The Socceroos suffered a disastrous 4-0 defeat at the hands of Germany in their opening World Cup match in Durban this morning, a game in which all of the potential problems raised during the build up became a reality.
Many questioned the wisdom of retaining the services of so many players on the wrong side of 30, short on game time and long on injury problems.
Harry Kewell was never likely to make the first match and as expected did not feature, but fellow midfielder Mark Bresciano also missed out, presumably insufficiently fit to cope with the energetic Germans.
During qualifying Verbeek employed Kewell or Josh Kennedy as a lone striker and citied his slavish devotion to a one man attack as the reason for jettisoning Scott McDonald from the squad.
Verbeek surprised many by selecting Cahill as the lone front man in place of Kennedy and deploying Jason Culina in the supporting role usually reserved for the Everton player. Despite some experience filling in as a single striker during an injury crises with his club, Cahill laboured fruitlessly against an organised German defensive unit.
The experiment of playing Culina further forward was soon ruined by Vince Grella’s obvious lack of match fitness, necessitating the withdrawal of Culina into a more familiar defensive role. The hapless Grella was replaced at half time by Brett Holman, who at least added some energy into the listless Australian ranks.
The lack of pace shown by centre backs Lucas Neil and Craig Moore was a concern for all during the lead-in to the tournament, but not even the most cynical critics predicted the dire embarrassment that befell the stalwart partnership against Germany’s exciting young attack.
Left exposed by the failure of the Grella/Valeri experiment, Neil and Moore were cut to shreds by the imaginative movement and sharp passes exchanged by Oezil, Muller and Podolski, who linked cleverly with Klose and were joined often by captain Phillip Lahm, who pinned Scott Chipperfield deep into his own half for much of the game.
Lucas Neil was booked for dissent after remonstrating with the linesman in the wake of Podolski’s opener, furiously claiming that Meuller should have been ruled offside in the build up. He was wrong.
A hopeful hand raised in appeal became an increasingly familiar sight as German players continually received the ball in behind the Australian defence. At one point in the second half an arm was raised to claim offside with the German in question clearly still ahead of the defensive line. Non-league teams drawn against Premier League opponents in the FA Cup have fared better.
Without Tim Cahill, Verbeek will be obliged to pick between Josh Kennedy, who was not trusted to lead the line against Germany, the inexperienced Nikita Rukavytsya, who is yet to score in international football and was released by club FC Twente on the eve of the tournament or Harry Kewell, over whom major fitness doubts persist.
In midfield Verbeek’s experiment of employing Culina in an advanced playmaking role backfired spectacularly, with the former PSV man sorely needed to replace Grella in defensive midfield. Verbeek will be left hoping that Mark Bresciano, another player without a club or any match practice to speak of can somehow contribute.
Holman’s energetic display may warrant a place in the starting line up against Ghana for want of any real alternatives.
In defence Verbeek surely cannot keep faith with both Moore and Neil or risk further embarrassment against a Ghanaian attack that is faster even than that of Germany and which troubled elite Premier League defenders Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic during Ghana’s 1-0 victory over the Serbs.
The limited alternatives available to Verbeek include bringing David Carney in at full back and pushing Chipperfield or Wilkshire into the centre. A straight swap to bring either of Michael Beauchamp or Mark Miligan in at centreback is equally unappealing, with both moves potentially exposing the defence to the Black Stars’ flying wingers.
The game against Ghana looms as a decisive clash that may end Australia’s meaningful participation after two games.