Tim Cahill sent off in Socceroos' World Cup opener

Australia's Tim Cahill reacts after getting a red card during the World Cup group D soccer match between Germany and Australia at the stadium in Durban, South Africa, Sunday, June 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

In the wake of Australia’s embarrassing loss to Germany, I’ve been inundated with queries, from here and South Africa, from those wanting to know my thoughts on what went wrong. My simple answer has been a question: hasn’t it been coming?

Anyone who has looked hard enough, taken the blinkers off, will have seen the signs building up over the past four years, with the debacle that was Graham Arnold at the 2007 Asian Cup followed by two and half years of turgid play under Pim Verbeek.

A manager bereft of attacking ideas might have been a pragmatic choice to take us to the World and Asian Cups, and Verbeek at least served that purpose.

It was important we went back, even if only to remind the country how much work is still ahead.

Foremost it is about developing managers who can develop the players, who can then combine with a home-grown manager and bring competitiveness at the highest level. In time it might lead to success.

Steps have been taken, but there are many more to make.

Anyone who has been watching World Cups for any more than five minutes will know that the level of play required to be successful is at such a high level, you have to bring your absolute A game. Anything less is never going to be enough.

The word is Verbeek has sent contacts all around the world to scout our group opponents. No stone was left unturned, no expense spared, we’ve been told.

If that’s the case, one really has to question the technical knowledge around the Socceroos when you see the net result of this effort.

Did they even watch the Bosnia-Herzegovina friendly, and if so, why didn’t they have a plan for Mesut Ozil?

Did they not know that he likes to start at the front line, drop off into midfield or out to the right, get on his precocious left peg, and either inject himself with a killer ball or killer run beyond the defence, or both?

It certainly seemed they had no idea what was coming, let alone how to deal with it.

The same can be said of much of the football fraternity, who, whether through blind ignorance or the burning desire to replicate the feel-good factor of four years ago, refused accept the evidence, claiming we could and would get something.

False hope was built, somewhat irresponsibly.

After some heady success, the heavy loss is a reality check, yet another wake-up call.

The scouting report on Ghana

If anyone thinks it’s going to get much easier against The Black Stars of Ghana, the sad reality, based on the evidence of their opening match win over Serbia, is that it won’t.

While they mightn’t have flowed potently in attack, like the Germans, Milan Rajevac has the team very well organised and ticking beautifully in defence.

Particularly catching the eye was tall central defender Isaac Vorsah, who sat alongside John Mensah, John Pantsil and Hans Sarpei. They dealt with everything in the air and defended deep enough that Serbia were never able to get in behind. Not that the very disappointing Milos Krasic even had a crack.

While Ghana play with a three man central midfield, they only have one, Anthony Annan, sitting. The other two, Kevin Prince Boateng and Kawadwo Asamoah, are advanced and scattered, in touch with the two wide men, Prince Tagoe and Andre Ayew.

Annan started everything and looked an adequate enough replacement for Michael Essien.

While it was far from a great game, Ghana looked organised and functional enough and will take some breaking down.

Asia’s finest?

In my preview of the World Cup in the latest edition of Half-Time Heroes, I wrote of one of my great hopes, which was to see a couple of Asian teams progress out of the group stage, and at least one of them make it to the Quarter finals.

Looking at the draw, the most obvious bets were South Korea and Japan, and after the first round of games, it appears they are on track.

The Socceroos task looked difficult before, almost impossible now, especially if you decide to read anything into the body language between the Verbeek and Mark Bresciano at training the day after the night before.

South Korea have been super impressive, both in qualifying and pre-tournament, and underlined this with a dynamic display against Greece, in keeping with what we saw against the Roos last year.

Right back Cha Du-Ri and captain Park Ji-Sung were particularly dynamic, while it was great to see the front two, Yeom Ki Hun and Park Chu Young, working the house down.

Meanwhile, if you think Verbeek is under the pump, Takeshi Okoda has been under all sorts of pressure back home, but his team responded with a rousing win over Cameroon and are now in the box seat to go through with the Netherlands.

What I was particularly looking for in the final 10 or 15 minutes was to see whether Japan had the mental toughness to hold onto their lead, remembering they crumbled in the opener four years ago.

The truth is it was a bit panicky, but with the help of the crossbar and some excellent work from the back four, led by central towers, Marcus Tulio Tanaka and Yuji Nakazawa, two players I’ve been long fond of, they held on.

Also impressing in screening the defence were holding midfielder Yuki Abe and captain Makato Hasebe, while in attack there were promising signs from goal-scorer Keisuke Honda, Yoshito Okubo and right-sided Daisuke Matsui.

Here’s hoping both kick-on, flying the flag for Asia.

Capello the master tactician?

Fabio Capello was able to get England through to South Africa impressively, but question marks have been raised about some of his selections, both before and since arriving in South Africa.

Of course, much of the attention has been on Robert Green, but I was absolutely shocked to see Jamie Carragher in the final 23, let alone on the field against the dynamic Americans after the injury to Ledley King.

Naturally, it was no surprise to see Jozy Altidore skin him.

After a very average season at Liverpool, it was a strange to see Capello go back in time by selecting him. Surely Michael Dawson should be ahead in the pecking order?

A young man’s World Cup

Seeing the impact Eljero Elia made off the bench against Denmark on Monday night was further evidence of the generational shift taking place on the pitch in South Africa.

Of course, we all saw how Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller, Sami Khedira and Holger Badstuber toyed with the Roos, but there have been other impressive performances from the kids.

Think Giovani Dos Santos, Carlos Vela and Efrain Juarez (all Mexico) on the opening night, Lionel Messi and Angel di Maria (Argentina), Lukman Haruna (Nigeria), Isaac Vorsah and Andre Ayew (both Ghana), and Robbie Findley, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley (all USA).

Even the much-maligned “old” Italians featured some new blood in Claudio Marchisio and Domenico Criscito.

Are the A-League officiators watching?

It’s widely acclaimed that the standard of officiating in last season’s A-League was the worst yet, with the amount of incorrect offside decisions particularly glaring.

To that end, I do hope the FFA is investing time to highlight to our officials the work of the men in South Africa, which I think has been excellent in the main (other than Tim Cahill’s red), especially the off-side calls. Long may it continue.

The defending champions make impressive start

Germany, as we well know, where superb, while Argentina, with Messi in full flow, offered great potential in attack (despite Maradona’s bizarre decision to start Jonas Guiterrez at right back).

But another former winner that didn’t really feature in the pre-tournament tips was Italy, and I thought they were rather impressive in an excellent game against Paraguay yesterday morning.

While they haven’t yet found the solution up front, what was so impressive was the commitment, hunger and will to win. They are here to play, and no-one more that the skipper. After a poor season domestically, I thought Fabio Cannavaro was excellent, the work of a real winner.

Elsewhere there was real aggression and intent from the likes of Gianluca Zambrotta, Daniele de Rossi and Simone Pepe, while Riccardo Montolivo offered moments of genuine quality. Never write them off. They will improve.

Set piece spray

One of the main reasons the goal average is down to 1.6 per game (18 goals from the first 11 games) is the new Jabulani. What has been most noticeable is the number of free-kicks, even from quality dead-ball specialists like Wesley Sneijder and Lionel Messi, being sprayed over.

I can only recall one free-kick, from Algeria’s Nadir Belhadj, that required a quality save.

Even the general play shooting from long distance has been more miss than hit.

Tony Tannous has been keeping his usual close eye on all the goings-on in South Africa. Join Tony at noon today for a live Q & A on these or any other World Cup topics you’d like to discuss. Leave a comment or question now or at 12 noon, when Tony joins.

Tony Tannous
Tony Tannous

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