Certainly Not Satisfactory

by Michael Huguenin on Aug 02, 2011

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It certainly wasn’t the start that Australian football supporters were looking for.

Before the start of the current World Youth Cup in Colombia, every expert, pundit and two-bit blogger (no offence to my fellow two-bit bloggers) wrote that Australia’s performance at the Under 20 world titles would be judged more by how the team played football rather than the final score.

Well…however you evaluate Australia’s performance, it’s pretty clear that the Young Socceroos’ opening game against Ecuador was a failure. Only a stunning free kick from Tommy Oar saved Australia from a first up loss.

A 1-1 draw against a second-tier South American nation is not at all good enough for a team that is widely touted as one of the strongest generations Australia has produced in a long time. In a tough group, the Young Socceroos needed a good start and now anything less than a win against Costa Rica will most likely see our boys head home early.

But even if you adhere to the idea that what counts is what we see on the grass, then you surely can’t be happy. We were treated to missed passes, a lack of movement, long balls from the back, poor defending from set pieces and very little impact from our most skilful players. Not the free flowing attacking football we hoped for. Australia looked like a team that wasn’t ready.

The knives will surely already be out and getting a good sharpening in preparation of gutting Jan Versleijen.

The most frustrating thing I find with Versleijen’s teams is that we abandon our traditional strengths. Now, I agree that Australia should not rely on physique and stamina alone to win on the global stage, but I don’t see why being technically or tactically sound requires us to be unfit and off the pace.

The Joeys went to Mexico well behind in the fitness stakes. This Young Socceroos’ side didn’t look much better. Time and again the quicker Ecuadorian youngsters flew past the Aussies.

Yes, the weather and altitude suited the Ecuadorians more than our boys but I think it’s disgraceful that an Australian side can ever be beaten in terms of fitness and physical preparation. We’re good at that. Let’s keep that strength and build up our weaknesses, rather than just interchanging them. Spain is leading the world at the moment because they’re a technically gifted outfit but their quick interplay wouldn’t work if they didn’t constantly move. Spain is one of the fittest teams in world football.

A vastly improved performance is needed against Costa Rica (Thursday morning, AEST). Results-wise, the Young Socceroos need a win. Performance-wise, Versleijen’s job is on the line.

The Good

The First 15 Minutes

Australia actually started the game very well. Tommy Oar sent in a dangerous cross in the first minute that Kofi Danning should have done better with. Instead the Brisbane Roar new man volleyed over the bar. Danning was unmarked and only a couple of metres from the goal.

Mark Birighitti

The main reason that Australia snagged a draw. The Adelaide United youngster pulled off a string of brilliant saves to deny Ecuador’s forwards. Due to Dylan McGowan and Trent Sainsbury’s pitiful performance in the centre of defence, Birighitti was busy throughout the 90 minutes. Some will complain that the number one struggles in the air. This is fair enough but plenty of young keepers have that problem and eventually fix it. Pure shot stopping, however, is a gift and cannot be taught.

The Bad

The Back Four

Ecuador cut our defence to pieces on too many occasions and really should have had the match all wrapped up before Oar snagged a draw. Australia’s defenders were often too spread out, leaving big gaps for the Ecuadorians to run into. At set pieces they were even worse. Plus, when the back four got the ball, they failed to move it quick enough and so remained under pressure for most of the match. Australia’s defenders would either bypass the midfield with a long ball or lose possession altogether.


Why Dimitrios Petratos, who plays as a winger or forward for his club, was picked in central midfield was baffling. Petratos did an okay job, but his lack of movement at times made it difficult to get the ball up the park and meant that Mustafa Amini hardly touched the ball. Petratos would have been better on the right wing instead of Danning and then Terry Antonis could have started in midfield. Australia needed more, not less players, who could pass the ball.

The Ugly

Ball Control

Australia’s first touch and passing was abysmal across the board. Even Oar, who is clearly one of the best players in the squad, had a poor match in this regard. Apart from the first fifteen minutes, the Young Socceroos just couldn’t string enough passes together.

Mustafa Amini

Apart from a nice shot from distance in the ninth minute, Amini rarely troubled the Ecuadorian defence. Amini just didn’t get near the ball enough. Australia’s ball retention problems and the defence’s tendency to punt the ball long meant that Amini went long periods without even touching the leather [or synthetic composite plastic ED]. Australia has to get the ball into midfield and to Amini’s feet so that he can use his gifts. A very disappointing start for Borussia Dortmund’s new signing.

The Highlight

Tommy Oar’s Free Kick

Oar said after the match that it was the best goal he’s ever scored and it’s hard to disagree with the 19 year old. Australia needed something special to save a draw and it wasn’t surprising that Oar delivered. At least 25 metres from goal, the FC Utrecht speedster thumped the ball into the top corner in the 89th minute to keep the Young Socceroos’ hopes of a Round of 16 spot alive.

Changes for Next Match

Central Defence

Sainsbury and McGowan looked far from confident. There needs to be at least one player in the centre of defence that is confident with the ball at their feet. Melbourne Victory’s Petar Franjic could be the answer or Central Coast’s Sam Gallagher. Either way a change is needed.

Central Midfield

Ben Kantarovski needs a partner in the centre of midfield who is confident of working in tight spaces. Costa Rica will most likely buzz around like Ecuador pressing for 90 minutes. Antonis is the player with the skills required to thrive in that environment. Plus that would free up Petratos to move further forward and do what he does best.