Sunday, July 29, 2007

Asian Cup: Why the Socceroos are Crap (oh, and Arrogant...)

Watching Australia's national football team being beaten by Japan on penalties and knocked out of the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, I wanted to tear my hair out before realising that I had none to tear. A lot of excuses were made for why the Australians under-performed in Asia - extreme humidity, disarray within the team, bad refereeing and cheating by opponents - but these are minor in contrast to the glaring flaws that afflict the Socceroos.

Right: Vince Grella - his comments exemplify the problematic attitude Australian football has toward Asia.

Arrogance has been noted as a big part of the team's downfall, and it was a big problem. Having reached the final 16 at the World Cup, Australia's players and supporters suddenly acquired the belief that they were among the best 16 teams in the world, and "deserved" to be there, rather than considering the possibility that they were fortunate to be there. The loss to Italy was perceived as us being "robbed" by bad refereeing and cheating diving Italians, rather than remembering that it was bad refereeing that saw Italy reduced to 10 men through a red card in the first place.
So on approaching the Asian Cup, littered with relative minnows such as Thailand and Oman, Australia just assumed that it was its right to dominate this competition and reach the final, despite it being only our first time. Hopefully the draw with Oman and defeat by Iraq will have dispelled such an attitude. But from Vince Grella's recent outbursts, clearly arrogance is still there in abundance. Below are some of Grella's comments (courtesy of the Sunday Age, 29/7):

"We respected all our opponents but they had no respect for us. There were guys rolling around all over the place every time we played and all our opponents went out of their way to goad us. They all had a bad attitude towards us. I've written the names of Oman, Iraq, Thailand and Japan down and I'll be tying that note to my little finger, so it will be payback time when we meet again.

"I don't know what they all had against Australia but it was a joke. When Iraq scored against us they were jumping around like kangaroos — that's taking the piss. Oman scored a goal, then they go and celebrate in front of the green and gold army — that's taking the piss.

"Then Japan called us a bunch of wrestlers before the game. They were winding us up and as an honourable nation, their people should be ashamed of the conduct of their team. It was totally unacceptable and disgraceful. What have we ever done to them except beat them at the World Cup?

"They drove me insane with their remarks. I (wanted to) kill them before the game even starts. The way they acted wasn't in the spirit of football. We have players in the best leagues in the world and I don't even know the names of half their team. But I wouldn't have come out and said they were a bunch of nobodies."

"The referees should have cracked down on all the diving and rolling around. It's a men's game not always played by men. There were guys who looked like they were dying, and then suddenly, they'd jump back up again. That's not the way we play. If we get hit, we get back up and play the game.

"Our governing body needs to make sure they get the respect they show others because the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) treated us like s--- and that's not good enough."

The funny thing is, that after all these comments, Grella also added:

"The Asians saw us as arrogant. But our organisation is humble and just wants to follow the rules of the sport."

Hmm, they saw you as arrogant, Vince? It's hard to imagine why.
It's worth remembering that Australia has just been allowed to join the Asian Football Confederation - which is a great move that everyone in Australia supported - so it might be nice to show some grace and humility rather than acting like Asia owes us something. And it's hardly surprising that the other Asian teams are less than welcoming to the Aussies. First of all, it is hard to argue that Australia really fits into the Asian region, in both a cultural and geographical sense. And secondly, Australia's entrance into Asia means greater competition for all the other sides, and hurts their chances of gaining World Cup qualification.
Asian culture, from whichever part of the continent, places great value on respect and humility, and people like Grella would do well to learn this.

Technique and Tactics
The real problem, and the one which desperately needs addressing, is the players' lack of technical ability and the teams' dull-as-dishwater style of play. In the World Cup, despite Guus Hiddink's disciplined approach and new formation, the players all-too-often reverted to the lumpen style of play that Australia has traditionally espoused, and which the players will have continued to learn in England - kicking it long every time to a target man and hoping that something will come off.

Australia's players are all very fit, strong and play with great committment. Yet this is rarely enough. Soccer is also a game of skill and ingenuity, and against all their Asian opponents Australia came off second best in these departments. Perhaps it is the tropical conditions and smaller physical size of the players that has meant that Asian teams have prioritised technical skill over physical domination; in any case, Australia are far, far behind where it matters.

Right: Naohiro Takahara - his ball control for the goal was a flash of the kind of brilliance that the Australians are sadly lacking.

There are precious few players in the Australian team with the ability to dribble past opponents and create opportunities out of nothing. Harry Kewell can, but his inconsistency and susceptibility to injury have hurt himself and the team. Archie Thompson also has this ability, but he has yet to prove himself at this level; the same goes for Nicky Carle. Compare this to sides like Holland, Brazil, Portugal and France, which are packed with players of superb technical ability. Our "stars" from the English premiership and other European leagues are just not that. In the scheme of things, none are more than useful, solid players in those leagues. Kewell and Viduka are generally regarded in England as severe underachievers, who could have been something special but never fulfilled their talent. We have strong players in various positions, but not where it counts. Central defence is weak; we lack a truly top-class striker, and there are no true wingers other than Kewell. Our strongest position is attacking midfield, but this means that Marco Bresciano and Tim Cahill must either compete for one spot or play out of their preferred position. Meanwhile, Jason Culina seems to be guaranteed a starting spot in midfield, but I have yet to figure out what he actually does - at best, he is a poor man's Cahill.

Viduka is a skilled header of the ball, and Cahill is not only an outstanding header but also excellent at arriving late in the box to score. But the team does not play to these strengths. Against Japan, virtually no Australian player got beyond the defence from a wide position and made a cross into the box. Right-winger Brett Emerton in particular is culpable in this department - he is a typical Socceroo, a tireless worker but lacking a cutting edge where it counts. Contrast this with Japan, whose overlapping full-backs and wingers caused Australia continual dramas at the back, and whose passing, while not necessary leading to goals, was far more proficient than Australia's.

Finally, Australia's physical approach has come back to haunt them. Vince Grella's red card against Japan was unlucky - at most, it should have been a yellow. But Grella had it coming. A talented player, he has a thuggish side like most defensive midfielders, and he was fortunate to stay on the field in the World Cup against Brazil and Japan. His reputation precedes him - and the Japanese media made particular emphasis of this - and this undoubtedly contributed to the the referee's perception of the foul that led to him being sent off.

So without a major overhaul of Australia's soccer culture, we're destined to be a nearly-but-not-quite team. I now have no shame in declaring my new soccer allegiances, and am henceforth only supporting teams that are actually exciting to watch - go France! Go Senegal! Go Cote d'Ivoire! Go Ghana! And in the Asian Cup, I hope Iraq wins - it would be the culmination of a great story for them.


  1. OMG!, i seriously cant believe you wrote all that stuff.
    Bagging out the Australian football team isn't a good thing to do considering you probably live here and call yourself Australian. I am appalled but what your saying, Football hasn't been big in this country for very long, i think you should give it time and it will become better & other countries do dive when we play them but we don't take it. WE'RE BETTER SPORT MAN

    i love football, EPL, SPL, italian league, portuguese league all of it, but i also like watching the A-league and watching our Socceroos play

  2. Thanks for your comment Saphira, but I hope you did read the article properly. Contrary to what you might think, I do like the Socceroos and hope they do well - I was jumping up and down cheering when Australia qualified for the World Cup.
    What I'm critical of here is their attitude and style of play at that particular point in time (the 2007 Asian Cup). I point out 2 reasons why they were crap in that tournament: their attitude, and the way they play. The Australian team works hard but generally lack the touch of brilliance to reach the next level. I hope they do reach it. But I don't beleive that I should simply cheer "go Aussies!" and not be honest about their shortcomings.

  3. It's all politics. It's like a job it's who you know that gets you places in australian soccer not the skills you have. There is so much talent in australia but shit players are chosen

  4. Daddy knows somebody or has the money to invest in their kids soccer despite their kids being average players