Socceroos Preview

I suggested to Dave, and he thought it a good idea, to preview the Australian MNT (see what I did there, mens national team), the Socceroos. We also have a successful Australian WNT, the Matildas, recently crowned champions of our Asia. While it is unlikely that Australia will get to play France, it’s always good to add a bit of background.

Qualifying Through Asia
Australia’s qualification through Asia, whilst undoubtably better for Australian football than the playoff against the 5th placed South Americans, throws up some unique challenges. Firstly there are massive changes in climate, and Australian teams, acclimatised to European conditions, have typically struggled in the heat and humidity of both the Gulf and tropical nations in Asia. Secondly, many matches in Asia are played on “non-FIFA dates”, meaning that many of Australia’s European stars are unavailable for national team duty. This means two things – A League players get exposure to Asian opposition, which is good for the development of the local league at the expense of the quality and at times results for the national team. This has also had the impact of causing Verbeek to pick his 4-2-3-1 formation as it is flexible enough to allow expression from the best players, and solidity for the lesser lights.

Saying that – Australia qualified third earliest for this World Cup (behind the hosts and a late kick-off behind Japan), conceding very, very few goals. They never really dazzled, however were ruthless in dispatching some tricky opposition. They were in the weaker of the 2 Asian pools, however did qualify ahead of Japan without beating them.

Formation
Australia have reverted from the Guus Hiddink 3-6-1 to a dependable but defensive 4-2-3-1.
The back four is settled as Wilkshire on the right, the experienced Moore and Neill in the middle and Swiss Champion Scott Chipperfield.
The holding midfielders are the increasingly combattive Vince Grella paired with Jason Culina, who is the better passer of the two.
The wings are held down by former Palermo man Bresciano and Everton’s Brett Emerton (if fit), with Everton star Tim Cahill playing in a central attacking role.
Up front will be Harry Kewell if fit, otherwise Jason “Jesus” Kennedy.

Playing Style
Australia have reverted to a defensive style under Verbeek – lots of big bodies behind the ball with a little too much temptation to hit it up to the big man Kennedy. They’re strong in the air, solid without the ball and if they play with enough width, can exploit crosses to a good extent. Their form has been sketchy in the lead up to the tournament, but the suggestion is that the squad were getting plenty of run in their legs, which suggests they’ll both be in better shape and play more fluidly in South Africa.

Group D
The Socceroos have been drawn in a really tough group, with African Cup of Nations Finalists Ghana, French conquering Serbia (there’s a link to Ligue 1) and Germany, whose reputation speaks for itself. This will be a very tough group to get out of, however Australia has been building something of a tradition of raising their game against better opponents, so whilst my money isn’t going to be put on Australia to get out of the group, it would not be hugely surprising for me.

3 Key Outfield Players
Kewell – Harry Kewell is Australia’s once in a generation player, and is almost permanently injured. If fit, if 80% fit, he’ll play. His ability on the ball is second to none in the Australian team, which will provide spark in a team sent out to smother rather than ignite.

Cahill – Everton’s Tim Cahill is Australia’s most potent player, and poster boy. His ability to arrive late in the box has a damaging effect, and coming in from behind the striker he poses Australias most significant goal threat.

Wilkshire – When Guus Hiddink brought Luke Wilkshire into the Socceroos’ camp from obscurity (Bristol City), it raised a few eyebrows. However Guus described the then 24 year old as a “modern footballer”. Big tickets for an unknown, however he’s developed into a quality wing back which does two things. Firstly it allows Brett Emerton to play higher up the pitch and use his crossing ability, but his dynamism also gives a defensive Australian team some drive from deep, and some impetus going forwards. Also – his set pieces look the most likely way for Australia to make attacking inroads, especially if “Jesus” Kennedy is on the park.

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