Tactical reform not wholesale changes, please Holger

by Ben Somerford on Sep 12, 2012

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The pressure is now firmly and squarely on Holger Osieck and the Socceroos. Three games, two points, leave us with a lot of work to do to get to Brazil 2014. However even after a deplorable performance against Jordan, it's not the time for wholesale changes.

Indeed the first 45 minutes at the King Abdullah International Stadium were wretched from the Socceroos, who simply failed to respond properly to Jordan's pressing tactics, reverting to long balls which they seldom won and when they did, the hosts picked up the second ball.

Osieck labelled the first-half passing display a “disaster”, although ironically it was during the second half, when Australia did improve, that Jordan scored their two goals.

The first came when Mile Jedinak – who might have made it so much different if he'd scored two minutes earlier with a close-range header – needlessly brought down the tricky Omar Al Saify inside the box, with Mark Schwarzer unable to save Australia on this occasion, as Hasan Abdel-Fattah converted from the spot.

After that goal, Jordan dropped back, stopped harassing and allowed the Socceroos to dominate the game, but then hit back on a swift counter-attack with Al Saify turning Lucas Neill – who had a poor game – inside out before finding Amer Deeb for a close-range finish.

Archie Thompson pulled one back and Robbie Kruse should have done better with a glorious chance in stoppage time, but a draw would have papered over the cracks of the awful first half.

Jordan exposed some of Australia's flaws; Neill's inability to backtrack with pace, their midfield failings under heavy harassment and inclination towards long balls on the road.

But every team has got flaws (well, perhaps not Spain) and it comes down to the coach to ensure they don't come to the fore. As Ange Postecoglou on Fox Sports said after the game, did Australia have a plan on how to cope with an opponent who pressed them like Jordan did? If not, he needs to cop the criticism and come up with a plan for next time.

It wasn't until Jordan scored their goal and subsequently sat back that the Socceroos got on the ball and looked dangerous.

With an ageing squad, vulnerable in defence – see Neill's desperate lunge for the second goal - and not as sharp as it used to be in attack – see Tim Cahill's wonderful third minute chance – being ready for any opposition tactics and enforcing itself as the better team throughout the 90 minutes is the key to giving you the best chance to succeed, as we can no longer rely on individual brilliance (such as Schwarzer penalty saves or Cahill headers) like predecessor Pim Verbeek did at times during the 2010 campaign.

The reality is the players who took to the field on Tuesday in Amman were close to Australia's best starting line-up. Brett Emerton is the only player absent who may have been an automatic starter, and even he may have lost his spot nowadays to the impressive Robbie Kruse on the right. Who knows what's happening with Harry Kewell, while Josh Kennedy would've been a good option off the bench.

But the point is, it's the system not the personnel which failed Australia on Tuesday. Yes, the players didn't react to Jordan's tactics, but that comes back to preparation, which is coach Osieck's responsibility.

That's why it's not the time for sweeping changes, nor any semblance of panic. Yes, some players like Neill and David Carney were exposed but we arguably don't have anyone better.

There's those out there who will argue the reason we can't make sweeping changes is because the next generation haven't been given a chance to prove themselves at international level by Osieck.

It's a fair point, but transition usually takes time and players need to prove themselves, as someone like Kruse is finally doing, while Matt Spiranovic, for example, is still yet to fully convince despite many opportunities. Michael Zullo is another who could be our regular left-back, ahead of the maligned Carney, but hasn't been able to play regularly at club level to warrant the call.

Whatever the case, Australia still have three home games to play where they should claim maximum points.

On Tuesday's evidence there's no guarantee that'll happen though, but with the benefit of home ground advantage and hopefully some reflection from what went wrong in Amman they should get the job done.

However if you do the math and look back four years, you'll know 11 points is unlikely to be enough to win automatic qualification, which makes next month's away fixture against Iraq in neutral Doha, as well as the lessons to be learned from the 'Amman disaster', all the more important.