Australia’s courageous Socceroos will wait until after their April World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan before undergoing the kind of self-interrogation critics of the national side suggest might be needed right now.
Pim Verbeek’s side dug deep in Yokohama against Japan on Wednesday night, exhausting even more luck from their depleted reserves to salvage a 0-0 draw. It was the national team’s third straight unconvincing performance since sweeping aside Qatar 4-0 last October.
On all measures, the home side should have won and claimed the outright lead of Group A from their closest challengers.
Japan were slicker in possession and frugal at the back where the defenders easily coped with lone striker Tim Cahill. Only poor finishing led to the goalless stalemate which, with three of the final four qualifiers on home soil, clearly suits the top-of-the-table Socceroos.
Australia’s finest were central defensive pairing Togel Hongkong Lucas Neill and Craig Moore, with left-back Scott Chipperfield also worthy of a mention after two months sidelined with a foot injury.
But Neill, who must quickly recover from the 14,000-mile round trip to face Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on Saturday, was nonplussed about Australia’s latest indifferent display.
“It’s not been ideal – the way we’ve flown in for a day and then had to play,” he said afterwards.
“Come the next game against Uzbekistan (at ANZ Stadium on April 1) if we don’t perform well we’ll have to start questioning ourselves.
“But with eight days to prepare for a tough home game I think you will see a much more attacking side with more chances created.”
Verbeek’s men could wrap up qualification for South Africa in April – in stark contrast to 2005’s memorable double header against Uruguay which went to the wire.
Then, the Socceroos squeezed into only their second finals thanks to Mark Schwarzer’s penalty shootout heroics – and that after a long and winding final campaign in Oceania.
The Uzbeks travel to Sydney bottom of the group after their surprise 1-0 home defeat to Bahrain, with victory likely to leave Australia at least six points clear of the third-placed Bahrainis, the team the Socceroos host in June.
“Tonight we won’t talk about the negatives,” continued the West Ham skipper. “We’re just happy to have kept another clean sheet and if we win our next game at home, technically we’re probably there.”
No case for the defence
The Newcastle Jets – deposed A-League champions following a disastrous title defence when they won just four times – have commenced the inevitable cull which follows such a lacklustre campaign.
Ahead of their AFC Champions League group opener next month, Gary van Egmond has unveiled a brand new central defensive pairing in Ljubo Milicevic and Ange Costanzo and three new strikers.
Milicevic, a former Australian Olympic captain, has been out of the spotlight since his contract with Melbourne Victory was terminated amid allegations of substance abuse – claims he denies.
Meanwhile, Costanzo arrives from Champions League finalists Adelaide United and further helps soften the impact of losing Socceroos centre half Jade North to K-League side Incheon United.
Van Egmond’s overhaul of his forwards after Newcastle scored just 21 times in as many matches last season includes the acquisition of two foreign strikers in Dutchman Donny de Groot and Italian Fabio Vignaroli.
The Jets have also brought in journeyman forward Sasho Petrovski who becomes the first A-League player to represent all three NSW clubs. Petrovski, the one-time Socceroos striker, played for Sydney FC in seasons one and two before joining the Central Coast Mariners.
Joel Griffiths is on-loan to Chinese Super League club Beijing Guoan until the end of the calendar year.