Rarely is the reaction to a 4-0 victory at a continental tournament so negative, but it’s been a curious fallout since Australia’s opening game triumph over minnows India. And one area of criticism and obvious concern for the Socceroos is down the left side, with full-back David Carney struggling again.
Carney’s performance against India left a lot to be desired. Too often caught out of position, too often dwelling on the ball, too often making the wrong decisions.
He appeared a player short on confidence and game time.
That makes sense given Carney has seen only about 152 minutes of Premier League action this season with Blackpool. He’s rusty.
You could argue he had a one-off shocker against India, but he was pretty ordinary in the UAE friendly too.
And don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to single out one player and stick the boot in, but in my opinion Carney has struggled as an international standard left-back for some time.
And the reality is he isn’t really a left-back, rather a left winger, as he was at Sydney FC before Graham Arnold gave him a run in defence four years ago against Thailand at the 2007 Asian Cup.
Too often for the Socceroos, he gets caught out of position, typical of a footballer playing out of his natural position.
Unfortunately for Australia, though, through a lack of viable options Carney has become our go-to man at left-back, especially since Scott Chipperfield retired.
And he’s delivered a number of lovely strikes for the Socceroos (goals against Nigeria, Ireland, Bahrain and Paraguay) which has to some extent papered over the cracks of his ability as a defender.
The situation is a concern against top-class opponents such as Korea Republic who we face on Friday, especially up against their in-form and marauding right-back Cha Du-Ri. It is a major weakness for the Socceroos.
SBS’s Les Murray expressed his concern about this very problem yesterday on The World Game’s Shootout.
Again, don’t get me wrong, I think an in-form David Carney can do the job for the Socceroos at left-back. But at the moment, on the evidence from the UAE and India matches, he clearly isn’t in form. Far from it. And his Socceroos’ performances over the past 12 months don’t fill me with much confidence either.
So that creates a conundrum for Australia boss Holger Osieck with few simple answers.
In Osieck’s 23-man Asian Cup squad there is no natural left-back cover for Carney (plenty will bring up Ersan Gulum’s name at this point which makes that whole saga all the more frustrating).
The most logical solution if Osieck is to lose faith in Carney, is switch Luke Wilkshire to the left-side of defence and drop Brett Emerton in at right-back, promoting perhaps the impressive Nathan Burns to the right-side of midfield.
But that totally upsets the team balance, or as Osieck puts it the ‘stability’ and ‘rhythm’ of the group, which is why he put out our full-strength side against the lowly Indians in the first place.
Could Jade North or Jon McKain fill in a left-back, also out of their natural position? I don’t know, but we know Osieck doesn’t like to gamble. He said it himself!
So does Osieck keep the faith in Carney and hope he can find his touch? Perhaps at this stage in the tournament it’s something he won’t mess with.
But if he does keep the faith and it doesn’t work, I’m sure it’ll mount the pressure on the boss.
It’s obvious to many fans that there’s a problem on the left-side of Australia’s defence and how Osieck goes about solving it will be monitored closely.
Against teams like India, Australia can get away with it. But if the Socceroos want to go all the way in Qatar, then problems like this will need to be fixed.
Holger, it’s your time to show us you know what you’re doing.