Blogs

Taking a look at the 'Shockeroos'

by Ben Somerford on Aug 16, 2012

3 comments | | print

It's easy to get swept up in the joy and failure of friendlies. But look back in the past two years at results like the 2-1 win over Germany or the 3-0 loss to Egypt and ask did they mean much in the long run? It's in this context we must look at Thursday morning's 3-1 defeat to Scotland.

Make no mistake, the Socceroos' performance at Easter Road was as poor as the result. With all due respect to Scotland, Australia should be doing far better against a team ranked more than 20 spots below it.

In the long run, the lessons learned by coach Holger Osieck from this game will be far more important than the result. And those lessons will mostly be gained from analysing the performance.

The first half was okay, with Mark Bresciano's outrageous strike papering over the cracks, before the team fell apart in a woeful second 45 without the former Lazio man, and Brett Holman (both replaced at the break), providing the creativity and goal threat.

The importance of those two players was never more evident than on Thursday morning, with the resurgent Bresciano producing moments of brilliance in tight spaces (he was closed down everytime he got the ball) which few other players in green-and-gold could.

Holman too, with his energy and trickery in behind Alex Brosque, made Scotland's defence and the deep-lying Gary Caldwell second-guess themselves. Without those two on the pitch, the hosts were able to play freely and express themselves, netting the decisive two goals in the second half.

Osieck told reporters after the game: “We couldn't close them down in midfield - when we won the ball, we gave it away too easily and then we had to run after them. We played into their hands."

As for the lessons learned from the game, Osieck later added: “I considered it a very good test to check on some individuals - and I got it, what I wanted to see...or let's say, what I didn't want to see. I won't give you any names, but there are definitely going to be some changes.”

We can only speculate on who Osieck was referring to, but the performances of game-shy left-back David Carney, error-prone Sasa Ognenovski and the ineffective Scott McDonald make them vulnerable. The wayward Mile Jedinak didn't have his best night either.

Luke Wilkshire was another who had a down evening, and appears more at home at right-back, with the under-rated Brett Emerton playing ahead of him. Osieck may also have been referring to Robbie Kruse, who had some bright moments on the left flank, but as has been the German's gripe in the past, he was inconsistent, coming in and out of the game.

The nomadic Carney, in particular, has attracted plenty of scorn from fans and while all three Scotland goals originated from the hosts' left flank, it was the former Sydney FC man who was caught out on numerous occasions by the impressive right-back Alan Hutton. The ordinary tackling technique of Carney, who I've never seen as a natural defender, was evident, while his lack of game-time in Uzbekistan (of all places) appeared to see him struggle to track back and sit in the right positions.

The quandary for Australia is who replaces him, with newcomer Jason Davidson marking his debut with an inglorious own goal. Call it nerves, it was a bad mistake, but one we can only hope he bounces back from. Having a more experienced left-sided midfielder, perhaps Matt McKay instead of Kruse, to track back, could help the cause too.

Ognenovski was another who had a bad night, beaten by the impressive Jordan Rhodes to a near-post header for the first goal, while his miscalculation at the back led to the third goal. There is a thought Ognenovski's switch from Korea to the weaker Qatari Stars League could harm his Socceroos' chances and this performance suggested there was some merit to that theory.

Matt Spiranovic has long been battling Ognenovski for that centre back role alongside Neill, but he has also recently moved to Qatar, something which has allegedly left Osieck offside. Rhys Williams is another central defensive option and despite the fact he's failed to totally convince at right back, he could be worth a try centrally, given the rave reports coming out of Middlesbrough about him in that role.

Finally and unfortunately, the clock must be ticking on McDonald's international career after another game without a goal. It's 26 appearances and no goals now for the Middlesbrough man who entered the fray at the break. He started well, with a few nice touches but as the half wore on, tried to do too much with better options available, arguably due to his desperation to break that ignominious duck.

Osieck may feel he's not worth persevering with at this level, but it'd be great to see how he'd perform without the monkey on his back. I'd love to see McDonald get a decent chance against a weak opponent just to get him off the mark so he can play with freedom and some confidence, perhaps against Lebanon next month, but I doubt Osieck feels the same way.

All in all, some have labelled it a wakeup call and that seems a fair assessment. But what the wakeup call has alerted Osieck and the fans to seems rather alarming. Problems across the backline and a midfield which was battered.

Panic? That'll never happen after a friendly. But Osieck will make changes as he's suggested ahead of next month's qualifiers away to Jordan and Iraq and it seems that can only be a good thing.