Euroroos too short and sharp

Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

First of all, what a start!  The doubt and criticism was left for dead as the European-based Socceroos did the job for their new coach, Pim Verbeek, leaving the knockers to eat humble pie.  Verbeek only had room for one Hyundai A-League player, Craig Moore, in his starting line-up with the rest featuring our European-based stars.

Our opening 2010 FIFA World Cup Qualifying opponent, Qatar, was feeling a little star struck with the whole occasion.  The Qatari players had been reportedly shopping for Socceroos shirts and memorabilia during the week to take home with them.  Well, it showed in the first-half!  The Qatari team struggled to play any kind of cohesive football instead they were ball-watching, or rather player-watching, admiring their talented opposition.

Verbeek has been frank from the start, since taking over the Socceroos coaching job he has declared a results focus, one in which will not be compromised.  So the European-based players made the arduous journey back home, jetlagged and all to do the job for Australia’s bid to qualify for 2010.  Verbeek knew his foreign legion of players couldn’t sustain a high intensity for long, so they went for a quick kill, aiming straight for the jugular.

What I liked about Verbeek’s tactics was that he changed them to suit his players, not forcing the players to adapt to a stringent game plan.  He opted for a 4-4-2 formation with Dutch-based, Jason Culina, playing the holding role in midfield.  This allowed strikers, Josh Kennedy and Scott McDonald to have a real go at hitting the back of the net.

It paid off with Kennedy scoring the opening goal after just 10 minutes.  Brett Emerton’s superb cross found the head of Kennedy and he picked his spot in clinical fashion.  Even at such an early stage of the match, you felt it was over for Qatar, especially with the crowd cheering the boys on in a sea of green and gold.  When was the next one coming?  It didn’t take long, just 7 minutes in fact, Tim Cahill our World Cup hero from 2006, scored another header this time from a Luke Wilkshire corner.  It was then a case of, how many goals?

The tactical formation chosen by Verbeek at this stage seemed ingenious.  Qatar were always going to defend deep in their own half leaving one player up front, so captain Lucas Neill and Craig Moore were essentially our two defenders.  This gave Emerton and David Carney room to push further up the flanks and as we saw with the first goal it was an effective game plan.  Emerton was outstanding on the night and lived up to his “fittest athlete in Australian sport” label.

Wilkshire and Mark Bresciano played the attacking-midfield roles with purpose.  Wilkshire always looked threatening with his crosses, especially from set-pieces.  Bresciano took a little longer to settle but once he got going his class was there for all to see.  It was Bresciano who slotted-away the third and final goal of the match after 33 minutes, latching onto a ball played square by Scott McDonald.  Game over!  The job was done, a victory secured and 3 points on the board.  The Socceroos three goals sent out a sure message to everyone watching in Asia: we’re coming.

Understandably the second-half was more about containment and rest than scoring more goals.  We had to drop the level of intensity but without giving away too much.  Mark Schwarzer came up with a brilliant save to keep a clean-sheet but to be fair it was the only decent save he had to make.  Verbeek made some changes in the second-half, introducing Carl Valeri for “Man of the Match” Cahill and John Aloisi for Kennedy who picked-up an injury after a late Qatari tackle.

Perhaps the most poignant moment was the late substitution of Moore who was replaced by Brett Holman.  The long-serving Socceroo announced his retirement after the match.  Moore has played a significant role in Australian football over the past decade and in typical Aussie fashion left the big stage without a fuss.  It is a shame that Moore felt he had to retire, a lack of matches due to the A-League off-season cementing his decision.  Moore believes he can not sustain the required level of fitness to play in the upcoming matches.

The first of 14 matches to book our place in the World Cup was a success.  Verbeek enjoyed the moment and deserves thorough praise for his efforts.  Fox Sports commentator, Simon Hill, asked Verbeek after the match whether he would learn and sing the Australian national anthem like former assistant to Guus Hiddink, Johan Neeskens did.  Verbeek answered by saying if we qualify he will learn it and sing it live on Fox Sports for everyone to see, a very smart move.  I have a feeling he will be studying the lyrics before too long…

I kind of feel sorry for the boys in the original 39-man squad who missed out.  They trained hard, prepared mentally and sacrificed their Club commitments for the national team, but I guess that’s football and Verbeek’s decision to make.  What is great to see is that our European-based player’s will do whatever it takes to make themselves available, against whatever opponent.  It wasn’t too long ago that our Socceroos playing overseas would snub the national team because games against the Solomon Islands, for example, weren’t worth the journey.

We should all spare a thought for Johnny Warren at times like these, as it was he who fought so audaciously for our move into Asia.  Football has come a long way and the Socceroos brand is growing in popularity.  I’m looking forward to next month’s match against China, who fortunately for us, drew 1-1 with 2007 AFC Asian Cup Champions Iraq.  We couldn’t have asked for a better result.  It is now time to plan our next assault.  Look out China!

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