Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek has omitted Middlesbrough striker Scott McDonald from the squad that departed for South Africa this afternoon. Attacking midfielder Nicky Carle also misses out, while exciting young winger Tommy Oar travels with the squad, but will not make the final 23 unless injury hits.
Verbeek openly admitted that while McDonald may be relatively prolific in British football, there is no room for his poacher’s instincts in the current Aussie set up.
Verbeek religiously adheres to a formation he describes as a classic Dutch 4-3-3 but which is really a dour 4-5-1, intended to drag Australia’s creaking 2006 veterans to another major tournament.
The ‘arch pragmatist’ (read boring) Verbeek has the misfortune to closely resemble a vampire and could easily be accused of sucking the life blood out of the Socceroos.
His disdain for the local A-League and constant lowering of expectations has successfully brainwashed Australia’s domestic soccer media. He has respected journalists kowtowing to his supposed tactical nous and wisdom.
In reality, Verbeek has artificially extended the life span of Guus Hiddink’s 2006 squad while failing to blood the next generation of Australian talent in key games. The starting line up against Germany on June 13th will be much the same as that which lost to Italy in the first knockout phase of the last World Cup, with the majority of players over 30.
The most notable absentee from that team is Mark Viduka. The former Leeds and Celtic striker’s strength in holding up the ball and creating opportunities for teammates, along with his own eye for goal enabled Hiddink’s team to operate an effective 4-3-3 and spring a surprise in 2006.
Despite Viduka’s retirement and the lack of any suitable replacements, Verbeek has persisted with the same formation and same team, employing either the perennially injured Harry Kewell, or the awkward bean pole Josh Kennedy in the Viduka role.
Admittedly, keeper Mark Schwarzer continues to turn in outstanding performances, while get out of jail free card Tim Cahill is at the peak of his career. However, there are question marks over the fitness and form of the majority of the likely starting 11.
Centre backs Lucas Neill and Craig Moore have little pace to speak of and were also worryingly troubled by aerial balls in Monday’s friendly with New Zealand. Moore hasn’t played first team football since March.
Brett Emerton, Mark Bresciano, Vince Grella, and Harry Kewell have all suffered injury hit seasons and none enter the tournament match fit or in form.
Verbeek intends to vacate his role as national team coach after the World Cup and many of his current team will announce their retirement from international football. Charged with securing World Cup qualification, Verbeek has done so, but only by recycling Hiddink’s game plan.
The result is that the Socceroos arrive in South Africa with an aging squad creaking with injury and suffering from a collective lack of match practise. Setting up to defend and relying on Tim Cahill to pick up scraps, they have no plan B.
Verbeek has done what was asked of him and if the indomitable spirit of the typical Aussie sports team comes to the fore in South Africa, they may match their achievements in Germany four years ago. The more likely outcome is an early exit after being outclassed by younger, fitter, and more flexible opponents.
Regardless of their performance next month, when the dust settles the man with the unenviable task of rebuilding the Socceroos would do well to call upon the younger, hungrier players Verbeek has overlooked.