New leadership group just the ticket for ‘Roos to 2014
Irrespective of the result in tomorrow morning’s (2am EDT) Asian Cup decider, what has been most pleasing about the efforts of the Socceroos in this tournament has been the emergence of a new set of leaders that should give this side every chance of navigating the next phase of World Cup qualifiers.
This is a task likely to be made more difficult by the departure of at least a couple of the golden generation between now and 2014.
Showing leadership well beyond their experience at this level, the emergence of the likes Matt McKay, Mile Jedinak, Sasa Ognenovski and Carl Valeri as bona-fide first 11 players has been one of the great success stories of this campaign.
What Holger Osieck has essentially done is bring in a bunch of mature footballers who are not only in touch with their own game, but confident and comfortable enough to live with the bigger names in this Roos squad.
Despite their lack of experience at this level, both McKay and Ognenovski are leaders at their clubs, and, at 28 and 32 respectively, are no spring chickens.
The latter, for example, if coming off a couple of very productive seasons in Asia, instilling him with the belief to play in this company. Ognenovski knows his limitations, but plays to his strengths.
In many ways, he reminds me of one of my favourite Socceroos, Mehmet Durakovic, who was not only quicker across the ground, but more adept on the ball.
But like the Big Og, Durakovic was a competitor first and foremost, believed in himself, and loved to roll up the sleeves and get the job done.
And speaking of getting the job done, who will every forget Durakovic’s crucial header in the 1993 World Cup qualifier against Canada at the SFS, the same night a certain Mark Schwarzer performed his first set of heroics for the Roos in a pulsating penalty shootout win.
That was only Schwarzer’s second game, and it would be fitting, 18 years later and in a record 88th game for the green and gold, if he plays another crucial role tomorrow morning.
But back to the big man in front of him, and Osieck has essentially given Ognenovski the game plan to utilise his strengths, dropping the defensive line deep, not allowing him to get caught in behind, letting the opposition have the ball, and devising an organised defensive formation ahead of him.
As well, Osieck has relied on set pieces throughout, knowing he has an absolute monster in Ognenovski to attack things. It was little surprise to see him unsettle four Uzbek defenders and pick up the pieces at one of those set pieces in the semi.
Another player that fits the set piece and second ball strategy used by Osieck is Jedinak, part of the Invisible Twins central midfield pairing with Valeri.
Known more for their ability to stifle then create, they have been sweeping up all the loose balls and setting the Roos on their counter-attacking way.
Invisible, but effective, they have complemented each other, with one always covering as the other advances. Jedinak, always a threat from deep, and at the set piece, is now a key part of the Osieck plan.
The same goes with McKay, who, with his incredible lungs and legs, can be relied upon to transition, up and down, as well as looking to play when he gets on the ball.
At one point he was even seen berating David Carney to open up and create an option of him, deep in the left hand corner of the Roos defence. The message?
Let’s play out.
It was also a sign that he’s prepared to mix it verbally in this company, the type of leadership and encouragement that has often been evident from both Jedinak and Ognenovski.
It proves, with the right sort of game plan, motivation and belief, technical limitations can be overcome, foundations that should hold the Roos in good stead as they build towards Brazil.
Follow Tony on twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
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