pavel Kuka said the perfect campaign would entail winning at home and drawing on the road. Sound familiar?

Of course, we now know the Czechs went on to not only qualify for the tourni, but make it all the way to the final, playing some wonderful stuff after doing the job to get to there.

Back in Adelaide, and having calculated their way into the grand final, Vidmar would be best served by adopting a similar strategy; solid and organised across the pitch, tight at the back, with just enough punch in attack to create a chance or two.

Finding that recipe against the Victory has proved difficult this season, but grabbing that first goal might just give them enough belief to defend it.


Anonymous Ed said...

As one who ahs had a good whinge at Adelaide's tactics myself, I must admit you are absolutely right that it was only the last 25 minutes or so that the Reds shut down completely. I think it was the extreem nature of the shut down that shocked people. It was like they were playing doggo, curled up like an echidna. This was all the stranger because they looked good to graba second up until that point. Still, as you point out, it was effective. I cant help but feel that they had a huge slice of luck with none of those shots going in...

Bill from The Spawning Pissant made a great pint on The Roar Deal that Adelaides way of playing gives them there own character which is good for the league. What would be bad for the league would be if all teams started to play that way. Variety is the spice and I would rather the Roar failed to make another four grandfinals than changed their stripes to be overly pragmatic.

Tue. Feb. 24, 10:24:00 am AEDT  
Blogger Adam said...

Slagging Barca again! They've won two European cups!

Tue. Feb. 24, 04:31:00 pm AEDT  
Blogger Mike Salter said...

IMO there's a significant difference between sitting on a lead and allowing your opposition the complete run of the country, as we did against Japan in the second half (Adelaide only did so for the last 20 or so, as you say, and I reckon another important factor there was the substitution of Salley).

Tue. Feb. 24, 05:14:00 pm AEDT  

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