Socceroos better, but questions remain

by Ben Somerford on Oct 17, 2012

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Holger Osieck and Fox Sports experts Mark Bosnich and Robbie Slater must have been watching a different game last night.

Osieck said the Socceroos were “excellent” and “dominated” the contest, while Bosnich and Slater were highly critical of the performance. Glancing around the Twittersphere, the general consensus was improvements needed to be made and the comeback shouldn't paper over the cracks. It was fairly negative stuff.

In my opinion, there's no doubt we need to continue to improve, but the performance against the Lions of Mesopotamia in the rather empty Grand Hamad Stadium on Tuesday evening was far better than the one we saw last month against Jordan. Of course, it wasn't terribly hard to improve on that dismal performance in Amman.

But Australia had more energy early, appeared switched on and passed the ball around with confidence and at times abandon. However, they fell short in the front third, running out of ideas on occasion, although Robbie Kruse gave reason for optimism. I don't want to go overboard, the performance certainly had its flaws. Iraq were ordinary from the outset, while the Socceroos' passing moves fluctuated in quality, with Carl Valeri and Mile Jedinak's defensive midfield combination still a point of consternation.

However, the reality was Iraq's goal - and only shot on target - came on the counter. Australia had looked more likely up until that point but lacked a cutting edge and were hit on the counter, trying to press the issue. Lucas Neill was out of position after the bruised and battered Kruse's wayward pass forced a turnover, and Mile Jedinak couldn't keep up with the pacy Alaa Abdul Zahra who took his chance with aplomb after Younes Mahmoud's well-weighted header in his direction.

“Oh dear” was a common phrase being sprouted out around Twitter in the immediate aftermath, although in my loungeroom things were rather more less tepid. It was pure disbelief. "We're not going to Brazil" was a thought running through my head and I'm sure I wasn't alone.

However, Iraq coach Zico – who led Japan against the Socceroos in their infamous 2006 World Cup encounter – would have had a sense of deja vu as the boys in green and gold produced a remarkable fightback to claim all three points and move into the second automatic qualification spot for Brazil 2014.

All of a sudden, on paper, at the halfway point, with three home games to come, things don't seem so bad. Travel agents around Australia won't be expecting mass phonecalls tomorrow morning for cancelled bookings to Brazil in around 18 months time.

Of course, our expectations are far greater than scraping into the World Cup with narrow victories over teams like Iraq. We actually want to compete in Brazil and go beyond the group stage. But on the evidence of the opening four qualifiers, there's little chance of that happening and that's the concern. So what are the options for improvement?

It's worth looking back at the campaign so far to analyse our shortcomings and success stories. Arguably our best performance has been the 1-1 home draw with Japan, where Osieck employed aggressive tactics. Personnel wise, I don't think there's too many changes the Socceroos can make to enhance the side, rather it's the approach which needs tinkering and some more attacking desire (like that which was seen after we went 1-0 down on Tuesday night) is needed.

Tuesday's win over Iraq showcased Kruse's emerging quality at international level and it was fitting to see him in the number 10 shirt. He's fast becoming Australia's key man and somehow we can mould a forwardline around.

Tommy Oar also made a big impact in his short time on the pitch, providing the pinpoint cross for Archie Thompson's winner. Osieck would have taken plenty of joy in that combination, as he pointed out in his post-game presser, stating his substitutes had made the decisive impact. Oar certainly is a player who needs more opportunities particularly in upcoming friendlies in November. He is a player who can change the game off the bench.

And with Lucas Neill and Valeri – who is beginning to become the fans' new number one target of criticism – suspended for the next game against Oman in Sydney in March, Osieck will need to trial some solutions in the meantime and also look for answers to some of the following questions.

Is Sasa Ognenovski alongside Matt Spiranovic our best option without Neill (who was much improved against Iraq)? Can Luke DeVere get a chance to impress in friendlies before March?

Is there room for Mark Bresciano in place of Mile Jedinak or Carl Valeri to add some more attacking impetus to the midfield?

Is Alex Brosque our best option up front in support of the undying hero Cahill? Can Josh Kennedy overcome his troublesome back injury to give us another option in attack?

Is Matt McKay our best option at left back and is there room for Brett Emerton once he's fully fit again?