Cue the hysteria. Australia has had a dour 0-0 draw with Republic of Korea at the East Asian Cup and the fans and media report the match as a disaster. “Axe Holger,” is the cry. Online forums were busy telling us it should have been 5-nil but for the heroics of Eugene Galekovic. However, the tournament needs to be looked at in its true context.
Australia is competing in their first ever East Asian Cup and the tournament has arrived at a time that couldn’t be more convenient. The Socceroos along with fellow participants South Korea and Japan have already qualified for Brazil 2014. The Chinese are unfortunately still in a rebuilding/transitional stage (which seems the permanent status) and so don’t have the luxury of using the tournament as a trialling opportunity.
Pundits and fans should know by now that teams that have been thrown together in such a fashion lack cohesion, and as a result the quality of soccer suffers. Australia’s back four had never played together in club competition (Franjic, McGowan, Thwaite & North), let alone being asked to play at a higher level, alongside players they were not familiar with. Compounding this situation is the difference in fitness between the Australians and their three opponents which Holger Osieck cited. “We must consider that their team is in the middle of the season, and their fitness was outstanding, whereas our boys have not played competitively for a couple of months.” If that wasn’t enough we also need to consider the contrasting weather conditions. The Australians are coming from winter (15-20 degrees) to the Korean summer where temperatures are hovering around 30 with intense humidity.
So we need to take the tournament for what it is: a trialling ground for individuals to stake a claim for Brazil 2014. And with that purpose in mind we can only hope that there are some break out performances in areas of the pitch where the Socceroos are struggling. Amazingly it’s not only the Australian audience who have been apoplectic with East Asian Cup displays. The Japanese were shocked by the their 3-3 result with old foes China last night. But amidst the hysteria manager Zaccheroni told it straight, “We’ll be up against three different types of teams. It’s a fantastic competition and we need to make the most of it.” The Italian added, “. . . If I had to choose between winning with the players not being able to show what they can do, or not winning but finding that one or two of them have what it takes to play for the national team, I’ll take the latter.” On that note Japan can say that Cerezo Osaka’s Yoichiro Kakitani and Masato Kudo of Kashiwa Reysol have proven they’re capable of stepping up.
Now lets look forward to Thursday’s next installation of the Japan and Australia rivalry.