Stopping Hasebe and Endo key to the Socceroos’ hopes
Holger Osieck has selected his core Socceroos, with few surprises for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers (Image: AP)
If the Socceroos harbour any hope of halting a rampant Blue Samurai in tonight’s World Cup qualifier in Brisbane, as a starting point they need to step up and disrupt the two pivotal holding midfielders, Makato Hasebe and Yasuhito Endo.
For all the show and glow of Japan’s third line, which includes the gifted trio of Shinji Kagawa, Royichi Maeda and Keisuke Honda, it is Alberto Zaccheroni’s second line that dictates Japan’s tempo.
That tempo, in the opening two World Cup qualifying wins over Oman and Jordan, has been quite electrifying, a seamless flow of ball and body.
This quick movement of the ball, with bodies in motion, has been too much for both West Asian visitors, forcing them deep, pulling them apart.
So good have Japan looked that I suspect, right now, they would be a match for most teams in the world, many at the current European Championships included.
Zaccheroni, it seems, agrees: “If we can play like we are doing at the moment at a fast tempo, I am convinced that we can play well not only against Australia, but any team.”
At the Heart of this up tempo approach are the two gifted footballers, one an enforcer that can play, the other a playmaker with the discipline to sit.
Whether it’s Hasebe breaking up the play or Endo receiving from the defence, most of Japan’s play comes through them.
From there, they bring the above-mentioned trio, as well as striker Shinji Okazaki and the two fullbacks Atsuto Uchida and Yuto Nagatomo, into the game, spraying the ball around, often in a forward direction.
Endo, in particular, has a marvel of a right foot, involved in most of Japan’s good things.
What has been so evident in Japan’s two wins so far is just how much space Endo has had to pick his passes.
For the Socceroos to have any chance, they need to disrupt this Hasebe-Endo axis and deny Endo, in particular, the space he was afforded in Saitama.
To do so, Holger Osieck can’t afford to have his last line, the back four, dropping off too deep.
That, one senses, would spell disaster.
The question is, can they adjust to playing higher? While there have been a few examples of this under Osieck, too often the tendency has been to retreat to the 18-yard-box, a default position under Pim Verbeek.
Osieck has tried to get them higher, but an ageing rearguard means the loss of a yard or two of pace, thus a natural inclination to retreat.
Here they have to be brave, but ensure they press as a unit and remain compact, denying each Japanese player time and options.
To press Endo and Hasebe and turn this into a contest, Osieck may be best served congesting his central midfield by restoring the Carl Valeri – Mile Jedinak holding axis, with Mark Bresciano ahead of them in a more advanced attacking central midfield position.
It wouldn’t be the most popular move, but you sense that burdening Bresciano with too much defensive responsibility wouldn’t be the brightest option against these guys.
On football ability, the sad reality is that this ‘Roos team, on the slide, is never going to outplay a Samurai team on the rise.
To have any hope, the Socceroos will need to scrap and get bodies in among the Japanese midfield.
Alex Brosque, who really struggled with the conditions in Muscat, could be a pivotal player here, dropping off the front line, helping congest the midfield with his high-octane pressing.
There’s no doubt Osieck is missing Brett Holman’s high defensive work, but if the likes of Brosque and Matt McKay can step up and contribute, it may mask his absence.
If the Roos can get among Japan, and stop them from playing early, demonstrating controlled aggression and physicality, they might just be able get into their heads.
From there, against a fairly new central defensive pairing, there may be the odd opportunity in attack.
Otherwise, it’s looking likely to be a case of wave after wave of blue.
On current form, Osieck will need to get his tactics absolutely spot on, but, on a wide Suncorp Stadium, you’d be brave to bet he and his men can execute.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
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