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Four problems and possible solutions for the Socceroos

by Ben Somerford on Sep 18, 2012

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It's fair to say Australia's 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign isn't going according to plan. It was always going to be tricky given our schedule, however two points from three games is far below expectations.

Last week's 2-1 loss to Jordan brought a lot of the team's inadequacies to the fore and has prompted widespread discussion.

Without wanting to generalise on that one game only, GGArmy has decided to reflect on the past 12 months as a whole and analyse the Socceroos' problem areas and float some solutions:

Central defence
During Australia's final round 2010 qualifying campaign, the Socceroos' stingy defence was the cornerstone of the team's success, conceding just one goal throughout the eight games. This time out, we've already let in three goals in three games.

Evergreen keeper Mark Schwarzer is being protected less by a unit which isn't nearly as strong. All coaches say defending starts from the front, but there's no escaping the fact that the back two is a huge concern. Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski is Holger Osieck's preferred pairing but the duo, both well into their 30s, short on pace and are winding down their careers in substandard West Asian leagues. Neill is no doubt still a good influence on the side and a positive leader but his performance against Jordan was poor, caught out woefully for the second goal and he looks a shadow of the player we once knew.

Solutions: Matt Spiranovic has never fully grabbed the opportunities thrown at him in the centre of defence but is a player Osieck should persist with, although his move to Qatar has reportedly left the German displeased. Youngster Luke DeVere is another winning rave reviews in Korea where he faces agile opponents week-in, week-out.

Left back
Remember Scotty Chipperfield? Geez, how useful he would be right now? Australia's current dearth of left-sided defenders has a lot of pundits scratching their heads and forumites debating our options. David Carney has long been Osieck's first choice, but his lack of gametime in Uzbekistan and ordinary displays in green and gold of late must surely have left the German with no option but to make a change. Too often caught out of position and too often poor with his first touch, Carney simply isn't up to international level at the moment.

Solutions: Unfortunately there's nobody banging down the door. Converted left back Michael Zullo is the obvious solution but he's only just returned from a pelvis/groin injury which has troubled him for the past two years. He needs a good run of games at Utrecht to build on his nine caps. Another young Aussie based in the Netherlands, left-sided Jason Davidson, is an option although he's playing his club football in the centre of defence and may be too big a gamble given he's only recently rose to prominence. A-League players such as Joshua Rose, Aziz Behich and the naturalised Cassio are out of season.

Central midfield
Whatever happened against Jordan in the centre of the park, it cannot happen again. Matt McKay and Mark Bresciano looked good against Lebanon in the warm-up friendly but completely lost their way four days later. It seems they weren't prepared for Jordan's harrassing tactics but big question marks loom over that combination. Mile Jedinak failed to convince after replacing Bresciano at the break, with his wayward passing repeatedly turning over possession.

However, Jedinak is a player who is worth is more about his tough-tackling approach and ability to break down opposition attacks, while he adds a goal threat with his height at set-pieces. The problem with that, though, is he's too similar to Carl Valeri, who missed the Jordan game due to a hamstring injury. Valeri is more comfortable on the ball and is a far more polished passer, but isn't as strong defensively nor in the air.

Solutions: Bresciano has shown the value he adds to the Socceroos; see the Saudi Arabia game, and hopefully the Jordan performance was a one-off. Osieck should persist with the former Lazio man but the question is who to partner him with. Valeri is a personal favourite, while Jedinak - given his attacking threat - is a good player off the bench.

The versatile McKay could be better utilised elsewhere. There are others such as Neil Kilkenny, Erik Paartalu, Chris Herd, Adam Sarota and James Holland who could be in the mix but are arguably all too untried given the immediacy of Australia's qualifying problems.

Up front
Osieck remains unsettled on his preferred front pairing, but having had a lot of success with Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill at the Asian Cup last year, he's since tried Alex Brosque, Joshua Kennedy and Brett Holman with varied results.

The issues are Kewell and Cahill are no longer the players they once were, while Kennedy has had his injury problems. However, Holman is a player in his prime and needs to be an automatic starter when fit. Brosque has been more than servicable over the past 12 months, with winners against third round opponents Thailand and Saudi Arabia, but he may be out of his depth in final round qualifying.

Solutions: Holman and Kennedy struck up an excellent partnership at times during third round qualifying and should be the preferred choice. The Nagoya Grampus man's aerial threat is always a handful for Asian defences and their subsequent focus on stopping him, frees up other players, with Holman best able to capitalise. It is argued Kennedy's presence leads to ugly long-ball tactics, but the same can be said when Cahill or Brosque are on the field, given their avertion to hold-up play.

To conclude, a lot of the above problems must be addressed with urgency in mind given Australia's qualifying plight and the immediacy of next month's crucial fixture against Iraq in Doha.

It is far too early to focus on 2018, and while a long-term view is needed in the near future, now is not the time for over-experimentation and uncalculated gambles.