It’s Viduka in a one, or Kennedy and McDonald in a two
THE most intriguing part of Pim Verbeek's selection last night was to discover exactly what he would do with our much talked-about front third.
All week the speculators had been doing their best to talk the manager into a more offensive formation, much to his growing frustration, one sensed.
Given the personnel, or, more to the point, the lack of personnel at his disposal, I was among those hoping for a slightly more offensive feel to what we've seen throughout large parts of the campaign.
To be more detailed, my hope was for a front two pairing of Kennedy and McDonald, the logic being that I'm not totally convinced either could do the job on his own, and their respective attributes just seem to compliment each other.
The job I'm talking about is the one that Mark Viduka, at his best, does so well; play with his back to goal, hold the ball up and bring others into the attack by linking with the midfield and playing the quarter-back roll from the highest point of the formation.
This, I feel, is when the lone-striker system has worked best for Australia; when the man playing it essentially sacrifices himself to create for the rest of the team.
Examples of less successful recent attempts of the lone-striker have been Harry Kewell away against Iraq on matchday 4 in the first phase and more recently Tim Cahill in Japan.
Even Kennedy, when he played on his own on matchday 4 of this phase in Manama, seemed isolated and not able to link the front third. After all, the big man likes to play "one-touch" and feed the people around him, so having no-one to play with in Manama rendered him useless. What chance then would McDonald, an "inside the box predator", have of sacrificing himself for the greater good in the lone-ranger role, I reasoned.
So it was with a degree of disappointment to find McDonald on his lonesome when the teams were announced on the big screen at Homebush last night.
For much of the first half that disappointment seemed justified. McDonald ran everywhere, chased everything down, tried as hard as I've seen him try in the green and gold, without really making an impression, or adding enough linkage to Australia's front third.
It might have been different. Had his and Bresciano's finishing been of the usual crisp standard we've come to expect (McDonald for his club), McDonald might have had a goal and an assist to his name within the opening quarter hour.
As it was, his performance will be remembered more for his willingness to sacrifice his predatory game for the greater cause, and he is to be commended for such a selfless display. Little doubt he followed his manager's instructions to a tee, and that should endear him to this most pragmatic of managers.
If the next 12 months on the international stage prove fruitful for McDonald, a player in my opinion that is worth nurturing and developing because of his goal-getting skills, than this game should be remembered as the making of McDonald as a Socceroo, the game he really stepped up and saw the big picture.
Indeed, I felt his mobility and movement ultimately laid the platform and created that space that Kennedy was able to profit from.
Later, when Kennedy cushioned a header into the path of Holman, who blazed away, one could see how a Kennedy/McDonald combo deal might work. Imagine it was McDonald, rather than Holman, on the end of that knock-down!
In my opinion, both these guys work best in a front-two, and it would be great to see this partnership get an opportunity to grow and flourish in the build up to South Africa.
For that to happen though, Verbeek will need to sacrifice either one of his holding midfielders or one of his wide players, a move he has hitherto been reluctant to make.
If he can't bring himself to do that, and stubbornly sticks to his 4-2-3-1, then the evidence is that he will be heavily reliant on a fit and firing Viduka to fit the lone-ranger mould in South Africa. Only then might the Socceroos' front third tick.