The Socceroos won an important World Cup Qualifier against Iraq on Wednesday morning Australian time. After going a goal down in the second half, some excellent ball-play resulted in a 2-1 victory for the Socceroos. Although the performance was nothing to write home about, Australia showed promise for the future.
The match was immensely important for both teams, with the possibility of missing out on Brazil’s 2014 World Cup. Australia may have won their previous meeting at the 2011 Asian Cup, but Iraq was victorious in the two before that. The Iraqi’s also defeated Australia in 2010 World Cup Qualifiers and during the 2007 Asian Cup.
The Socceroos coach Holger Osieck changed his side’s formation from the 4-4-2 he had used previously to a 4-2-3-1. Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls) was playing as striker with Brett Holman (Aston Villa) behind him in the midfield three. The role of Holman was to improve passing between the midfield and the striker.
However Australia was not used to this formation, and occasionally possession was lost in a poor understanding of positioning. In the 70 minute the ball was given away by Robbie Kruse (Fortuna Düsseldorf) resulting in a quick Iraqi break. A long ball was headed down to the feet of the striker Alaa Abdulzehra who knocked it into the goal of Australian keeper Mark Schwarzer (Fulham). At this stage in the match, Australia found themselves in last position on the qualifying group table.
Despite giving away the ball once, Kruse was excellent for the Socceroos on the right wing. He was constantly winning throw-ins, corners and free kicks. Australia’s set pieces were mostly disappointing until the 80 minute when a corner wiped in by Matt McKay (Busan IPark) found the head of the leaping Timmy Cahill and landed in the back of the net.
It would appear to be Timmy who once again saved the Socceroos. Although playing up-front, Cahill frequently dropped back to pick up the ball, or drifted out wide to spread the play. In the 84 minute Timmy moved towards the left wing to control a long ball, before passing to Tommy Oar (Utrecht) who provided a perfect cross between the two centre backs that was headed into the goal by ‘super-sub’ Archie Thompson (Melbourne Victory).
While the Socceroos did not provide a convincing performance, they showed good signs for future matches. If Osieck continues to use the new 4-2-3-1 formation the quality of passing and movement should increase. While at most times during the match there was a lack of creativity, this also may improve. Creativity is often the responsibility of the player in the number 10 position, or the play-maker. The effectiveness of Holman in this position is debatable as he plays more often as a winger. At times Holman seemed to disappear completely. Frequently Cahill was dropping deep, leaving the striker position empty. Perhaps Timmy would have proven more effective between the lines than Holman.
Osieck also brought a number of younger players into the squad. This was not only important for this match, when younger fitter players were needed, but also for the future of the Socceroos. The youngsters included match starters Kruse and Matthew Spiranovic (Al-Arabi), both aged 24, as well as substitutes James Holland (Utrecht), aged 23, and Tommy Oar, 20. These players combined well with the older experienced players. A list of these veteran stars includes Schwarzer, 40, captain Lucas Neil (Al Wasl FC), 34, and Tim Cahill, 32. The overall performance was not perfect, but the result was three points for World Cup Qualifiers. With Oman winning 2-1 over Jordan, the Socceroos now find themselves in second place behind Japan.