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Stielike gets it right and knocks Postecoglou off course

Ange Postecoglou should definitely be replaced before the World Cup. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Expert
17th January, 2015
105
1551 Reads

Ange Postecoglou has received a lot of credit for his work in the opening two games of the Asian Cup, while eyebrows have been raised in the direction of Uli Stielike, but on Saturday night in Brisbane it was the German who deserved the plaudits.

Finally finding something resembling a functioning unit, Stielike’s Taeguk Warriors indeed defended with warrior-like determination, setting up early for a high press that disrupted the Socceroos’ rhythm of the opening two games, then retreating to block and frustrate the hosts.

A classic battle between two of Asia’s finest, this was far from a disaster for a Roos side that dominated large parts of general play, but it does expose Postecoglou’s men to a side of the draw and a quarter-final venue they were hoping to avoid.

The powerful, resolute and organised China side, well familiar with Brisbane and the Suncorp surface, will provide a stern test that the Socceroos must pass to set up a potential semi-final in Newcastle against Japan.

There had been a bit of noise from Robbie Kruse in the build-up about the stadium’s surface, and Postecoglou mentioned the impact this had on his team’s passing in his post match comments on Fox Sports and in the press room.

Australia’s manager and his players must now focus and get the negativity about the Suncorp surface out of their heads, for it’s clear that Alain Perrin and his men will be relishing playing at a place they now see as their lucky charm.

If Brisbane ball boy Stephen White is on duty on Thursday, they might feel even more comfortable.

What they may lack technically China make up for through sheer hard work, and the uneven surface certainly helps level things up from their perspective.  

In truth, it wasn’t so much the surface that sunk the Roos on Saturday night, but their own wastefulness and the fact that we saw the real South Korea, the one I was impressed enough with pre-tournament to think they could be the team to beat.

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Despite losing two very influential central midfielders in Park Joo-ho and Koo Ja-Cheol on either side of half-time, they defended with real conviction, even if they had to rely on a couple of brilliant Kim Jin-hyeon saves late.

Early on the defensive set-up of Stielike was exceptional, pressing the Socceroos high and making it difficult for the defence to get out through Mark Milligan or Matt McKay.

The flanks too were blocked by excellent defensive work of Lee Kuen-ho and Kim Jin-su on the left and Han Kyo-won and Kim Chang-soo on the right.

Stielike recognised that Australia’s wide-men like to play tight and allow the fullbacks to get forward, but they blocked the avenues of Ivan Franjic and Aziz Behich.

In the first half it was often the clever movement and penetration of Massimo Luongo that gave the Roos the creativity to break into the top third, and had Tomi Juric and James Troisi been more clinical it might have been a less anxious evening.

Instead the Socceroos went behind and then played with tension chasing. Not for the first time this tournament they were caught unprepared at a set piece, but this time the punishment was maximum.

Expecting a Korean long throw, the Roos switched off momentarily when Korea went short, with three players drawn to Ki Sung-yeung, allowing Lee Kuen-ho to drift in behind the ball-watching Nathan Burns and set up front man Lee Jeong-hyeop for an impressive finish at the near post.

Burns got his starting opportunity here, but his defensive lapse was critical.

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While Postecoglou’s changes didn’t really have the desired effect, with Juric and Troisi also missing good chances, and Behich struggling, Stielike pretty much got everything right.

Early on, the work of Ki, Park and Koo in the centre of midfield was excellent, Ki and Koo giving Korea plenty on the ball while Park bossed proceedings until a Burns elbow caught him.

Koo in particular will be missed if he doesn’t recover from what looked a serious arm injury.

But it wasn’t just the midfield where Stielike found winners. The work of his back four was arguably the most convincing of a tournament where they have won three games 1-0.

Meanwhile, Lee Jeong-hyeop caused the Roos defence plenty of issues, eventually leading to Matt Spiranovic earning a yellow card that will see him miss the quarter-final.

Postecoglou now has a bit of work to do to get his players focused and his plans and tactics right for China on Thursday.

While it seems likely he will revert to his first choice front three of Robbie Kruse, Tim Cahill and Mat Leckie, he also has to decide if McKay has done enough in the past two games and whether Mile Jedinak comes back in for Mark Milligan.

At the back Postecoglou has indicated Alex Wilkinson will come in for Spiranovic, and it’s likely Jason Davidson will put pressure on Behich.

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Having five days to recover, and with six or seven changes likely, Postecoglou will have a fresh team, but more important is that the Roos take a no excuses approach, don’t look too far ahead and focus only on China.

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