Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Football's Coming Home: Australia 3-1 Japan

Tim Cahill has engraved his name into the annals of Australian football history by scoring the first two Socceroo goals in the World Cup finals* and ensuring an historic win against Japan last night.

Not only that but John Aloisi has elevated his status almost to divinity by scoring Australia's third in extra-time.

To be honest I thought Hiddink had got it all wrong. Australia looked very good in the opening stages but something just wasn't right about the shape. Wilkshire got a start on the right, which is baffling, while Emerton and Kewell played in the middle.

It worked but wasn't convincing. Australia had several chances without taking the advantage, while Japan attacked our leaky right flank.

Bresciano had the best chance from a Viduka backheel but the ball fell to his weaker left foot and the Japanese keeper got down in time to palm the shot away. Dukes had another, although I'm sure he'd have preferred to lay the ball off rather than shoot from the narrow angle, but there was no support. As it was, he did well to force two saves from the keeper.

Suddenly, and somewhat against the run of play, Japan were in front. A hopeful ball into the box enticed Schwarzer to come and collect, but the big fella was shoved by a couple of Japan players and the ball bounced unchallenged into the net. The ref was unmoved by Australia's protests and the goal stood. If the security people had access to tranquiliser darts I'm sure they'd have used them against Hiddink, who was absolutely ropable.

The goal shook the Socceroos, who played the next period much more nervously, but they came back into the game and, at times, laid siege to the Japan goal. However they found their opposition keeper Kawaguchi to be in a very stingy mood, having made multiple saves from various Aussies. Kewell also clipped the bar from a fair way out.

Soon after the start of the second half Hiddink rang the changes as expected, although the substitutions were probably more adventurous than most people would have predicted.

Tim Cahill for Bresciano was pretty much like-for-like but Kennedy for Moore was very gutsy move. Both players justified their selection with excellent displays - especially Cahill as it turned out. Then Kawaguchi made another superb save low to his right from a Viduka free-kick.

Aloisi was soon brought on for Wilkshire as Australia pressed forward in an insane 2-5-3 formation rarely seen in the last half century. The penalty shootout hero forced yet another good save from Kawaguchi and the pressure finally paid off in the dying minutes with a scrambled goal by Cahill after the Japanese keeper made an uncharacteristic error. Cue manic celebration as history was made but the young midfielder wasn't finished yet. Aloisi fed the ball across to an unmarked Cahill just outside the area and the ex-Millwall player did a very un-Millwall-like thing: took a moment to line it up, and place a magnificent shot onto the inside of the post and into the net.

That's not to say that Japan didn't have their chances, but their final ball was awful and they couldn't bury it. Their best chance was a gift from Chipperfield that allowed them to be two-on-one, but the ball was passed behind the player and he couldn't do anything with it. They were also very unlucky not to be awarded with a penalty (and an extra man) when Cahill went to ground in the box.

As Japan reeled, Aloisi struck again deep into injury time, nipping past the tired Japanese defence and slotting coolly home. It was another fantastic goal and one that may serve us well in terms of goal difference later on.

Australia at times looked world-class, and at times looked amateurish. Our fitness is definitely a major factor - Japan were becoming visibly tired as the second half drew on but Australia just kept pressuring. They were full of determination but their nerves showed through as well. The defence is a worry, and our difficulty in scoring is another. There were defensive mistakes even before we started pressing forward, and some of the passing was a bit soft. But for now, let's sit back and enjoy this moment. Ultimately, the victory was what the team deserved. No other team has scored three goals in the last seven minutes in World Cup history. We're top of the table, and will stay there with anything less than a 3-0 victory from Brasil against Croatia.

* Except an own goal in 1974, which we will conveniently disregard...

Player Ratings

Schwarzer 5: A couple of errors in judgement, a minor one for the goal (although he was ultimately unlucky to concede) and a major one when he decided to head the ball to an opposition player.
Chipperfield 5: Caught out several times and not a great attacking threat. Is much better in a back four rather than a three (or two for that matter). Made a horrible mistake near the end that could have cost us the game.
Neill 7: One of the few, along with Viduka and Aloisi, to keep their cool. Was turned just outside the area to allow a shot on goal near the end but otherwise very solid.
Moore 6: Had moments when he looked like the hard-arse defender of old. Improving every match.
Wilkshire 5: Dismal first half, looked completely outclassed and kept fouling. Improved somewhat but should really be nowhere near this squad.
Grella 7: An important force in defence and kept possession well. Will go into the Brasil game in good form.
Culina 6: Drifted in and out but a good contribution overall.
Emerton 6: Poor first half - repeatedly found out defensively and offered little in attack. Better in the second half when he was played more towards the sideline.
Kewell 6: Looked tired and out of sorts. Had a moment or two but seemed a bit breathless.
Bresciano 7: Surprisingly substituted, Marco looked like our best bet to be our first goalscorer in the first half. Apparently some kind of ear infection forced him to go off. Hoping he's fit and ready for the next match.
Viduka 8: Great support play and one of our best. Unlucky not to score with three excellent attempts, and nearly got an assist or two as well. Wasn't given much support, so it'd be good to see Aloisi alongside him.

Cahill 9: Hungry as hell and it paid off. Poached the first and thoroughly earned the second with a world class finish.
Kennedy 7: Caused all sorts of problems for the Japanese defence. Good to have him coming off the bench.
Aloisi 8: What a goal. Really looks the goods, a natural goalscorer, and Hiddink must be wondering how he can fit him into the starting XI without upsetting the established tactics.

What'll Hiddink do against Brasil? I'm thinking he really has to play Aloisi alongside Viduka so the two cool heads can play off one another. That suggests something along the lines of a 3-2-3-2 formation, if he sticks with Chippers, Moore, and Neill at the back, or maybe a 4-1-3-2 with Grella protecting the back four. Don't know who to play at right back though. We need two players in defensive midfield to protect against Ronaldinho and Kaka, but I can't see us defending against Ronaldo and Adriano with only three at the back either. I'm glad I'm not Hiddink. Kewell has to play on the wing and I'd be happy with Bresciano either in the centre or on the opposite wing.

I'm hoping we get at least a point from Brasil, so we don't have pressure against Croatia. If the Croats beat Japan or get a result against Brasil then the last game will be really huge. If we can get just one point from Brasil then we will be laughing. I think the South Americans will really want to beat Croatia because if they don't, the other two teams will know they are beatable and they could struggle to top the group. They will want to top the group to avoid Italy (presumably) in the next round. So I'm hoping they beat Croatia so that they come into the Australia game a little more relaxed. Then, I'd like a draw between Croatia and Japan which will set up a real nail biter for the last round (i.e. any two of the four teams could go through).

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