Pim Verbeek’s big calls backfire on biggest stage

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    It’s your wedding night. After two and a half years of being engaged, your bride reveals to you she’s just cut her hair, had Botox, silicon implants, a tattoo sleeve and a sex change.

    A very bad night to experiment. So too, Pim Verbeek, is the opening match of a World Cup.

    After 90 minutes of abject humiliation by a Germany team which produced the finest football seen at this tournament and one of the most comprehensive performances at a World Cup finals in recent memory, Australia now deserves some answers.

    The Germans were a joy to watch. They deserved to win 4-0, and probably by more. They could win this tournament. That will be answered in a month’s time.

    The questions now are all for Australia – and specifically for Verbeek, who took one night to throw away the predictability which has been his trademark for the past two-and-a-half years.

    For all his versatility, Jason Culina has not played on the left side of the midfield three at any point in Verbeek’s reign. Why in this game? Against Mesut Ozil, who could well turn out to be the star of this tournament?

    Richard Garcia has not been deployed as a lone striker for his country – ever. Why this night?

    Verbeek has stuck rigidly to a 4-2-3-1 formation to get through a successful 14-match qualification campaign. So much so, it’s joked that the table soccer at the team’s hotel has been changed to fit the formation.

    Why then attempt a two-striker system when we go a goal down? With two players in Garcia and Cahill who are not recognised strikers?

    Verbeek’s answer? He wanted to exploit Germany with pace up front, then the goalposts shifted when Australia conceded an early goal.

    Funny, because that’s exactly how Germany exploited Australia.

    Lightning quick cut-and-move in the front third, killing Australia down its left-hand-side.

    Ozil could have gone and bought breakfast for himself and the thousands of Aussie fans watching in the cold at home, then still had time to unlock the Socceroos’ slowpoke defence.

    Verbeek has done a great job getting Australia to the World Cup despite sundry critics.

    But on the night they’d been practising their lines for for the past four years, Australia were made to ad-lib.

    And they stuttered, stammered and eventually left the stage with their shorts around their ankles. Trust me, Pim, we’d have taken one of your 1-0 wins.

    A day after the match, Verbeek defended the questionable tactics which have left Australia’s World Cup campaign on the thinnest of knife-edges.

    Verbeek threw out his two-and-a-half year-old script for some bizarre selection decisions in the side’s 4-0 defeat by a red-hot Germany at Moses Mabhida Stadium on Sunday – raising the ire of countless supporters and former players.

    He benched striker Josh Kennedy and midfielder Mark Bresciano – both of whom had played the Socceroos’ two South African friendly matches – and shunned game-breaker Harry Kewell, who sat tracksuited on the pine as the Socceroos spent 90 minutes chasing German shadows.

    Jason Culina was used in an unfamiliar left midfield role and struggled.

    And Richard Garcia was deployed unusually as a striker – for much of the game in the two-striker formation Verbeek avoided for the past two and a half years.

    Verbeek said Kewell at least was in his plans to play, but once Tim Cahill was harshly sent off in the 58th minute for a challenge on Bastian Schweinsteiger, he changed his mind.

    And Kennedy and Bresciano had not shown enough in training and their two previous hitouts to earn a place, Verbeek said.

    “The moment we start to play with 10 players, you need different players on the field from Harry Kewell,” the Dutchman said.

    “That was the only reason I didn’t bring him in. Against 10 men with a team that was already better than us, you have to make different decisions.”

    “If you lose 4-0 you can always say it didn’t help, but nobody can prove we would have won if we had those players on the field.

    “They (Kennedy and Bresciano) didn’t do well in the last two games, they didn’t do well in training – not well enough.

    “The players who were on the field were the better players – that’s the reality.”

    Verbeek said with Cahill – Australia’s best and most reliable route to goal – now set to miss the must-win clash against Ghana on June 19 in Rustenburg, he would consider at least one change for the game.

    Germany sit top of Group D, with Ghana – who beat Serbia 1-0 in Pretoria earlier on Sunday – also on three points.

    Australia is bottom on goal difference.

    “Now we have to go for the next six days and find what’s the next starting 11 to beat Ghana,” he said.

    “You cannot compare this game with the next game. We have to learn from this game.

    “We have to score in the next two games, that’s clear.”

    © AAP 2018

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