Pim makes his point in the land of the rising sun

It was touted as the toughest assignment yet for the Socceroos in the last stage of the qualifying group for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.  Socceroos’ Coach, Pim Verbeek, has made it quite clear from the outset that a point away from home in Asia is a job well done; in the case of Asian-giants, Japan, even more so.

The Japanese had been preparing for the match against the Socceroos for over 5 weeks.  We’d, on the other hand, had 24-48 hours of real preparation.  The odds were stacked against the Socceroos; with Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton out, the creative width was absent.

But every football match presents an opportunity to learn and progress for Verbeek’s men, something many of the newer additions to the team need desperately.  With a number of key players out, here was the chance to give the likes of Josh Kennedy and Scott McDonald a start.

Instead, Verbeek decided that a draw was to be fabricated in no less than the usual pragmatic Dutch-fashion.  For all his skill and wisdom, Verbeek’s conservative and cautious approach proved dour and uninspiring under pressure, however productive it may end up.

Any neutral football fan would agree that Japan deserved victory.  Post-match press out of Yokohama painted the performance as “frustrated” from the Japanese, or was it just their inability to play any decent football against a 10-man wall?  Nevertheless, they managed to create a few chances and a point does them no real damage at this stage in the group.  The other nations seem to be beating each other, so their lack of consistency is both Australia and Japan’s gain, to seal the coveted first or second spots.

It’s the second-straight Socceroos’ performance ending in a 0-0 draw, this alarms me.  Our final-third or attack looks disorganised and experimental; it’s not the ideal scenario with a World Cup next year.  It’s not as if there aren’t players to choose from up front, and they’re all champing at the bit to play.  But, Verbeek likes to do things his way: build-up from the back, contain in midfield and counter-strike “if” the opportunity presents itself, using a lone-striker.

All reports out of the Socceroos’ camp suggest Verbeek is a talented man-manager.  The boys’ respect him and I’m glad they do, perhaps he is a little scared to ask for too much too early.  I just hope for his sake and that of Australia’s that when he does ask for their best, they deliver without question.

I was watching the match and thinking that the quality of our opposition was a direct challenge.  We didn’t play down to the level of our opponents, yet didn’t rise to the occasion or prospect of victory.  I felt a 1-0 win was achievable for us, but probable for them, if not for a few key saves from goalkeeper, Mark Schwarzer.

The Japanese team should and will make the next World Cup, and deserve no less than 2nd in this qualifying group.  They have some outstanding player-talent, the likes of Shunsuke Nakamura and Yasuhito Endo to name a few.  I was surprised and somewhat disappointed that Verbeek didn’t capitalise on the opportunity to pit fearful Celtic team-mates, McDonald and Nakamura against each other.  It would’ve incentivised the match for the both of them.  I feel these little details are often gifts in disguise; Verbeek doesn’t seem to like presents.

It is clear that the Socceroos’ need more depth in their squad but also on the pitch.  The starting 11 are becoming stale, predictable and exposed.  If I’m able to pick-out our weaknesses watching on TV at home in Sydney, a skilled-technician with the help of his coaching staff, would be able to undo the Socceroos quite easily in the future.

If Kewell, Emerton, Tim Cahill and the usual suspects succumb to injury at any stage, do we have the depth to cover them and compete with the best in the world?  I think we got our answer last night.  So it’s time for some new blood, give the benchwarmers a go.

It seems crazy to me to keep playing Lucas Neill and Craig Moore together at the back for 90 minutes every match.  They need to believe they have to earn their place as others do.  Also, the Socceroos’ setup has become way too reliant on these two; we have to show greater flexibility in our playing roster not only for the World Cup campaign but for the battles in Asia.

Verbeek made his point; he achieved the desired outcome and will no doubt have the last laugh.  This result sets-up a mouth-watering encounter in Melbourne when these two teams meet again in the final group match.  It will then be up to the Socceroos to take the game to Japan, a goalless draw will not be as well-received back home, if Verbeek intends on holding onto his credibility, regardless of whether the game is a dead-rubber.  In Australia, we expect our Socceroos’ to win, to inspire a nation and to go for glory.

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