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Posted by Paddy Higgs on 05/26/2010

The Socceroos' unconvincing 2-1 win over New Zealand could be an omen of things to come in South Africa, as Paddy Higgs writes.

MORE than 55,000 made it to the MCG to see off the Socceroos in style on Monday night.

The fans kept up their end of the bargain. Bar the final result, the Socceroos didn’t.

Pim Verbeek’s team – who left for South Africa on Wednesday – was fortunate to finish with a 2-1 win and without a red card or two.

It was hardly the farewell Australia and its fans wanted. Perhaps the latter were spoilt by the corresponding match four years ago against Greece, when 95,103 were witness to Josip Skoko’s sublime first-half volley.

New Zealand is ranked 58 spots below Australia in the FIFA rankings, but it meant little as the Socceroos’ trans-Tasman rivals showed scant respect to the $10 price offered pre-game by bookies for a Kiwi win.

The Socceroos were doddery and tentative in the first half, outplayed by a sharper and more creative All-White outfit. The opening 45 minutes was only memorable for those in green and gold because of a pair of poorly timed challenges.

The tackles came from two of the side’s more experienced heads, and were borne of frustration at the Socceroos’ first-half display.

All-White Leo Bertos must have wondered what he’d done wrong.

First, Vince Grella hopped, skipped and jumped into his shin, with the gleam of his studs showing. Minutes later, Tim Cahill’s trailing right boot raked down the same part of Bertos’ leg, forcing his withdrawal.

Grella’s challenge was a bona fide leg-breaker, and should have warranted a red rather than the yellow American ref Ricardo Salazar issued.
Cahill’s tackle had far less intent, but he too could have been dismissed had the game been a World Cup one and not a friendly.

Australia improved in the second half, with substitutes Carl Valeri and Mile Jedinak injecting structure in the formation. Dario Vidosic’s goal was well-taken, as was Brett Holman’s with virtually the last kick of the day.

But let us not paper over the cracks.

Australia’s defence looked slow and also battled to limit the aerial threat of New Zealand’s height – a worrying sign for the finals, particularly given the Socceroos will come up against Serbia’s star 202cm-striker Nikola Zigic.

At the other end, few chances were crafted. Even Vidosic’s goal came from a deflected Jason Culina ball, with the youngster reacting quicker than anyone else to volley home.

Verbeek named his final squad the day after the game, admitting in the post-match press conference that he had already had the 28 names in mind to travel to South Africa prior to the New Zealand friendly.

Striker Scott McDonald, creative midfielder Nick Carle and defender Jade North were the three whose World Cup dreams ended. Five more, including fourth-choice goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic, will be cut by the June 1 deadline.

McDonald had seemingly been handed a final chance to impress with a start against the Kiwis. His barren run for the Socceroos – goalless now in 16 appearances – continued to finish his chances.

But the trimming of Verbeek’s squad was still overshadowed by the side’s showing the night before.

Verbeek – in his last game in charge on Australian soil – didn’t back away from the performance post-match: "If we play the World Cup in three or four days, I should get worried," he said.

"But we have three weeks. It’s not a worry, because we can something about that."

It’s a typically straight answer from the Dutchman, but it won’t have done wonders for public confidence that Australia can get out of the group it shares with Germany, Serbia and Ghana in South Africa.

Because when the final whistle had sounded, more questions had been raised than answered.

Provisional 28-man squad:
Goalkeepers: Mark Schwarzer, Adam Federici, Brad Jones, Eugene Galekovic.
Defenders: Scott Chipperfield, David Carney, Lucas Neill, Michael Beauchamp, Shane Lowry, Craig Moore, Mark Milligan, Rhys Williams, Luke Wilkshire.
Midfielders: Vince Grella, Carl Valeri, Jason Culina, Mile Jedinak, Tim Cahill, Brett Holman, Dario Vidosic, Mark Bresciano, Brett Emerton, Richard Garcia, James Holland, Tommy Oar.
Strikers: Nikita Rukavytsya, Josh Kennedy, Harry Kewell.


Posted by Bandwagon '10 on 05/26/2010

How McDonald missed out is beyond me. What are your thoughts on the decision?

Posted by Phil on 05/27/2010

I agree, but I wasn't surprised that he was, the big problem for me is that there is no plan-B. OK, so we don't play a style that suits McDonald, but what if we need to and without Nick Carle as well we only really have Rukavytsya. Way too much is made about goals scored, would anyone dare say it about Viduka and neither should they, but he didn't exactly score a lot under Hiddink. And Pim's favourite Holman scored only his 2nd goal against NZ and while he didn't play as long as McDonald his general play wasn't even close in quality.

The area where I have a real concern is central defence, surely Craig Moore can't start against Germany....I'm sure Colosimo would have got closer to Smeltz on Monday night, yet he can't make the 31...what a joke. Anyway, wait until Denmark and the USA and we may well be looking at Beauchamp being the best option.

Posted by Woody on 05/27/2010

Watching the game as a England fan I was impressed by the Kiwi's performance however I do not think Australia looked like a terrible side. Neill, Grella, Cahill, Emerton etc have all had a tough EPL season behind them and I think it will take a short while to adjust to International Football. The game was not a true reflection on what Australia can do.

Even if they do up it a gear I still think Germany, Serbia and Ghana will all be too strong for Australia. It is probably the toughest group to be in.

Posted by claire on 05/29/2010

In 06 Australia was in the "zone". I am wondering if either of these teams will be able to find that spark to ignite them this time. I believe that the fact that the final team has still not been announced is making it hard for players to concentrate on the games ahead.

Posted by Justin on 05/31/2010

I think they should give Beauchamp a run against USA and Denmark see how he goes. Moore knows what his doing but his abit slow in his age.

Why the hell didn't Pim try different formations that would have suited McDonald? McDonald is the best striker Australia has the formation should have been fitted to suit him.

Australia wasn't great against New Zealand but they haven't played with each other for a while and Australia never plays well against small teams but they know how to step up to the occasion against big teams.

Posted by Anna on 06/02/2010

We shall watch with interest - keep us posted

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Paddy Higgs is a sports journalist and editor in Melbourne, Australia. He has contributed to a range of football magazines and websites, having followed the Socceroos from their years of World Cup heartbreak to the side's coming of age in 2006 and its bid to become an Asian powerhouse.

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