The Socceroos dismal performances at the East Asia Cup were put down to the fact that coach, Holger Osciek was unable to call up any of his European based players, and had to rely on second or third string players. Therefore it would have been fair to expect a much improved performance in their international friendly against Brazil, with most of their top players available. That performance did not occur, and one has to wonder what can be done in the next nine months to improve the side before the World Cup finals.
Before we address that issue one has to ask whose idea was it to organise a game against the World Cup hosts at this point in time. Brazil recently won the Confederations Cup and destroyed an ageing, but still very talented Spain, so it was always likely they would not be troubled by Australia.
Holger Osciek, did exceptionally well to steer this particular group of players through the World Cup qualifiers, and let us not forget that for a while it was touch an go. One also must think back to the performances of Mark Schwarzer and wonder whether without his heroics Australia would in fact be heading to a third consecutive World Cup finals.
Quite why Osciek opted to play Schwarzer in this game was baffling to many, but then again maybe he knew the quality of his team and knew he needed his best ‘keeper between the posts.
Based on this performance there is no longer any time for sentiment. Those players who have served the Socceroos so well for years, or even in the qualifying process, who are no longer up to the pace and skill of international football must be discarded and new talent found and given as much game time as possible.
The biggest concern from this game was the fact that this was to all intents and purposes Australia’s strongest line-up with only Luke Wilkshire, who is not the player he was in 2006, and Tim Cahill, whose ankle injury is worse than is publicly declared – why else would Everton release him? – missing. Cahill is only ever going to be an impact player now at international level, so Australia’s almost total reliance on him to score match winning goals is risky.
There are players out there with ability, but again one has to go back and look at the ‘development pathway’ implemented by the FFA and ask is this really delivering the players it should be? The AIS under Ron Smith was a conveyor belt of talent, producing the likes of Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell, whereas these players were exceptional, the program also produced skilful and reliable players around them, like Craig Moore, Kevin Muscat, Shaun Murphy, Vince Grella, and Josip Skoko, to name a handful. Players who were also good enough to play regularly in Europe without stealing the headlines. Where are these type of players today? They are simply not coming through.
If we look at the AIS 2005 intake, the now 26 year old Nikita Rukavysta is the only one playing overseas but sadly he is not getting regular game time in Germany.
If we look at the 2006 intake, Micahel Marrone is playing in China, Dario Vidosic has just headed back to Europe to have a second attempt at Swiss club FC Sion, Nathan Burns has headed home after five years overseas and only playing 59 first team games. Bruce Djite is in China and Robbie Kruse is the most successful playing in Germany. Kruse is also the youngest of this batch of players, all of who should be at the height of their game being aged 25 and 26 (Kruse is 25 in October).
Osciek faces and uphill battle finding players playing football regularly and of a high enough standard to bring into the Socceroos. It is time he widened the net from those players who have come through the FFA development programs and who were selected for Australian junior teams and started looking at those players who backed themselves and headed overseas, and who have so far been ignored. Many of these players are far more successful those those being put forward by his advisors. As for picking A League players, sadly very few are up to the standard of International football.
It is going to be a tough nine months but the Socceroos need to get as many games under their belts as possible and find some new talent. It is no disgrace being beaten by a side as good as Brazil, but it was the manner in which the Socceroos were beaten that was humiliating, where was the renowned Australian hard work and fight? In the past that has helped poorer skilled teams pull through and maintain respect, but worryingly this was lacking on Saturday night.
Reputations, pathways and age should all mean nothing in the next nine months, it must come down to who is playing regular football and who is good enough to wear the green and gold. It is not a right to wear the national colours, it is an honour and one for which you are expected to fight for the honour to wear the shirt and fight for 90 minutes once you put it on. The next nine months will be extremely interesting…