The problem with Australian soccer

It’s been a few days coming, but after seeing Australia getting thumped two-zip by world soccer1 powerhouse Tunisia this morning, the armchair soccer nut in me decided to speak up. While being no soccer expert, I thought I’d blog down some observations on the Socceroos’ Confederations Cup adventure.

First of all, when you concede ten goals in three matches, it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to tell you what’s wrong. The Socceroos’ defence had been criticised long before. It looked frail and vulnerable during the friendly against Iraq back in March, and for some parts of the match against New Zealand recently. It was dreadfully exposed during the past week when the team finally got to face some world class opposition in the form of Argentina and Germany.

Kevin Muscat as a right back is definitely past it. He has aggression, but lacks the pace to keep up with the world’s best wingers. Lucas Neill would be much better in that position, the one he plays for Blackburn, rather than on the left, where Frank Farina seems to like to put him. Hopefully this will change once Lazaridis or Tiatto are fit again.

As for who to partner Craig Moore in the centre, Tony Popovic seems to be the first choice, although whichever pair ends up being selected certainly needs to put an end to the ‘schoolboy errors’ that plagued the team over the past few matches.

Having criticised the defence, a lot of their goals conceded started from poor work in the midfield, whether it was lack of pressure, or giving away possession. Australia is missing a ‘Patrick Viera’ or ‘Roy Keane-type’ player. Someone who is able to hold the midfield together and operate as a first line of defence, just in front of the defenders. Paul Okon did the job well (where is he these days anyway?). It was no accident that Australia finished third in their last Confederations Cup appearance four years ago, beating Brazil and France along the way, with Okon as captain. The current pairing of Cahill and Skoko certainly doesn’t work, as both play very similar roles. Looking forward to seeing Grella, or perhaps McKain getting back in there and filling the role.

For all their faults in defence, the Socceroos’ going forward has certainly been impressive. John Aloisi looks in fine touch, and hopefully with Viduka and Kewell back in there, it’ll get better. Brett Emerton did look a bit lackluster though. No where near as effective galloping down the wing as he was during his Feyenoord days. In fact, I don’t recall a single incident during the tournament where he’s taken on a defender. Whenever he has possession, he seems to always be looking to go infield rather than down the wing and whipping in crosses. Whether this was Farina’s specific instruction, or he just turned crap, I don’t know.

All in all, if Australia plays the same way during the World Cup qualifier later this year as they have done over the past few weeks, they can kiss that World Cup appearance goodbye.

1 I say ‘soccer’ rather than ‘football’ (as the commentators on SBS and the FFA like to these days) not out of disrespect, but for the same reason why I say ‘taxi’ and not ‘cab’; ‘g-string’ not ‘thong’. In Australia, football already has a meaning, no need to hijack it.

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