Monday, May 24, 2010

Socceroos vs Kiwis 2:1

That did not inspire confidence. I know pretty much everyone is going on and on about how shocking Australia played tonight, especially in the first half, and, well, I know I've vowed to be positive but it was pretty bad. This is going to be tough to put a positive spin on, but here goes.

In fairness to begin with, this was not our first team. Hopefully Adam Federici's and Brad Jones' debuts in goal will not be crucial to prepare them for World Cup games, because Schwarzer really is a key part of our game. I'm not saying either were too bad, or that Schwarzer could have made the save necessarilly, but I think our whole defensive line reflected the lack of Schwarzer's usual direction, which as a rule is constant and reflects enormous experience. So to start with, we need Mark at the back, and with him there we are a better team.

But as was much publicised our leading strikers were being rested too. Now obviously Pim intended from the beginning to play Timmy for only a half, in which we were supposed to go one up at least. But note that Pim took Timmy and other experience off, and put even more new blood on, with no apparent strategic purpose (I for one don't credit the improvement in the second half upon the subs), probably according to his original plan. That is, it was more important to see his players than to win the game, and rightly so.

And of course there's hubris, and we can be safe in the knowledge that Australia will go into none of its World Cup games thinking that we will certainly win. I fear that was the case tonight against New Zealand, and when I saw the utter determination on the Kiwi faces during their national anthem, I did see the danger. The Kiwis had much more need to beat us than the other way, and they played their first team and gave it their soul like there was no other game to be played again. It was their opportunity and they damn well nearly pipped us from our perch. But they didn't, did they?

And at half time it was quite clear to me that they weren't going to. If New Zealand were two goals up I would have been worried. But although there are other commentators saying the Kiwis played us off the park (Fox), I didn't see that. I saw glimpses of passages of play that, although too infrequent to make the difference, were of a higher technical and organisational standard to the best New Zealand offered. I also imagined the appalling scene in the dressing room at half time, and the grilling they would get from Pim and one another. We do know that Australians don't quit, and they were only going to come out firing a lot better. New Zealand had no extra to offer - they were already giving their all.

I have two witnesses: "2:1 to Australia," I declared at half time to Dawn and Jacob, and I wasn't joking. That's what it looked like to me, for all of the above reasons. And I didn't give up, for which I am personally proud. A little while after Dario's goal Dawn declared her prediction of a draw. At extra time I explained to her how so many goals statistically happen in extra time. After two minutes and forty-five seconds of extra time she was looking pretty smug, and I calmly spoke that I had not given up. My cheering is generally pretty insane, but 30 seconds later I'm not sure if I was cheering for the goal or for the fact that my confidence in the team had not flinched once and they had delivered in the final second. Only a sports fan knows that feeling.

Congratulations to Dario for his game and his goal. I'll be looking forward to watching him in South Africa. Holman really didn't convince, but I think Pim wants him so good luck to him scoring again in better competition.

Look, I'll call a spade a spade. The Socceroos played like shit in the first half, and although they got it together a bit weren't that great in the second either. I don't say that with the kind of self-righteous, pseudo-expert mockery that I hate from too many soccer (oooh sorry, football) fans. I say it with the knowledge that Pim and the blokes would probably nod in agreement, knowing they can do much better. I say it with respect.

My confidence is not rocked. These lads perform best when the stage is at its largest and the stakes are highest. We will be kept on the edge of our seats, but the Socceroos can get through their group. I actually think they will, but I'll get to my reasoning on that soon.

Post-script: It's the next morning and I found out that Australia was not the only one to be embarrassed in a home friendly yesterday. Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the failure, could only manage 0:0 against... wait for it... Cape Verde. Don't effing ask me; look at an atlas.

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