Sunday, November 13, 2005

Round one

And so, the first leg of the World Cup Qualifying Playoffs is done. I had decided to make an effort to get up early (6:30a.m. Sydney time) for the second time in three days to watch it. Here is my 觀後感:

The surprise in the starting line-ups was that Forlan (Uruguay's star striker, formerly with Man Utd) was in, after having been "confirmed" all week as "unavailable". Actually, such things happen in football all the time. Coach declares player is unavailable all week and then the player promptly makes the starting eleven. I supposed as I saw the starting line-up that it was just another tactic by Uruguay to throw Australia off. Apparently, the injury was not a ruse. Forlan only lasted 18 minutes. He had to be substituted when his injury flared up again.

Australia started the match brightly and indeed, controlled proceedings and possession for the first half hour or so. Much had been made about Uruguay's robust and intimidating style of play. But if anything, it was Australians who seemed to be intimidating the Uruguayans in that half hour. However, the Aussie attack seemed a little lack of ideas and not many telling forays into Uruguay's penalty box were made. Most of their shots at goal came from outside the box.

Then Uruguay woke up and started to threaten. They created a couple of chances and a moment of Australian defensive naivete allowed them to sneak a goal. The teams went into half-time with Uruguay up 1-0. I thought then that the scoreline was a little harsh (to Australia) based on Australia's dominance of the first half.

Australia started the second half brightly as well. But that lasted only like 10 minutes or so. After that, Uruguay was creating chance after chance. In the final 15 minutes of the game, the Aussie goal was under a perpetual siege. They were really lucky on numerous circumstances to not concede any more goals. The entire Australian team seemed to run out of steam in those 15 minutes and really struggled to cope.

The match ended 1-0 in Uruguay's favour. By then, I've changed my mind and thought Australia was very lucky to come away with that scoreline.

Based on what I've seen, I don't feel Australia has what it takes to score at least two goals against Uruguay in the second leg and qualify for the World Cup proper. Their attack is too tepid and lacks ideas. For one, there wasn't much wing play down the flanks to get behind Uruguay's defence. And one point raised by an analyst/correspondent, that Kewell should be deployed down the left flank (his more oft seen position) instead of the right, agreed with me. Indeed, I thought Kewell didn't play well and he would have been substituted if I had the say. The fitness level of the team seems pretty suspect too, judging from how much the team was labouring in the last 15 minutes. If the 2nd leg goes into extra time, this could pan out as a big advantage to the Uruguayans.

Oh and a slight aside. Some of the Uruguayan players' er... reactions to fouls by Australian players have to be seen to be believed. Tsk tsk...

But the most interesting part for me was the post-match reactions to the 1-0 loss from the Australian commentators and guests (invited to the studio). These range from cautious optimism to strong confidence. Quite a number of them were even praising the Aussie players of having played really well (!!!). Only one analyst/correspondent (the same one as above) conveyed his pessimism about Australia's chances. Perhaps it is because he's not Australian (his accent seems British). First time I heard so many positive things being said about a LOSS. Misplaced optimism, I would say, but then again, if Singapore was in the same position, I suppose all of us would say the same stuff. :P

We reconvene in 3 days' time in Sydney for the second leg.

So there remains one last question to be answered: Should I go back to bed now?

138 days to go.


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