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A Lucky Point

Although the penalty decision that might have sent the Socceroos home a defeated side was dreadful, conceding a soft, straightforward goal at that point always looked likely, as the Socceroos tired to a man.

In short, Pim Verbeek and his men dodged a bullet. Ultimately, the result is an acceptable and even a good one – but there must be some questions over Verbeek’s tactics and substitutions (or lack thereof).

To start with the positives: Australia looked very comfortable in the opening half-hour, holding onto the ball neatly in midfield and at the back. Yet there was clearly going to be very little penetration, with David Carney and Luke Wilkshire rarely getting forward to good effect and Jason Culina, the supposed playmaker, preferring to drop deep and play square balls.

And Mark Bresciano as striker? It was very strange. After the early injury to Archie Thompson, Mark Bridge was the obvious man to take his place. Yet it was Brett Holman, a second striker, who filled the breach. Thus giving the Socceroos no options out wide, no-one to hold the ball up at the point, and no-one to break through the midfield.

Perhaps it was a canny strategy in the sapping conditions, but it gave the Chinese the chance to take the initiative…a chance which they strangely spurned.

Instead, the Chinese were putting their faith in a simple tactic which worked surprisingly often – the long ball into the wide channels, in between the outside members of the back three and the wing-backs, to connect with a diagonal run from one of the forwards. Michael Beauchamp had particular trouble early on against Zhu Ting, while even the slower Han Peng occasionally got the drop on the Australian backline.

The defensive instincts of both Carney and Wilkshire are not perfect, and Verbeek was somewhat lucky that Beauchamp improved as the game progressed, and that Jade North did a superb job on the other side.

In the second half, the Socceroos became distinctly ragged, and they were frankly crying out for a substitution. Bresciano was the first to tire (as against Qatar), but even Vince Grella and Carl Valeri were looking vulnerable as the half wore on. Verbeek’s decision to leave his starting line-up, plus Holman, to gasp to the finish line was questionable at best.

Vladimir Petrovic, by contrast, introduced Qu Bo up front in the final minutes…and the experienced striker, full of legs, caused the Australian back three no end of trouble. Again, the penalty decision was incorrect, but it wouldn’t have been a surprise had the Chinese nicked a goal at the close.

A final comment on the refereeing: appalling. Sun Jihai should undoubtedly have seen red for that horrific tackle on Luke Wilkshire; that he did not even receive a yellow was simply a disgrace.

Written by Mike Salter

Read more of his thoughts at The Football Tragic

Written by
Real Football

Published on March 30, 2008

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