Destiny in Socceroos’ hands
It was job done in Saitama but now Holger Osieck’s side have to take control of their World Cup campaign and prove they are able to dominate the opposition.
It was job done in Saitama but now Holger Osieck-s side have to take control of their World Cup campaign and prove they are able to dominate the opposition.
After the insipid draw against Oman in March, we got the Socceroos performance we wanted against Japan.
The recent run of poor performances left many fearing the worst against Alberto Zaccheroni-s team but the Socceroos delivered the least of what we expect from them: tactical discipline and heart.
But after this apprehensive qualification campaign, the question that still hangs in the air is do they have any more than that?
The game against Japan was, in some ways, the easiest of the June fixtures. A game with an opponent whom the Socceroos can easily define their character and course of action.
No one would have been overly surprised had Australia lost. Deeply disappointed, yes - but not surprised. Both a draw - and even that improbable win they almost claimed - are good results that leave the team in a strong position with two home games ahead.
The mission in Saitama was clear and the tactical approach was defined by the opposition-s greater threat; Australia had to stay compact at the back, soak up the pressure and break up those Japanese attacks before they got too close, then hit on the counter when the opportunity presented itself.
It was, as a number of pundits have suggested, a reactive game plan; unsophisticated but effective. There was no desire to take the game to Japan; it was the classic international away game.
I remain unconvinced it was deserving of the somewhat jubilant reaction after the final whistle. It was a well-earned point from an entertaining game but hardly a performance to savour.
Now Oman are now in sight, only two points ahead having played one more game. The road is clear, the requirements obvious - two games, three points from both and you can start looking for hotels in Rio.
But the job is far from complete. Against Jordan and Iraq, Holger Osieck-s side have to do what they have failed to do at any point so far in this qualification campaign: grasp the initiative and dictate the game.
The Socceroos have to attack the opposition and own the game. And I don-t know if they can do it.
This doesn-t mean I doubt their ability, it-s just been a long time since I-ve seen Australia take a game by the scruff of the neck.
Osieck-s campaign has, by and large, been reactive, defined in part by the fixture list starting mostly away from home, but also by the coach-s conservatism.
Now is the time for the Socceroos to be let off the leash. Pardon the cliché but it works.
Josh Kennedy is fit again so the team could actually start with a recognised striker, rather than an attacking midfielder leading the line.
Give Robbie Kruse and Tommy Oar the licence to run at the opposition defence and scare the daylights out of them.
Play the ball to feet, rather than just launching aimless crosses into the box; get Holman and Cahill running into the box late to convert as we all know they can.
Some will say it doesn-t matter how we play as long as we get the result - but that-s a reductive argument that ignores the point that if we don-t play well, we won-t win. We-ve tried that already - it doesn-t work.
Australia must win, and the Socceroos need a clear and decisive plan of attack - and do just that, attack. Clearly not at the expense of everything else, and I'm certainly not expecting a storm-force start from the Socceroos. Nothing from Osieck's reign has suggested that will happen now.
Tactical discipline will remain the byword - just make those tactics the ones that will pull the opposition apart, and create spaces for our hard-running Socceroos to exploit and attack.
So bring on Jordan. Bring on Iraq. Bring on the true Socceroos.