Socceroos handle the heat, with more to come from Japan
Given the difficulty posed by the heat of Oman and the pressure not to stumble in the first outing, coming away from Muscat with a scoreless draw and a point at least gives the Socceroos a foot into the latest phase of qualifying.
Needing to finish in the top two to earn automatic qualification for Brazil, and with Japan already on their way thanks to two comfortable and impressive home wins over Oman and Jordan, the Roos had to ensure they didn’t stumble here.
In that sense, a point on the road, in the energy-sapping heat, will at least give the team some confidence they can continue to get the job done and take Australia to a third successive World Cup.
It might not have quite been as “super-human” as Osieck described it after the match, but it was still very professional, and the entire Roos camp deserve plaudits for that.
It was far from comfortable, especially with the hosts coming at the Roos in the second period, but Osieck will at least have been happy to come away unscathed.
The German came into it with an obvious plan to utilise mobility in the front third, leaving both Josh Kennedy and Tim Cahill on the bench and pushing Matt McKay into his midfield.
No doubt this was motivated in part by the absence of his most productive midfielder in recent years, Brett Holman.
Without the Aston Villa bound attacker, Osieck no doubt reasoned that he had to balance the need for more defensive steel with the need to add attacking legs in the front third.
With Archie Thompson, who started on the left side of his midfield against Denmark, offering very little defensive support in midfield in that match, the Roos looked very loose.
Patently, Osieck felt like he needed to add more support to Mark Bresciano and his holding midfielder, this time Carl Valeri.
McKay would not only be expected to provide the defensive support, but burst forward occasionally and support both Harry Kewell and Alex Brosque.
While the theory may have been there, in practice both McKay and his left sided partner, David Carney, spent large periods dealing with Oman’s handy right side, which featured the impressive young attacker Raeed Ibrahim.
Apart from the 25 minute period leading up to half time, and the final 10 minutes, the Socceroos struggled to control proceedings, with Al-Ahmar (The Red) striker Emad Al Hosni proving particularly effervescent.
On one occasion, early in the second half, he forced a brilliant reaction save from Mark Schwarzer, sharp down to his left.
On such moments World Cup qualification can be decided, and the manager was indebted to his custodian here, just as Pim Verbeek was last time around.
It was another reminder of how reliant Osieck is on his old guard, especially when the going gets tough.
Here he featured an 11 with experience in defence and just enough mobility in attack.
It was team picked to do a job, and while the German may have expected a little more fluency in forward transition, he will have been pleased with the defensive side of things.
Going for the experienced options in Ognenovski, Carney and Jade North in all the contentious defensive spots told of Osieck’s thinking.
North and Carney have often been criticised, but here they produced solid displays.
North, in particularly, has invariably done the job when asked.
Many forget how critical he was in the first phase of qualifiers on the way to South Africa, when Verbeek used him regularly, often in a back three.
While many, including this correspondent, have clamoured for sea-change, the reality is that the youngsters that have hitherto been given their chances haven’t taken them.
Very few, if any, are begging, through their performances at club level, to be selected regularly.
Others, like Matt Spiranovic, Michael Zullo, James Troisi and Rhys Williams, have been given their chances, but continue to be inconsistent.
For now, it seems Osieck has little choice but to go with the tried and trusted.
How the aging squad recover and travel back from Oman to Brisbane, for Tuesday’s blockbuster against the Samurai Blue, will be telling.
Very few do the logistics as well as the Socceroos, and the medical staff will give the squad every chance of recovering in time.
They will need to be fresh.
What awaits is as formidable a test as the Roos are likely to face, a Japanese side on the up, and flowing with confidence after the wins against Oman an Jordan.
Both games were notable for the rapid pace in which Alberto Zaccheroni’s men moved both body and ball.
The midfield is as dynamic and technical as any in world football, and features such talent as Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and Ryoichi Maeda, with Yasuhito Endo and Makoto Hasebe controlling things from deeper.
Zaccheroni has them all on the same page, seamlessly integrating the fullbacks, Yuto Nagatomo and Atsuto Uchida, as well as striker Shinji Okazaki, into his flowing template.
It is candy to the football eye.
Osieck and his men will have to be at their organised best to get anything out of the home clash, ensuring they don’t sit too deep.
Putting pressure high on the deeper lying playmakers, Endo and Hasebe, will be critical, and to that end Brosque’s role is likely to change.
It is shaping up as a beauty, and while the momentum and circumstances appear to be with Japan, the Socceroos will be much better in familiar surrounds.
One can barely wait.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
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