Friday, April 3, 2009

Nearly there ... Australia 2-0 Uzbekistan

This one was a classic game of two halves. From an Australian point of view the first period was generally underwhelming and frustrating - Uzbekistan showed a fair bit of intent while the Socceroos were seemingly unable to get out of second gear.

The second half was a different story, though. After the break (and no doubt a rocket or two from Pim), Australia started to take control of the match. In the 66th minute a fluid and well-constructed attacking move got the end product it deserved when Marco Bresciano received the ball wide on the right and whipped a pinpoint cross into the area. Super-sub Josh Kennedy connected well with the header, directing it low to the keeper's left.

Seven minutes later the referee called a penalty (admittedly, slightly dubious) on Richard Garcia. Harry Kewell stepped up and converted. Two nil. I feel a little for the Uzbeks: playing away from home and with very little preparation time they gave the Socceroos a decent run for their money. There's no room for sentiment in World Cup qualification, though. And Australia are just about there, barring a string of highly unlikely events.

There are better analysts than me that could talk about Verbeek's tactics. There is the ongoing issue of results versus style - the Socceroos under Pim certainly aren't playing with the same panache that Hiddink had, but our record (especially defensively) is not to be sniffed at. Ultimately qualification is by far the most important objective; it would be nice to do it while playing beautifully but that may not be realistic.

What is interesting, though, is the atmosphere around the country in comparison to four years ago. In the leadup to the Uruguay matches, the second leg in particular, there was a real feeling that Australia was on the cusp of doing something special. This time around, everyone's a bit more blase about the whole thing. It's almost as though qualification is a given, rather than a special achievement.

To a point that's an understandable attitude. Australia is obviously one of the strongest national sides in Asia, but we need to be careful that we don't become arrogant. Once we get to South Africa it will be a different kettle of fish - the Socceroos will need to be very much on top of their game to do well again. The way Australia have played at some points during qualification would be punished mercilessly by better teams.

One thing that has changed for the good over the past four years is the general profile of football in Australia. Wednesday night was another example of this - Australia v Uzbekistan set a pay-TV viewership record with a peak audience of 508,000, not including those watching in public areas.

Pack your bags for South Africa - the good times are rolling on.

1 comment:

Nunny said...

It is impossible to match the emotion of the 2006 World Cup.

After the emotional loss to Iran in 1998.

Followed by the emotional loss to Uruguay in 2002.

The tragic death of Johnny Warren in 2003.