On Wednesday night Australia took their first tentative steps towards Asian Cup qualification, holding Indonesia to a nil-nil draw in Jakarta. This was no ordinary Socceroos lineup, though: Pim Verbeek used this match as an opportunity to see what the A-League players were capable of.
The short answer to this question is 'not much'. But there's a lot more to it than that. Yes, the game was slightly insipid (after a pretty good start, it must be said), but there were plenty of reasons for the lack of champagne football. Only a few of the squad members had been previously capped, with Craig Moore and Archie Thompson by far the most experienced players chosen. There was very little preparation time for the team - a couple of days at most for some of the players - and the oppressive humidity and bumpy tropical pitch was a far cry from what most would be used to. And, of course, it was an away game in front of a very large and hostile crowd.
The team chosen by Pim was quite conservative, as well - workhorses like Dean Heffernan and Matt Thompson started the match at the expense of more exciting, attack-minded players like Michael Zullo or Tarek Elrich. A couple of players who could also have provided some much-needed spark, Travis Dodd and Adrian Caceres, were not even chosen in the extended squad.
Three Reds players made it onto the pitch, and all gave a reasonably good account of themselves. Galekovic was solid and composed in goals, and Paul Reid provided plenty of energy, although I think he and Matt McKay may be slightly too similar in their style of play to be paired up in midfield. Scott Jamieson was rather more subdued than usual, preferring to sit back rather than sprinting up the left wing in attack. Whether that was nerves, the conditions, or Verbeek's instructions I'm not sure - but this game certainly wasn't indicative of what he's capable of as a footballer.
For their part, Indonesia seemed happy to park most of their players in their defensive half, launching counter-attacks whenever the opportunity arose. Papuan forward Boaz Solossa was a handful, but in general Indonesia struggled to break down a well-disciplined Australian defence, with the centre back pairing of Craig Moore and Rodrigo Vargas particularly solid. At the other end of the park, Indonesia defended in numbers and effectively prevented the midfield from creating much for Archie Thompson and Danny Allsopp to work with.
The result could have been better, but any away point is a good one and there's certainly no need to write off the A-League players for future matches like this. The team's performance, with no preparation time, in unfamiliar conditions and on a horrible pitch, was still better than plenty of 'first string' Socceroos matches that I've seen (the last Asian Cup comes to mind). Australia really needs to make the most of its home games, though - I'm looking forward to a much better match when the Socceroos play Kuwait in Canberra on March 5.