Makeshift Socceroos add sunshine to the darkest of days

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    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

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    The Crowd Says (29)

    • March 1st 2012 @ 8:23am
      jamesb said | March 1st 2012 @ 8:23am | ! Report

      good win by the socceroos.

      gave us fans something to cheer about. Lets not forget players like Rhys williams, Holman, Cahill, Wilkshire, Zullo and others weren’t playing last night, so Holgers trying to build depth.

      the ten teams to qualify to the next round: rankings in brackets

      Australia (22)
      Japan (30)
      Korea (34)
      Iran (47)
      Uzbekistan (77)
      Iraq (79)
      Jordan (82)
      Oman (95)
      Qatar (96)
      Lebanon (114)

      • March 1st 2012 @ 8:56am
        nordster said | March 1st 2012 @ 8:56am | ! Report

        bring on the next round draw, march 9

      • March 1st 2012 @ 10:14am
        Danny Bhoy said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        As you can see from the rankings there really is a big 4 of Asia then it falls away to a 2nd tier! 4 teams and a playoff to go thru i believe?! Australia should get this comfortably! Do our first round points carry over does anyone know?

        • Roar Guru

          March 1st 2012 @ 10:27am
          apaway said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:27am | ! Report

          No Danny, all teams start with a clean slate.

        • Roar Guru

          March 1st 2012 @ 10:30am
          Fussball ist unser leben said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:30am | ! Report

          No Round 3 is over and we start again from scratch in Round 4!

          FIFA rankings are deceptive. I watched the 2nd half of IRN v QAT and both teams were good value – technically excellent and well organised. KSA are ranked 89 but they played a wonderful style of football last night – apart from 4 minutes in the 2nd half.

          Plus we won’t be playing these teams on neutral grounds but in very intimidating places where the locals will not make our lads feel welcome.

          During the 2010 WCQ several members of the team got stomach upsets when we played UZB away and we’ll now take our own chefs to avoid any possible outside interference The Azadi Stadium in Tehran is one of the most intimidating stadiums to play international football – filled with 100k all-male spectators. Then, of course, we’ll have to contend with the oppressive heat playing in the Middle East.

          To be assured of qualifying for WC2014 AUS simply has to win all our home games and pick up at least 4 points away.

          It’s not going to be easy, but this is world football.

      • March 1st 2012 @ 10:56am
        dasilva said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:56am | ! Report

        I’m hoping for to be group with Iran

        I would like to see Australia to beat Iran and knock them out of the World Cup with Kewell scoring being the only remaining survivor of the 1997 campaign.

        It would be redemption at last

        It just seems strange that for all our time in Asia we haven’t face off against our old nemesis yet. They would probably be our biggest rival in Asia (in terms of the most pleasure we will get out of beating them)

      • March 1st 2012 @ 3:21pm
        Nathan of Perth said | March 1st 2012 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

        Of course, our ranking is considerably better in ELO rankings (notably, Japan’s ranking got thrashed by the loss to Uzbekistan).

      • March 1st 2012 @ 7:55pm
        Football_Wunderkind said | March 1st 2012 @ 7:55pm | ! Report

        Read an interesting write up stating how Japan stuffed up by playing a needless warm-up friendly. They won but combined with their loss to Uzbekistan, means they drop a ranking spot.

        So Australia can now draw Japan in the 4th round and not Korea.

        I hope we draw Iran.

    • March 1st 2012 @ 8:29am
      jmac said | March 1st 2012 @ 8:29am | ! Report

      bresciano: how australia has missed that type of passing in the middle of the park. absolutely mesmerising. you could almost smell the excitement of the players making forward runs in the 2nd half.

    • March 1st 2012 @ 10:06am
      Futbanous said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:06am | ! Report

      jamesb
      Thanks for putting up the 10 teams for the next round.
      Apart from the Socceroos winning I just love having to compete in Asia as opposed to the lottery in Oceania.
      Surprise for me is Lebanon.
      Hope Brisbane can get another WC qualifier.

      • March 1st 2012 @ 12:40pm
        Whites said | March 1st 2012 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

        An Australia vs Lebanon match would probably fill ANZ Stadium at Homebush.

    • March 1st 2012 @ 10:11am
      Danny Bhoy said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:11am | ! Report

      I think people’s sentimentalism is blinding their assessment of the game… the best player on the field was brosque by a country mile. Not up to international standard and has improved out of sight is what everyone is saying (although im not doubting he has imroved) but possibly he was always a good player yet no one valued him enough and didnt give him a chance?! His movement and intelligent play have always been evident juts that no one at Sydney was on his wavelength to provide the passing to match his movement.

      • March 1st 2012 @ 10:34am
        jmac said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:34am | ! Report

        agree, but for me it was brosque, bresh and harry who were all brilliant – although bresh did take a while to get going. you could see holger’s excitement about the performances of these three in the post-match.

    • Roar Guru

      March 1st 2012 @ 10:12am
      Fussball ist unser leben said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      Nice article Athas.

      What a glorious 4 minutes that was at AAMI Park – as euphoric, if not as momentous, as those 6 minutes in Kaiserslautern back in 2006.

      I’m over the off-field stuff and looking forward to a big week-end of HAL football and then the draw for Round 4 of the WCQs next week-end.

      PS: Did other HAL fans notice that the game changed completely last night when 30% of Australia’s outfield players on the park were MVFC players? Perhaps, we’ll bring Lucas & Bresc back to play for MVFC … now wouldn’t that be something to behold each week?! 🙂

      • March 1st 2012 @ 10:38am
        jmac said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:38am | ! Report

        yeah I did notice. If we could transport the melbourne crowd around the world for all qualifiers, I think we’d have a world beater in our team in the shape of archie thompson.

      • March 1st 2012 @ 12:46pm
        Whites said | March 1st 2012 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

        Don’t forget the AFC Champions league starts next week.

        6 March
        BRISBANE ROAR (AUS)-FC TOKYO (JPN)
        BUNYODKOR (UZB)-ADELAIDE UNITED (AUS)

        7 March
        TIANJIN TEDA (CHN)-CENTRAL COAST MARINERS (AUS)

      • Roar Guru

        March 1st 2012 @ 3:35pm
        Athas Zafiris said | March 1st 2012 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

        Yes fuss, I did notice that in the last 30 minutes 30% of the outfield was made up of MV players.
        I omitted this fact from the piece as I wanted you to proudly tell this to everyone this.
        I was being magnanimous 😉

        On the face of it makes MV’s position on the table even more mind boggling.

    • Roar Guru

      March 1st 2012 @ 10:30am
      apaway said | March 1st 2012 @ 10:30am | ! Report

      … and they were all playing on their home ground Fuss! Good pick up.

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