Thursday, November 17, 2005


Paint me gobsmacked!

Holy shit.

I'm on record as saying that I'd be gobsmacked if Australia qualified for the World Cup. Well, as the title of this article says, paint me gobsmacked.

It's an old cliche, and an almost-as-old cliche to claim that it's an old cliche, but football really is a game of two halves. I've never seen Australia play as poorly as they did in the first half, but have never seen them play as well as they did in the second half and in extra time. What happened? I reckon it was a combination of two things: an enigmatic Dutchman by the name of Guus Hiddink, and the ever-smiling spirit of Johnny Warren. Lately, all things are going right for the sport in this country, and I can't help but think the great Australian is pulling some strings with the big boss in the sky.

My player ratings:

Schwartzer 10 - Hero of the day. Started shakily like he did in Montevideo but again grew in confidence and soon took command of the box, giving Uruguay no chances with his safe hands. And as for the penalty shootout, I'll use his own words: "FUCKING A!!!!"

Popovic 6 - Looked as shaky as he did for the first leg, and earned a stupid yellow card. Substituted early more out of tactics (and the yellow) than his performance though.

Neill 7 - Made himself big. Occasional lapses but generally handled Uruguay very well. Cool as ice for his penalty.

Vidmar 7 - Failed to mark on occasion but put in some critical blocks and tackles. Saved off the line as well, and took his penalty.

Chipperfield 7 - Helped a lot by Kewell, but Chippers played very well and showed that he could defend as well as get forward. But why did he pass backwards when he had a clear shot at goal?

Grella 8 - Dodgy start but blocked the central channel for the rest of the game. Good passing and tackling. Nullified Recoba, which is saying a lot.

Culina 7 - Assisted Grella well. Didn't really notice him much to be honest. Put in some tackles, gave away a few fouls.

Emerton 6 - Has the talent but not the determination or the brain. Made the wrong decision too many times. Also he was too slow to react, and should have been substituted before the cramp.

Bresciano 8 - Caused Uruguay lots of problems and scored a fantastic goal. The image of him standing triumphant like Cantona after the goal will live a long time in my memory.

Viduka 8 - Got no service at all, but battled hard for 120 minutes in a long, difficult physical battle with the Uruguayan back line. Drew two defenders for the whole match, which opened up the wings (particularly the left side for Kewell) and allowed Australia to keep the pressure on. His brilliant touch-on for Harry Kewell tore up Uruguay's defence and led to the goal. Normally I'd drop a point for his poor penalty attempt, but not this time - he deserves his 8.

Kewell (sub) 9 - Hell must be freezing over because I never thought I'd see the day when I'd describe Harry's performance as "steely and determined". Chased every ball, went from corner to corner, tackled, crossed, passed, scared the shit out of the Uruguayan defence, and generally made a complete menace of himself down the left side. His back-heel started the move that led to Australia's goal. Took his penalty very well too. A match winning performance, outshined only by Schwartzer's nerves of steel.

Aloisi (sub) 7 - Did his job when he came on and nearly got a goal but was a fraction too slow. Took his penalty well.

Skoko (sub) 6 - No time to make an impact.

And I'll give Guus Hiddink a 9. Australia had no shape for the first half hour or so and looked absolutely dire, but Hiddink's courageous substitution of Popovic early on showed that he was not afraid to take risks in order to adapt. Knew what he was doing. Still needs to do something about Australia's defence though - they are often caught out of position and don't handle set pieces at all.

There's a long way to go before Australia realises Johnny Warren's dream of winning the World Cup, but as the Chinese say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That one's for you, Johnny.

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