“Oman’s a completely different (pause), competitive game to this one. So, we look forward you know, in confident mood.” After a 2-nil defeat to Denmark on Saturday, Socceroos captain Lucas Neill is not panicking. However, despite what the captain says, Australia’s path to World Cup 2014 is beginning to look very dangerous. With imminent retirements and a star player out over family issues, Australia might well find itself chasing the pack.
This Friday 11pm AEST, the Socceroos face Oman at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex. The Omanies got their qualifying campaign off to a disappointing start when being downed 3-nil by Japan at Saitama Stadium on Sunday. That 3-nil scoreline is what is most dangerous for the Socceroos. With what seems a comfortable victory for Japan the Socceroos will quite plausibly head to the middle east expecting to pick up the three points in standard manner, but the defeat to Japan wasn’t as ugly as the scoreline depicts.
Japan picked up an early goal from a Nagatomo cross and a superb volleyed finish by Keisuke Honda. From there the Samurai Blue dominated possession, it’s true, but the Oman back four held firm. This was a defensive unit unlike most from west Asia. They moved as one, and it was only an offside goal and an unfortunate deflection which provided for the second and third goals (check video below). Make no mistake, a Socceroos outfit lacking it’s most potent strike weapon in recent times (Brett Holman), will struggle to prise this team open.
With Holman on paternal duties (expecting his second child), expect Australia to look to the famous faces , Cahill, Kewell and Bresciano. The old faces at the back though, are cause for concern. Socceroos fans are all aware of their aging line-up, and the lack of mobility in the centre back position is becoming more and more a liability. In the Denmark clash we saw Matthew Spiranovic (squad member at Urawa Reds) slot in for Sasa Ognenovski (33 yrs old), and unfortunately he had a game to forget. Responsible for the penalty that provided Denmark with their first goal, the defender then failed to make contact with a corner, leading to the second goal. The ‘icing on the cake’ came when the 23 year old played a neat through ball (a woeful back pass) into the path of Nicklas Bendtner, who should have made it 3-nil.
These are worrying times for Australia. With a lack of speed and mobility at the back the Socceroos cannot afford to be ‘behind the eight ball’ in this qualifying campaign. Given that Australia’s second opponent in qualifying is Japan the need for three points in Oman is paramount. Imagine this hypothetical situation: Australia take 1 point from Oman, and Japan defeat Australia in Brisbane. Suddenly the Socceroos are chasing the pack. Does Holger Osieck ring in the inevitable changes before our third qualifying match in September? Or does he stick with the experience to get us out of trouble, in full knowledge that even skipper Lucas Neill (34 yrs old) may struggle to make a starting eleven in Brazil?