Socceroos coach Holger Osieck talks to footballaustralia.com.au associate editor Michael Cockerill about his latest squad and World Cup qualifying campaign.
Qantas Socceroos coach Holger Osieck talks to footballaustralia.com.au associate editor Michael Cockerill about his latest squad and the business end of the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, starting with the match on June 4 against Japan.
Q. Holger, obviously a massive game coming up in Tokyo. Are we going there to win the game? A. Definitely we're not going there as tourists, that's for sure. We have our targets for the upcoming games, whether we make it to Brazil or not, and a very important game in the series will be the Japan game.
Q. Are you thinking about changing your tactics? A. Well, I mean, I always like to play up to our strengths. You sit against Japan - the Japan midfield - and you give them the opportunity to come and attack us, then you're going to end up second best. We are strong enough, I think, to put on our game.
Q. The Oman game was disappointing. Is that how you see it? A. I couldn't be happy at all. In particular in the first half, the players were a little bit lethargic. It was not what I expected. The second half, it was almost too late when we went two-nil down, but they showed real spirit, it was a lot better, and we could equalise. Of course we could have won as well. I think we have to pay dearly for a very poor first half.
Q. Were there any parts of that performance you have focused on going into the Japan game? A. We have to avoid basic mistakes. When I look back, which I normally don't like to do, you have to find the reasons for that. Our build-up was way too slow, our passing at times was very sloppy, we gave too many easy balls away, and we hardly penetrated.
We definitely have to do a lot better against Japan, we have to be more aggressive, we have to play more into their defensive third, and I'm pretty confident the boys who will be on the pitch will follow (instructions).
Q. What about the mentality? Do you put pressure on the team going into the game against Japan, or do you try and take the pressure off? A. Whatever game you play there is a certain kind of pressure anyway. We shouldn't get lost too much in that respect, we should focus on our stuff, and play to our standard, and then once we have started, we have had some successful actions, of course you find your rhythm. That will be our target.
Q. Are you isolating the Japan game to the players, so they don't think ahead to the (home) games against Jordan and Iraq? A. First of all it's very important to approach every game as a single entity. You have to focus on that particular one. It won't help at all if you keep talking about game two, or three.
Q. Is it a worry the players might start thinking ahead, because many people believe we can afford to drop points against Japan? Is this a danger? A. Well it could be. But let me tell you, I will regulate that.
Q. How have you found dealing with the players after the Oman game? Are you expecting a reaction? A. I had some strong words at half-time already. The players knew very well what our deficits were. After the game, shall we say, there was a more positive approach because we scored the two goals. But nobody was really happy, all in all we know we didn't reach expectations, and we have to avoid this. We have to be ready, show the fire, and I think we still have a lot of substance, a lot of quality.
Q. Goal difference? Australia has the best goal difference in the group apart from Japan. Is making sure you don't concede goals a priority? A. Goal difference is always an issue when it comes to the final classification. It plays some part, but I hope we don't have to do those calculations, that we get our points, and we are in a position that we don't have to worry about it.
Q. You worked in Japan for three years (at Urawa Reds), this is your first trip back since you became national coach, have you been working the phones to get some inside information on the Japan team? A. I have a lot of personal contacts in Japan, but I never contacted anybody regarding the game, regarding the team, I know the team and the players very well myself. Some of the players used to play for me when I was coaching there. I mean there are no real secrets regarding the Japanese team. We know about their strengths, we know about their quality. We have to put in all our quality to get a result against them.
Q. Japan have a warm-up game against Bulgaria (May 30). Are you scouting the game? A. Normally warm-up games don't give you a good indication. Normally they use a lot of second-tier players, they make a lot of substitutions. It's a big issue to go there, so I'm going to watch it on TV. It's (Toyota) far away from our location in Japan, so why all the additional travel because that it is the time to work with the team in camp.
Q. Ryoichi Maeda, Hiroshi Kiyotake, Takashi Inui, Shinji Kagawa, Mike Havenaar, Shinji Okazaki - there is a lot of attacking talent in the Japanese team at the moment. Is that their strength, the front third? A. They play very aggressively forward when they play at home. As you say, they have some excellent players, particularly when you look at Kagawa, but even the other boys, they play regularly in the Bundesliga. Yeah, they are pretty strong in that area, and it will be a big challenge for us.
Q. There is some debate about the fitness of Keisuke Honda. Do you think he will play? A. I'm aware of that fact there is a question mark for him in this game. But we shouldn't focus too much on that - if Honda plays, Kagawa will play to the left, if Honda is out Kagawa will play through the centre and Kiyotake will play oin the left. So they are all similar type of players.
Q. Let's talk about the Socceroos. You've recalled Sasa Ognenovski. Why? A. In recent games I tried different things. I gave a lot of players an opportunity. Sasa was never off the radar, I always followed his activities, I know what I can get from him, he's very solid, and, as I said, our defence will be challenged.
Q. Is his selection as much about the combination he's developed with Lucas Neill over the last few years? A. I think it is crucial, particularly in central defence, that both players have a good understanding with each other. They have played together on a number of games, but when you look back, due to circumstances, I had to vary. But it's always a kind of gamble when a new guy comes in, he has to get used to the level of play. So it will be an advantage to have two guys who are used to each other.
Q. Is left back still the problem position for you? A. Left back has been our Achilles heel in recent games. I have to admit it. I always try to find a solution, but unfortunately there's nobody who has come from the sky. I hope I will get the right person to do the job in Japan.
Q. Is Ivan Franjic in the squad purely as a right back, or can he play on the left? A. I had in camp here for three weeks, I had him in Hong Kong, I think he's a versatile player. He left a very good impression. He can more than just a fringe player for the Socceroos.
Q. Josh Kennedy is back, he's got a great strike rate (30 games, 15 goals) for the Socceroos. That's good news? A. Yeah, I agree. Josh has been out of the team for quite some time, mostly because of injury. Josh is back, playing (for Nagoya Grampus), he's played already seven games, 90 minutes, that's definitely very positive. I know what I can expect from him. If he comes with some self-confidence he can still do a lot extra for the team.
Q. Is that extra all about his ability in the air? A. It's very important you have some attacking power, particularly on high balls, but that doesn't mean that I will now shift our game plan to high balls. That's not my game at all. But set plays, corner kicks, he can be very useful.
Q. I've got ask you about Harry Kewell's comments in the last few days. He says he's disappointed he wasn't picked. Do you have a response? A. Well, I don't know what he said. I'm not aware of his comments. The only thing I can refer to is I had a personal talk with him, and I made my decision clear, and he accepted it.
Q. Is the door still open for Harry Kewell? A. Of course. I assured Harry when he's back to his top level he's always a very important player for the group.
Q. Finally, Holger, a lot of people are pessimistic about our qualifying chances after the Oman result. People are getting anxious. Where do you sit with the campaign? A. As a coach, you have to be optimistic otherwise you are in the wrong job. Maybe it's not so bad that people are a bit more conscious of the situation. I don't want to say worried, but conscious.
I have a feeling, prior to the Oman game, it was like a Sunday afternoon walk. Only the scoreline had to be discussed, and that was a very dangerous situation. That can have an impact on the players, and the environment around the national team.
I would rather this one, when people are more down-to-earth, they're saying we have to fight for everything, we have to earn everything, we don't take anything for granted. That is a better approach, rather than it's a done deal.