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Postecoglou still needs a Plan B

Ange would be much happier if he had Lance Franklin at his disposal. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Pro
19th November, 2014
5

It might have only been possible for 20 minutes, but in the end the Socceroos scored the only way they seem to know how – via the head of Tim Cahill.

It would have been endearing if it was not so exasperating.

Yes, the first half was lively. Yes, we had more possession. Yes, we were playing the best team in Asia in their own backyard.

But for a team that dropped Cahill to the bench, presumably in the hope of finding new avenues to goal, it was disheartening to watch the team execute a game plan that was crying out for Timmy in the middle.

If the team selection on Tuesday night can be taken as a guide, Ange Postecoglou is looking at executing a similar attacking strategy to what he used at Melbourne Victory – speedy wingers crossing low and hard to onrushing men in the centre to tuck it home.

Understandable perhaps, since Australia does possess pacy wingers, and indeed, Messrs Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, Massimo Luongo and James Troisi all had their moments in the first half.

However, for all the adventure they provided, they only produced one real chance – an admittedly tough header that Leckie did well to steer towards goal. And although it could be argued that the Japanese defence is more solid than others that will be found in the Asian Cup, it was worrying on two fronts.

Firstly, this is not a new Australian strategy. It is a minor tweak on the tried and tested ‘cross it to Cahill’, which worked again when we took the aerial route and found that magical forehead.

Secondly, this strategy can be counteracted by disciplined, close-to-goal defending that does not allow wingers space behind the full backs. The teams Australia needs to beat to win the Asian Cup will be well-drilled in this fashion.

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Playing down the flanks worked for Postecoglou in the A-League, but perhaps he was lulled into a false sense of security by the talent at his disposal. At Brisbane he had superb wingers in Thomas Broich and Henrique, at Melbourne he had Archie Thompson, and at both he had Kosta Barbarouses.

All were superlative performers compared to the full backs they often faced – a luxury he did not have against a Japanese defence that still has Inter regular Yuto Nagatomo to return. Indeed, arguably our only superlative performer remains Tim Cahill.

Surely, Australia cannot be a team that just relies on the wings as an avenue to goal. Some will argue that Australia lacks the quality to attack through the centre. But Tuesday night would have been the perfect opportunity to try.

Because if Cahill goes down injured or is shackled by a tall defence, merely crossing lower is hardly a plan B. And if the full backs are disciplined, it is hardly a plan at all.