Australia’s hopes of emulating their 2006 knockout stage appearance hangs by a thread after a 1-1 draw with Ghana in Group D today.
1. Back to Basics
Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek was heavily criticised for his more negative than usual appraoch to the opening game against Germany when he fielded no recognised strikers in the side. The Dutchman also left star players Harry Kewell and Mark Bresciano on the bench for the duration despite both being declared fit to play. For this encounter, Australia went from that much maligned 4-4-2 setup back to their tried and trusted 4-5-1 with Kewell leading the line. Also into the side came Bresciano, Brett Holman and David Carney, replacing Richard Garcia, Scott Chipperfield, Vince Grella, and the suspended Tim Cahill. The team instantly looked more comfortable than last Sunday night, and were rewarded with an early goal when Bresciano’s free kick was spilled by Ghana keeper Richard Kingson, allowing Holman to pounce and finish.
2. Kewell Twist of Fate
With Australia looking the better side in the opening quarter, the game swung massively on 20 minutes when Harry Kewell was given a straight red card for handball on the goalline. A Ghanaian corner was only partially cleared to Dede Ayew who somehow wriggled past two challenges before putting a ball into the box that broke to Jonathan Mensah. His goal bound effort struck Kewell on the arm and, by the letter of the law, referee Roberto Rosetti had no choice but to issue a red card, though the rule will no doubt come under some scrutiny with regard to the intent involved. Asamoah Gyan stepped forward to send Mark Schwarzer the wrong way and equalise for the Black Stars. It was a hammer blow to Australia and killed a gameplan that was proving to be very effective. “It’s devastating for me,” Kewell said afterwards. “There was no intent. The referee has killed my World Cup.” Not just your World Cup Harry.
3. What Could’ve Been
Ghana’s second half performance was largely disappointing considering they had a numerical advantage and a win would have seen them guaranteed a place in the next round. Of the 22 shots registered, only six were on target as they were largely restricted to long range efforts. In fact, it was the team that were short handed who created the more clear cut opportunities. Substitute Scott Chipperfield headed over from a Luke Wilkshire cross, while Wilkshire himself squandered the best chance to put his side back in front when he shot tamely at Kingson having been played through one on one. Josh Kennedy was unable to make solid contact with the rebound and the ball was cleared. It was not to be for the Socceroos unfortunately and at the other end Schwarzer was called into action late on to save well from a Quincy Owusu-Abeyie effort. Despite the disappointment of not gaining maximum points, Pim Verbeek expressed his happiness with the performance. “We’re still in the race,” he said. “The boys were fighting for everything, and with everything they had. I can only be proud of the players.”
4. All to Play For
A win for Australia would have seen all four sides go into the final round of group games neck and neck on three points each. As it is however, Ghana top the group on four points from their two games, with Germany and Serbia a point behind and Australia sitting on just one. Ghana face Germany, while Australia take on Serbia and all sides will be looking for a win, though a draw will guarantee Ghana a place in the knockout stages. It will take a minor miracle for Australia to go through thanks to their poor goal difference, but a win against Serbia, coupled with a defeat for Germany will see the Socceroos through.
If that happens, all the recent talk of tactics, team selections and harsh sendings off will be quickly forgotten.