Highly regarded “football” pundit, Francis Leach, has given his assessment of the Socceroos performance against South Korea on Saturday night and has come down with the opinion that Australia’s problem is that we don’t have a natural number 9 (central forward/striker) who can optimise opportunities that come from dominating possession by regularly popping the ball into the back of the net. Many of the lofty “football” knobberatti hold a similar view.
Despite being an opinionated fool, I know fuck all about soccer so I, initially, planned to keep my thinking about the Roo 1 – 1 draw to myself. Now having read and heard several assessments from the experts including the oft-expressed theory that we don’t have a decent striker, I felt inclined to say something because… well… because I think that that’s bollocks.
While I don’t believe that Australia’s number one concern should be around what is going on at the offensive end of the field, since that is where Francis and others have focused, I may as well start there. While Francis is probably right in that having a specialist striker might have made some difference against the Koreans, I don’t think it would solve Australia’s offensive weaknesses. On the night, Australia had half a dozen forwards and mid fielders well capable of scoring goals (MacLaren, Juric, Kruse, Mabil, Rogic, Leckie, Mooy, Luongo) if given possession with half an ounce of time and space to work some magic. The problem is that the Roos ball movement, touch and decision-making in the forward third of the pitch often lacks the precision, speed and accuracy that the team demonstrates in the mid-field. The thing is, the Koreans play good defence and with every pass that is a little too slow, every touch that is just a little bit off, every decision that is laboured, the defensive pressure increases and the Australians either execute the final action poorly or turn the ball over.
“Tika taka”, my arse!
The Roos, in and around the box, look to me like a team that has spent too much time practicing what some coaches think is good quality “tika taka” possession offence… i.e. knocking the ball around incessantly in tiny triangles in small-sided, small-field scrimmages hoping that, somehow, players will discover decision-making and visionary skills in the process. Knocking the ball around in small triangles is useless against strong defensive teams that can play a fast-moving, switching and “help-and-recover” form of defence. Real “tika taka” means making every pass purposeful, every movement, off the ball, creative and intelligent, every player in possession keeping their head up and watching the movement of team-mates and the defence. Above all, good “tika taka,” means the players being ever ready to switch the focus of the play rapidly to the weak-side through fast and accurate longer passes to take advantage of defence that has fallen off players further from the ball. It seems to me that the Aussies, at this stage, lack the team and individual skills in the forward third to execute such offence at this level of competition. In truth, against weaker defences, Australia can smash opponents even without a specialist “killer” number 9 but, against South Korea, that is not so easy.
One possible solution would be to allow/encourage Mooy, who, is one player capable of adding some bite to the ball movement close to the goal, to play a little further forward. It’s no easy task, but the other solution is to improve the touch, teamwork, passing and vision of the rest of the attackers.
More worried about defensive end
This brings me to the end of the pitch where I think the Socceroos really do have problems. If I were Coach Arnold, I would be much more worried about the defensive end than about the forwards. While we have plenty of skill, diligence and toughness “at the back” their systemic response to offensive situations is poor. Beyond the basic technical skills of being a good soccer player, a player with good defensive skills knows where the ball, where the player he/she is marking and where the goal is at any particular time and even more importantly knows when it is critical to switch defensive responsibilities with a team mate who is in trouble and just as importantly, knows when and how to recover to the player that they were initially marking and to do it at top speed. A good defensive team should work like a single organism constantly working with and for team-mates, shifting here and there and always being aware of what is going on, on and off the ball. Help-and-recover! Help-and-recover! It seems to me that when the Socceroos make a defensive error (and its natural for errors to occur, from time to time) their systems come unstuck and there is often not a back-up player there to help solve the problem. On Saturday night, while the Koreans had far fewer chances than the Socceroos, without the assistance of a world class keeper, Australia would have lost that game as our defensive patterns came catastrophically unstuck more often that they should.
Despite all my earlier comments I should conclude by saying that, on Saturday night’s performance, Arnie doesn’t need to be weeping or gnashing his teeth! The South Koreans can play! I think they are a way better team than their position on the world rankings indicate. There is nothing wrong with a 1 – 1 draw against this lot. Sure, a 2 – 1 win, would have been a better result but given the players that we have and the standard of our local league, a 1 – 1 draw is no disgrace. I would call it a Pass… or maybe even a low Credit. While Francis and other experts ponder the potential joys of discovering a world beating number 9, this soccer numbskull thinks it’s more likely that Arnie will be more concerned about improving the overall efficiency of the team firstly defensively and in the forward third.