Australia v Netherlands
|Ivory Coast||Japan||14 June||0.431|
|Colombia||Ivory Coast||19 June||0.388|
|Greece||Ivory Coast||24 June||0.402|
|Uruguay||Costa Rica||14 June||0.383|
|Costa Rica||Italy||20 June||0.421|
|Costa Rica||England||24 June||0.402|
|Argentina||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Iran||Nigeria|
|Argentina||Bosnia and Herzegovina||15 June||0.330|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Nigeria||21 June||0.440|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||Iran||25 June||0.407|
|Ghana||United States||16 June||0.333|
|Portugal||United States||22 June||0.378|
|Germany||United States||26 June||0.358|
|Russia||South Korea||17 June||0.390|
|Algeria||South Korea||22 June||0.330|
|Belgium||South Korea||26 June||0.418|
I don't have much to say about this game that hasn't been said elsewhere, but, for closure, it is worth finishing things off. This was a typical Australian performance, attacking without controlling the game, giving chances but largely stopping the opposition from scoring (bar the inevitable soft goal), scoring without any particular beauty, and fighting until the end.
Pim Verbeek will no doubt leave us now, wondering why he tried to mould a footballing team so foreign to his preferred manner of play. That we seem capable of playing in only one manner means Australian fans are doomed to suffer the frustrations and joys that the team brings.
This campaign was a failure - the second round should be the aim, even if going further is a matter of luck. But it wasn't a total one. Qualification, firstly, and third in the group are successes of sorts, even if you hope for more, and even if, with a bit more luck, we could have had more - perhaps much more, in a quarter boasting Uruguay, South Korea and the USA.
Finally, on a completely unrelated note, the comparative failure of Africa (at home) has hidden the resounding success of Asia, with two teams moving forward. Given those two continents relative ability to foster the game, don't be surprised if we have an Asian champion before an African one.
Presented without further comment, for my own benefit. Top diagram represents first place, bottom second. Both possible teams are represented where decided on goals scored.
No team is a more natural to the role of plucky losers than Australia. No doubt everyone involved in Australian soccer is happy and comfortable with the situation: last in their group, extremely unlikely to qualify, but teeming with righteous indignation.
Naturally, the Kewell send-off is the main talking point, not least because Australia had dominated the game up to that point, and for long periods after, against a poor Ghanaian side.
The law is suitably unclear, but it is not a foul unless the handball was "deliberate". Given the shot from 8 yards, Kewell's reaction time (roughly 0.2s), and the speed of shot (probably 24 m/s) it is impossible for Kewell to either avoid the ball or make a play at it. The determining factor therefore is whether Kewell had his arm in an unusual position, such that he could have expected the ball to hit it. Clearly, as the photo shows, that is not the case. His hand might have been out a little, but his upper arm couldn't have been much closer to his body.
As always with football, plenty of these are given (plenty of referees are rubbish and most players are unfamiliar with the laws). But if it was a foul, it was a penalty, and it was a red card. Triple punishment is a bitch.
On a related note, this is one of several football laws that are poorly implemented in comparison with other sports.
But back to Australia. They played their natural game against Ghana, getting numbers forward (a sloppy goal), harassing the players on the ball (fouling indiscriminately), and pumping the ball long. Australia makes up for a lot of poor technique and organisation with effort, but we also fail to score from opportunities where a clinical finish is required, and give up soft goals from sloppy play. Ghana's build-up to the goal was a typical example of this, where Wilkshire and Emerton failed to stop the cross, despite having an opportunity to put the ball out for a corner.
Ultimately, Australia should ave won, even with 10 men, which makes the draw galling, as now we depend on either a Ghana win, or a thumping result by either Germany or ourselves (or both) to get through. Unlikely.
Like Dileep Premachandran, I've several times suggested that cricket could learn a lot from football, not just in terms of the world cup - the forthcoming edition of which promises to be an utter debacle - but in several other ways: its regional focus, its qualifiers, its willingness to accept mismatches and in the centrality it gives to domestic competition.
But what if it was the opposite, what would football look like then?
Alternatively, England would run the game and internationals would be the exclusive preserve of the home nations. Perhaps their historical indifference to the world cup was more of a blessing than we realise?
Predictably, the immediate coverage of Australia's hammering by Germany has been an over-reaction to a shoddy loss. And, admittedly, it couldn't really have gone much worse. The worst bit was that we were lazy and disorganised in defence, and, needless to say, Germany have a knack for cracking weak defences. The second worst bit was losing Cahill to a rash but not red-card offence. The third worst bit was shipping four goals, which ends any hope of sneaking through on goal difference. The loss itself wasn't that important, we always expected to lose, but must continue to hope that Germany keep on winning, to even out the competition for second-place.
It is the defence Australia has to worry about. The midfield was nowhere to be seen, leaving the Germans free to time simple balls in behind the defence for the cut-back. The first and fourth goals were classic examples of this problem, with noone picking up the run, nor more crucially marking the players joining from midfield. Frankly, given how frequently the Germans got free inside our penalty area, we were lucky not to let in more.
Tactically, Australia is ill-suited to play on the counter-attack, being both likely to concede goals regardless of the formation and unable, for lack of technical proficiency, creativity and pace to score on either the break or via the leading forward. Nevertheless, after five minutes it still appeared to be a sensible option, as Australia started well. You cannot win on the counter if you concede easily, and unfortunately, I have yet to see an Australian side that doesn't do that. Klose's goal being yet another demonstration of Schwarzer's frustrating inability to command the box and let in unnecessary goals, even if he saves several others.
That all said, Verbeek can be expected to turn out a different lineup for the next two games, against sides Australia are not only capable of defeating, but now have to defeat, which should force his hand. The evidence against Germany suggests Australia remain a team whose best, if not only, chance of scoring comes from the wings, and that means getting players forward.
Like a goodly proportion of other people, the sight of a Spanish referee pointing to the Italian penalty spot was enough to make me instantly despondent last night. Since neither a little gallows humour , nor a little random destruction  made me feel much better, I'll have to settle on dispassionate analysis.
There is an inevitability about Australian losses in these sort of big games. They are preceded by endless comments on how we shouldn't be under-estimated by our superior opponents; then, during the game, Australia plays well to look like getting a win, before, well, not winning, because of a silly tackle, defensive or goal-keeping lapse, dodgy refereeing decision, or spectacular goal; then everybody comes out and says how well we played, and how unexpected it was, and how unlucky we were, and how we've now "proven" we can match it with the world's best.
And it is crap.
SBS is to blame. They love to hark back to the days when noone liked soccer in Australia and persist with some myth that football is a persecuted minority sport, and the national team a bunch of amateur battlers. They aren't, and it isn't. Until a year ago, the national league was little respected, and did not deserve to be; it was run by incompetent petty political hacks. But the national team has drawn big crowds and bigger audiences since the mid-90s, when the combination of wall-to-wall World Cup and European Championship coverage in '94 and '96, and a resurgence in the popularity of English football there and here  led to a general (if slightly superficial) interest in the sport.
With the possible exceptions of Bruce Arena and Alvaro Recoba, no-one of any credibility has under-estimated Australia in a decade. Plenty of people thought they'd make the second round. If the analysts were surprised by anything, it was that Australia did it in the haphazard, high-risk manner they did. And that was as much a result of our tendency to give up soft goals, and our inability to convert chances, than any particular attacking flair. It should have been much easier than it was.
To the Italian game then, where several soon to be prevalent myths should be punctured: Italy did not under-estimate Australia, they watched how we played and chose their game plan accordingly; Australia did not "out-play" Italy, the game was close, the result could have gone either way, but possession of the ball and pumping said ball into the box repeatedly should not be confused with the likelihood of the ball hitting the back of the net. Italy were good for the win, and tactically superior for much of the game. Unlike the Croatia game though, and no doubt to the bemusement of all Australia's new fans, this was one for the connoisseur.
The Australian game plan has been the same since Hiddink took over. A 4-5-1 or 3-5-2 depending on circumstances. A high posession game, trying to feed Viduka or cross for the late runs of attacking midfielders. It meant selecting players who were fast and fit over players with better skills -- Wilkshire over Skoko for example. It is effective enough, although Australia -- particularly Kewell and Bresciano -- had been wasteful before this game. Having watched Australia's barn-storming efforts in the group games, Lippi was tactically astute in his efforts to counter it.
To date in this World Cup, the Italians had been more open in play than usual, but they shut down against Australia, and for good reason. By playing deep in midfield they slowed Australia in attack, setting the tempo to suit their style. It also meant that Viduka was generally triple-teamed or more. For all Australia's possession they lost the shot count, and that is significant.
Generally speaking, the game had three phases. For the first thirty minutes Pirlo killed us. Australia played both too deep -- giving Pirlo far too much time on the ball to distribute long balls to his strikers -- and too short -- leaving Toni to take on Moore and Neill one on one. Italy's best chances occured in this period, and only Schwarzer saved Australia from having to come from behind again.
Credit to Hiddink -- though not much, as he'd be a poor manager if he didn't make the change -- the next 45 minutes belonged to Australia. Pirlo was pressured, his distribution became erratic and Australia dominated both possession and had their best chances (albeit wasted by shooting straight at Buffon). Materazzi's dismissal obviously helped. Under normal circumstances the tackle should have been a yellow, not a red, as he wasn't the last defender, and the challenge, while late was not dangerous. But with cards flowing like water from an alpine range in this World Cup, he can have no complaints.
For all that possession though, Australia not only didn't score, they hardly threatened. This again, was a personnel thing. Fast, fit players are great, but we have a history of playing ones who are also rubbish at distribution. None of Chipperfield, Wilkshire, Cullina, or Sterjovski can cross, and it was no surprise that the only real threat was Bresciano (who played an excellent game). As Adam rightly pointed out too, Viduka needs support. He is an excellent player (when fit), holds the ball up well and a good finisher from close range; but Viduka won't drop deep, dodge a defender and crack in a shot from thirty yards. By not playing Aloisi from the start, Hiddink sacrificed a lot of attacking options for patient build-up and control .
Ine introduction of Totti changed the game again. Italy started to break in numbers, and for all their vaunted fitness, Australia were stretched several times, became sloppy, and left too much space. Given Australia could still make substitutions, you have to question Hiddink's tactics. If he was waiting for extra time, then Australia shouldn't have been so far up the park; if not, then why leave on tired players?
Finally, the penalty. It was a cynical dive, no question, but I've seen them given often enough, particularly in Serie A. Neill shouldn't have been off his feet; forcing Grosso to pass should have been enough. It sucks to lose that way, but ultimately (and here is my point), Italy played Australia the way they wanted, and won the game.
So I am not happy, not because of the tragedy of it all, but because we shouldn't be happy with anything other than a win. The days are finished when Australia was incapable of getting a result against quality opposition -- even superior opposition which Italy is. A good looking loss is still a loss. Putting the ball into the back of the net more often than your opponents is much more satisfying.
I liked the style Australia played for much of this World Cup, but the results (a win, a draw and 2 losses) were no better than average, if not worse than that. As I put it in an sms after the Brazil game:
Fuck this honourable loss shit. I want to win
 I wanted to trip over someone in an exaggerated manner then say "don't mind me, I'm Italian", but decided not to.
 As is now traditional, I kicked a rubbish bin. It made a nice sound too.
 Australian football, like many things, is very English. Most of the overseas players play there, and for all the 'ethnic' talk, most football supporters here are of English descent as well.
 A very Dutch way of doing things, except good Dutch teams  always had a Cruyff, Van Basten or Bergkamp to create something from nothing as well.
 Ironic too, that after the Netherlands friendly the Dutch were a lovely team and Australia derided as uncultured hatchet men. Yet, four games later the opposite is true.