Did Nicky Carle secure his berth to South Africa on the strength of his performance against Kuwait? Probably not. But will Pim Verbeek give him another chance? Undoubtedly.
Carle didn’t really put a foot wrong, running hard, getting from box to box, distributing well.
Yet as Andy Harper said at one point during the telecast, in the opposition half he kept receiving the ball with his back to goal and never had anyone running off him.
There wasn’t much of an opportunity to play himself into any sustained pattern of attack, though at times he showed a nice understanding with Luke Wilkshire and his perfectly weighted free kick in the fourth minute caused the necessary panic to cough up Dean Heffernan’s poacher’s special.
So it’s not over for Nicky yet by a long stretch but the final Asian Cup qualifer in March, against Indonesia, looms as a make-or-break game for a man who Jason Culina, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill have marked as a creative wizard for the Socceroos.
The problem for Nicky, though, is twofold: the continued rise of Dario Vidosic, who played very well in Kuwait, and simple mathematics.
The draw against Kuwait and Oman’s win over Indonesia in Jakarta has given the Omanis a real shot of nabbing one of the two qualifying spots. They sit on seven points, one behind Kuwait and Australia, and have home advantage against the Kuwaitis in Muscat on March 3 to conjure up their own great escape.
Verbeek should be confident that even with his A-League players on deck he will have enough firepower to account for the hopeless Indonesians, who lost 2-1 in Jakarta to put them out of reckoning for the Asian Cup, a result that will surely seal the fate of coach Benny Dollo.
But his headache is that Australia and Kuwait are equal on goal difference. If Oman defeat Kuwait, they cannot take the risk of losing.
You would have to go back to Surabaya in 1981 when Les Scheinflug’s team fell to an 88th minute goal from Risdianto in a World Cup qualifier, a result that put Australia out of the race for España 82, to find the last – and only – time the Socceroos have succumbed to the Merah Putih in 14 meetings since 1967.
That, however, won’t be enough comfort for Verbeek. Especially so when the young Indonesian team could have some wind in their sails under a new – possibly European – coach.
Failure to seal qualification for the Asian Cup would be a political disaster for Football Federation Australia at the business end of the World Cup bidding campaign, so expect the bulk of the European cavalry to return for Australia’s final match on March 3, which means, unfortunately for Nicky, falling once again in the shadow of Bresh, Harry and Tim.
He can still get to South Africa, and for joga bonito’s sake let’s hope he does, but he’s going to have to revive his club career, and not rely on his representative one, to make his case for selection. How he will do that while being frozen out at Crystal Palace is anyone’s guess.
If talent were enough to book a seat on that Qantas jumbo, Carle would be one of the first players on board. But football’s never that simple.
While others will get to Johannesburg in comfort, Carle’s going to have to get there by working harder than he ever has before and praying that the ball, for once, falls his way.
That or a plain old-fashioned miracle.