Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A new coach, a new beginning

Australia under Holger Osieck are proving a very different proposition than their time under the overly-watchful eye of Pim Verbeek. Where the Dutchman was cautious to a (large) fault, the German has endowed Australia with sensible selection policy, good play from his A-League complement and even the occasional 4-4-2 formation. He is the Anti-Pim and the players seem to be responding.

Of course the Socceroos have since the days of Terry Venables been able to compete - and sometimes win - against good opposition. Under Verbeek they managed several creditable results but it was obvious to fans that Verbeek's skill lay not in winning matches, but saving them. It seemed he thought success came not through craftsmanship but took the opposite, utilitarian direction. Perhaps, like Roy Hodgson's alleged Liverpool crimes, he is better at producing draws than either wins or losses.

As a manager, there isn't a better opportunity infuse your breed of football into a team than to prove it's efficacy against a bogey-side. Yesterday's win in Moenchengladbach was just that - further validation of Osieck's appointment and Australian management's insistence on a manger who could nurture growth in the Socceroo squad.

When Australia lined up against Germany in Durban for their first World Cup match, they fielded a 4-6-0 formation with the main intent being damage control. In that formation both Richard Garcia - in his first competitive international - and Tim Cahill played out of position and turned in almost career-worst nights. The Socceroos were soundly defeated 4-0 and any hopes of making the second round from the Group of Terminal Illness were quashed. The Green and Gold army scoffed at an obvious lack of trust - and received a performance, hamstrung by a complete absence of forwards, could be read one of two ways. The cautious would suggest the inoffensive formation actually prevented even more of a mauling; those favouring a more balanced lineup would just suggest players don't perform when they're not trusted.

Yesterday - in enemy, rather than neutral, territory - the Socceroos stayed with a 4-4-2 the entire match, having both the resilience and chutzpah to absorb German forays and then return the attack. The result was 2-1 and only the most miserly would deny Australia's achievement against a strong Teutonic team. Osieck's stock is rising after an impressive Asian Cup campaign and should he continue to drink from Guus Hiddink's "You can do anything" juice, the Socceroos will continue to remain challenging for a Top-20 berth in the FIFA World Rankings.

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