28 May 2007

Cup Quiz

Sigh. No free trip to Thailand for me.

I bombed out of the 'Expert' trivia category in Telstra's Be Involved campaign to take five people to Thailand for the Asian Cup finals, scoring only 17 out of 20. (Embarrassing, but there you have my startling, pathetic admission in black on yellow.) Checking back through my browser I noticed I'd somehow managed to incorrectly select North Korea instead of Lebanon for the second question regarding the team that withdrew from Australia's qualifying group for the tournament - damn lack of mouse control!

No idea what else I got wrong, though. I thought I was geek enough.

27 May 2007

Revenge? Pointless.

Australia's friendly international versus Uruguay next week is not a rematch, at least not a fair one. With Uruguay bringing over Recoba, Forlan, Lugano, Garcia, Canobbio, Diogo, Estoyanoff, Sanchez, and so on, La Celeste are close to full strength. (I say close mainly because Sebastian Abreu has again been selected. I admit to only having seem Abreu play a couple of times, but that seems evidence enough to me: any squad that needs him around has to have a bit of a problem with depth up front. Perhaps Regueiro, Pouso and Varela are the other notable absentees.)

Australia on the other hand are nowhere near full strength. No Kewell, Viduka, Bresciano, Grella, Cahill, Schwarzer, Aloisi, Moore, Chipperfield or Skoko for starters.

The veterans on the ground are pretty thin. Only Neill, Emerton, Culina, Wilkshire, Sterjovski and Thompson will be there to guide the emerging younger guns, e.g. the likes of Brett Holman, Patrick Kisnorbo, Scott McDonald and Matthew Spiranovic. The rest of the squad is a bit touch and go . . . and I think that's fantastic. With so many major tournament matches and friendlies crucial to the countinued reign of Graham Arnold, it's been a long time since we've seen such a squad. Finally, we've embraced a chance to evaluate some of the fringe performers against world class opposition. Uruguay is coming here to whip our asses, and unless some of these lads on the periphery step up that's exactly what will happen. It's going to be an interesting evening.

With the non-selection of Michael Petkovic, Ante Covic or Clint Bolton we're certain to start with a debutante in goals, and it's not Paul Henderson or Danny Vukovic. Brad Jones will start, with Adam Federici, another first-timer, backing him up. It's great news for Jones and I'm sure many in the community who've been scratching their heads about our second and third goalkeeper selection strategies of the national team ever since Covic went to the World Cup. Federici seems more of a longer-term prospect to me, with circumstances rather than consistent form edging him into the frame earlier than expected. If Reading were not flying so high in the Premiership, perhaps someone like Henderson would have been picked, if only to balance the experience somewhat. After years of selecting keepers in or past their prime, we've now turned 180 degrees and picked a pair of kids with zero international exposure. No real complaints from me, but others may wonder why a balance couldn't have been struck.

At the back, it Neill and Kisnorbo ought to start, with Beauchamp in contention if we start with a back three. Jade North and Michael Thwaite are pretty much on the outer rim, with Matthew Spiranovic far more likely to come on as a late substitute (as he did in the German DFB Pokal final overnight) to earn his first cap and spurn forever the whispering advances of Croatia. Personally, I'd like to see Spiranpovic make the Asian Cup squad. He was far and away our best performer for the U-20s and he's proven himself at least the equal of Beauchamp in Germany. He's one of the few bonafide long-term prospects we have at the moment, so why not?

Unless North or Thwaite occupy a wide defensive role, Emerton and Shane Stefanutto will probably start in the wingback positions. It'll be good for the local audience to see Stefanutto on home soil again and gauge what the impact of losing Scott Chipperfield will be for the forthcoming Cup. Chippers is pretty much irreplaceable, but if he decides to take a thoroughly well-deserved break then we'll need someone like Stefanutto or Ryan Griffiths or Wilkshire to take over that versatile man-of-action down the left.

The situation is similar in midfield. Carl Valeri will try to impress on the home crowd that he's a suitable backup for Vinny Grella in the holding position, at least, that is, until Mark Milligan returns from U-23 duty. From memory of the Athens Olympics, Valeria is a technical player with pretty good vision and who likes to roam. In this way he's probably more similar to Grella than is Milligan - an analog who doesn't upset the team balance quite so much. Regarding this speculation, Simon Colosimo may other other ideas of course. If he's in the sort of form (after playing in Turkey) that somehow kept the dire Perth Glory above the fast-finishing New Zealand Knights in the second season of the A-League, he may find himself thrown into what will arguably be the most important position on the park against Uruguay (somebody has to stifle the service to the super dangerous forwards; maybe we could do with a Rafa Bentizesque 4-5-1 for this match, with two defensive midfielders protecting the backline).

Culina and Wilkshire (or Emerton - those two are pretty interchangeable) will probably patrol the central midfield. What odds Wilkshire is sent off for a late lunge on Garcia? While Holman will definitely get a run, with Nick Carle and David Carney possibilites, Bresciano and Sterjovski will probably start as the supporting players for the striker, which I guess will have to be Thompson or McDonald. Archie might get the nod, but some might feel he's already been given a chance at this level and is yet to really fire. However, promoting new Celtic signing McDonald to such a lofty height will no doubt impel many a punter to wonder if they are dreaming. It seems that for years now people have been screaming for the introduction of a younger forward, be it McDonald, Joshua Kennedy or David Williams (thankfully we can still rely on Viduka and Aloisi to turn up when it really counts). Everyone in the stadium, I think, would love to see McDonald play, but we'll then be forced to play a new style of football. In such a scenario, how, why and how successfully Arnold tinkers with the system that's been in place since the last time we played Uruguay is possibly the biggest question of the night.

There could be one 'out' for Arnold that allows him to adopt the same tactics and plow on with the Hiddink method: playing Danny Allsopp up front as the target man. It would be a massively controversial decision to start Allsopp over McDonald, a kid who's been screwed or just been plain unlucky with the national team on several occasions already. Yet, Allsopp provides all the intangibles of the big lug Viduka - he's a solid presence, he can hold the ball, he can turn and run at defenders, he can shoot with power from outside the box, he has a good sense of the runners around him (running ahead of Allsopp is all Archie seems to do at Victory sometimes). We know that when you play Uruguay you need to have a certain sense of street thuggery about your game, or guile at the least. A large, tall striker becomes a sort of figurehead for the team, a crushing yet agile bastard up front that you can poke or smash the ball at whenever you're in trouble or simply pissed off at all the legs flying in around your ankles.

Possibly the biggest surprise of among Arnold's squad selection is in fact one of the most sensible: Allsopp is just the type of guy you want around when facing off against Uruguay, a national opponent we've come to love to hate (and certainly respect) more than any other (proviso: until we again play Iran again at the top level).