Monday, June 19, 2006
History Stuffs Australia
Well, that title is a bit harsh, but I think we all knew in our heart of hearts that Brasil would turn us over. Having said that, though, it was only moments of individual class that made the difference, but tactically the Socceroos had the South Americans round their little finger for long periods.
The first half in particular was absolutely magnificent from the Aussies. Tactically superb, they stifled the Brasilian flair to the point where the world champions were visibly at a loss for openings to exploit. The Socceroos simply gave them no options. It was a lesson in tactical planning and it came off to a tee. I don't recall ever seeing a side so well organised and disciplined, covering space and breaking forward when the opportunity arose. Right from the off, the Aussies did not press the Brasilian back line, allowing them to pack the midfield and deny the Brasilians any space. It was almost as though the pitch had shrunk to about two thirds its normal size, and that's exactly the way to successfully curb an attack. When the Aussies had the ball, the pitch seemed to open up, allowing the play to flow.
As if we needed it, that 45 minutes was confirmation of Guus Hiddink's tactical genius. Critics will suggest that Brasil were not at their best, but they would have had to be at their best to get past the Socceroo fortifications. It was very, very impressive.
The initial period of the second half was always going to be the real test, and would dictate the rest of the game. The Brasilians came out with a new plan, and the Aussies were always going to have to respond to it. Unfortunately, the South Americans stepped up a notch, and the Aussies found it difficult to maintain their performance. The game opened up, and this would always suit Brasil. Sure enough, a couple of small defensive errors (Neill allowing Ronaldo the space to receive the ball cleanly, the other defenders being drawn to Ronaldo and away from Adriano, and Chipperfield letting Adriano turn onto his favoured left foot) led to a goal. The class of Brasil showed through here, as many sides would not have the talent to exploit such a small chance.
From then on, the Aussies were on the back foot. They had to score, and pushed forward. Hiddink brought off a key defender, Moore, for a more attacking lineup. He knew that goal difference was irrelevant given the draw between Croatia and Japan, so it was worth risking conceding a second.
It could have easily been a draw, with Kewell, Viduka, and Bresciano all coming close. Dida's save from Bresciano's spectacular volley was top drawer, although it may not have gone straight in. But Australia were caught short and Brasil found themselves with four players on three. The oddly-named Fred punted it in, and it was all over.
Schwarzer 6 - Could do little about the goals, but commanded his area and took an excellent one-handed catch from a shot (that would have been disallowed anyway, but shows his skill - this guy could palm a bowling ball).
Chipperfield 6 - Made a few errors and tried to milk it too much going forward.
Neill 9 - Outstanding. Man of the match.
Moore 8 - Excellent. Back to his best.
Popovic 7 - Unlucky to be injured. Was having a good game till then.
Emerton 8 - One of his best games. Kept possession well and tackled well. Disciplined.
Grella 7 - Partly at fault for the last goal, but that didn't spoil a great performance.
Culina 7 - Good. Poor set pieces though.
Cahill 8 - Very lively and only subbed for his yellow card.
Sterjovski 7 - Generally very good but occasionally gave the ball away.
Viduka 7 - Held the ball up well.
Bresciano 7 - Great volley and good creativity.
Kewell 7 - Wasteful, but gave us time to press forward.
Aloisi 6 - Quiet.
I have to say that the whole was much greater than the sum of its parts. Overall I'd give the performance an 8, as a team.