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Tashkent thoughts

Any criticism of Pim Verbeek and his charges must be muted after Wednesday night’s performance. After all, they have started the final leg of the World Cup qualifying campaign with an away win in difficult conditions, with an injury-ridden squad. A fine achievement indeed.So then, what can we take from the game?

First of all, the defence. It’s strange that Chris Coyne has come in for so much criticism since his elevation to Socceroo status: when it has mattered, he has done fairly well on the whole, and against the Uzbeks he was simply excellent. Dominant in the air, and quick to cover for Scott Chipperfield when he went forward, Coyne put in the most pleasing performance of the night from a fans’ persepctive.

Central defence is certainly a problem area for the Socceroos. Michael Beauchamp and Patrick Kisnorbo have been found wanting at international level, and Jade North is in wretched form of late. Coyne is certainly not a long-term solution, but given the paucity of options at Verbeek’s disposal at the back, he could yet be a vital contributor for us during this campaign.

Lucas Neill also put in a fine performance in Tashkent. It’s nice to see him coming close again to his Germany 2006 form, after a listless performance at the Asian Cup. Behind the central two, Mark Schwarzer was his usual solid self, although once or twice he again gave ammunition to those critics who suggest that he doesn’t command his area quite well enough.

Chipperfield’s return to the green and gold has been welcome. It was a credit to Verbeek’s preparation that Chipperfield was clearly given instructions to bomb forward early: in tandem with Mark Bresciano, he caused the Uzbeks’ most vulnerable player, right-back Islom Innomov, plenty of concerns. The Basel man did run out of legs towards the end, however, and needed his colleagues to cover for him more than Verbeek would perhaps have liked.

Luke Wilkshire’s was a spotty performance. He did provide the cross for the goal (as indeed he did against Holland earlier in the week), but there were times when his defending was clumsy in the extreme, especially in the second half. He is not a natural right-back by any means, and in fact that lack of a specialist full-back of any description could come back to haunt the Socceroos during the campaign.

Given Australia’s injury worries in midfield, later exacerbated by Jason Culina’s illness, Verbeek deserves credit for the re-organisation in that area. With Carl Valeri and Jacob Burns as the central men, there was clearly never going to be any great commanding presence there, so the outside men (Bresciano and Emerton) often moved inwards to give them some much-needed support…as did Chipperfield and Wilkshire at times.

Yet the period at the beginning of the second half, when Uzbekistan began to dominate completely in that area, was telling. Was Verbeek perhaps regretting his choice of Jacob Burns as the last back-up midfield grafter in the squad at that point? Burns has proved time and again that he is not of genuine international standard, and while, in fairness, Verbeek could hardly have expected to have to use him in such a crucial game, his deficiencies were clearly shown up when the opposition began to assume command.

Next time, it would be preferable to see Neil Kilkenny or even Stuart Musialik in the “reserve anchor” spot in the squad.

The Uzbeks certainly improved when Timur Kapadze (who should patently have been on from the beginning) arrived to reinforce the midfield, and towards the end the left-winger Jasur Hasanov began to trouble Luke Wilkshire considerably. All in all, Australia’s second-half performance was not pretty.

To the forward line then. Was the decision to omit Kennedy justified?

In a curious way, I think so. The Uzbeks are clearly the most “European” of the sides we are likely to face in this final qualifying round, and with defenders like the imposing Alikulov, Kennedy may not have had the aerial impact that he had against, for instance, Qatar in the previous round. Instead, Kewell’s clever touches and movement were hard for the Uzbeks to master, and although Holman’s touch in the final third continues to infuriate, he too kept the home defence on their toes. Not a bad reshuffle from Verbeek, all things considered. Kennedy, though, should certainly take the field in the other games.

A terrific start then…but, as Verbeek himself was quick to point out, it’s only a start.

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Real Football

Published on September 13, 2008

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