Makeshift Socceroos add sunshine to the darkest of days
Holger Osieck, sacked on the back of Australia's second 6-0 loss. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)
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Four minutes from the Socceroos was all it took. Three goals in four minutes against Saudi Arabia on a rainy night in Melbourne to lift the gloom and take our minds away from a dark and dirty day in Australian domestic football.
We also have to thank football’s capricious nature. It turns villains into heroes and defeats into victories.
This World Cup qualifying match was a dead rubber for the Socceroos, but for the Saudis it was a matter of life and death, and for the first 45 minutes last night it showed.
Not only on the pitch but also on the terraces, where the enthusiastic Saudi fans created a propulsive melodic din to complement the positivity of their team’s play.
A makeshift Socceroos back four and a new-look midfield looked as if they had taken to the slippery AAMI Park pitch wearing ice skates. In the 19th minute they allowed Salem Al Dawsari to waltz in on goal from the left past the Ice Capades of Jade North, Mark Milligan and Mark Bresciano to rifle a sweetly struck shot from outside the box.
It was the least the Saudi’s deserved. They controlled the game, as a static Socceroos team lay deep and found it difficult to make an impression.
Holger Osieck’s decision to play an uncomfortable Spriranovic at left back and North at right back was foundering, as they found it difficult to push up and support the midfield. It was a flat back four that had been superglued into position.
The Saudi goal did snap the Socceroos out of their torpor and this was highlighted by the two revelations of the night combining to level the scores in the 43rd minute. Mark Besciano’s one touch pass split the Saudi defence as Alex Brosque expertly controlled and finished clinically.
Only minutes earlier, what had been a pretty subdued home crowd finally had something to shout about. This was thanks to the gamesmanship and time-wasting of Saud Kariri, who made out as if he had been hit by a sniper from the AAMI Park book depository.
It was great pantomime as the unhurt Kariri was stretchered off and then promptly returned to the pitch to a crescendo of boos. Brosque’s goal was received with gleeful schadenfreude by the home crowd.
Normal service then resumed when the Saudis went ahead again just as the referee was licking his lips for the half time whistle.
The swiftest Green Falcon of all, Hassan Fallatah, showed Spiranovic a clean pair of heels, and with the space afforded him delivered a laser pass to Nasser Al Shamrani, who swiveled and shot past Mark Schwarzer at the near post.
The fact that Al Shamrani got clear of three defenders impersonating statues only added to the gloom as the first half came to a close.
The Saudis were 45 minutes away from joining the Socceroos in the next phase of World Cup qualifying, and began the second half playing a cautious, deeper game.
The Socceroos, on the other hand, played higher up the park and got their previously timid full backs to push into enemy territory.
Archie Thompson came off the bench in the 63rd minute to replace the workmanlike James Troisi on the left of midfield. This was the spark that lit the touch paper.
His first pass, to the hitherto bumbling left back Spiranovic, resulted in the latter delivering a great cross with his preferred right foot to Lucas Neill, who headed the ball in for his first goal in international football.
So everybody thought, except for the linesman who happened to suffer from a bout of double vision as he raised his flag to rule the goal offside.
The pace and intensity of the game lifted and the fateful moment of football caprice had arrived.
It was the 72nd minute to be precise, when another lightning raid by Spriranovic’s nemesis, Hassan Fallatah, saw him whip in another superb pass for Al Shamrani to side foot in and send the Saudis into the next round.
He missed. For some inexplicable reason he tried to hit it with his laces.
It was Al Shamrani’s last touch of the game.
The very next play Spiranovic passed to Thompson on the left wing, who skinned Fallatah, caused panic in the shambolic Saudi defence, slid the ball to Brosque, who cut back to Harry Kewell for the star Roo to tuck away in the bottom corner. The scores levelled at 2-2.
Four minutes later it was 4-2, as the Saudis imploded spectacularly and the Socceroos piled on their misery with attacking verve.
The home crowd became euphoric, each goal celebrated with more vigour than the other. It was the most pleasant kind of shock therapy.
Worries about what had transpired earlier in the day with Gold Coast United had been blasted out of football brain cells for the night.
As we walked home our thoughts were dominated by the wonderful return of Mark Bresciano to the Socceroos after a long absence. His one-touch, defence-splitting passing was a joy to behold. If we are to get anywhere in international football we need more players like him.
Hopefully, Tomas Rogic will be his understudy in the years to come.
We were also happy with the improvement made by Alex Brosque, who ended the game with two goals and an assist. He never looked like the finished product when he was plying his trade in the A-League. The move to Japan has seen him turn into a more complete player, worthy of international football.
The Saudis went into last night’s game with a FIFA ranking of 89, and they played to their ranking, if not worse.
Our next qualifying phase will be much more difficult, but as long as Osieck finds a solution at left back, and with the return of European-based players, we should be confident of seeing our Socceroos join the rest in Brazil in 2014.
And that’s a ray of sunlight that should make us all feel better.
Athas Zafiris is on Twitter @ArtSapphire