Could Pim Verbeek have been right all along?
Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek oversees a training session. AAP Image/Julian Smith
There is no way to sugar-coat Australia’s loss to Jordan in this morning’s World Cup qualifier in Amman.
It was a shock loss and a shocking performance, and while it hasn’t torpedoed the Socceroos chances of qualification for Brazil 2014, it has seriously shaken them.
At the same stage of the last campaign under Pim Verbeek, Australia sat comfortably on top of their group, having not conceded a goal, and having “won ugly” in the Middle East.
This time around, the Socceroos aren’t even “losing pretty”.
Verbeek’s pragmatic approach meant the Socceroos defence remained watertight and his two screening midfielders – usually any combination of Vince Grella, Jason Culina and Walter Valeri – provided coverage to the back four so that the Socceroos never had to chase the game in any of the 2010 qualifiers.
In fact, they only fell behind once in the final phase group, in the last game against Japan at the MCG.
At the other end of the park, Josh Kennedy, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill provided the strike power when it was needed, and Bret Holman started coming in to his own as an attacking midfielder.
But that was then.
Holger Osieck injected more attacking options in the Socceroos originally and even this morning they did create chances. But the Jordanian keeper was playing to the cameras for most of his saves and was never seriously tested. Alex Brosque was poor.
Tim Cahill worked his socks off as he usually does but I still think he is better utilised arriving in the box late from midfield. He’s not a natural striker – indeed no player on the park for this game looked remotely comfortable in the penalty area.
Getting rid of Osieck has been mooted from a number of disgruntled sources but I don’t think that is a wise short term strategy. But the experienced German coach does have some issues to fix before the next game against Iraq, who are a far better football team than Jordan, which is a bit scary for the Socceroo faithful.
I think Matt McKay and Brett Holman are both excellent players but were not utilised to their best effect in the positions they played in.
Holman is at his best playing behind the strikers, while McKay is a natural left-sided player with the enrgy to get beyond the opposing fullbacks, something the Socceroos did very little of.
It may be argued that pushing Holman to the centre means no room for Mark Bresciano and Timmy Cahill but both of those players can be used in other roles – Bresciano can play deeper and Cahill can play beside Holman in behind a striker if need be.
Defensively, the Socceroos have problems they did not face four years ago. Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski are magnificent servants to the Socceroo cause but it doesn’t take a genius to see that pairing them together without the kind of coverage the tireless Grella used to provide leads to dangers on the edges of the area.
Luke Wilkshire can still go but David Carney is surely living on borrowed time. There were questions about his defensive capabilities but he was always an attacking force. Not this morning.
It will be interesting to see if Osieck turns to the A-League when it starts in less than a month. Maybe he can contact the Department of Immigration and get Besat Berisha and Thomas Broich their Aussie citizenship quick smart.
Add Erik Paartalu and Ivan Franjic into the mix and some of the problems evident from this morning might not appear to be so problematic. And of course James Troisi, James Holland, Tommy Oar and NIkita Ruykavitsia are waiting in the wings.
That’s something Pim Verbeek would never have done. But Osieck may have to.