Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Australia vs Malaysia: Preview/Prediticon

The Socceroos will play Malaysia on Oct 7, currently ranked 146 by FIFA, in a friendly in advance of a qualifying match against Oman on Oct 11. A 19-man squad has been called up by Holger.

Given Australia's mixed performance in our last two fixtures; 2-1 Thailand and 3-1 Saudi Arabia - it will be interesting to see how experimental Osieck will be with his line-up. As PM have previously covered, against Thailand, Holger was trying to cram McKay, Holman, Cahill and Wilkshire/Emerton into the same team; when this failed due to a lack of width and mobility, Osieck sent out his preferred 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid with more robust players in defence and midfield against Saudi to ensure points on the table and to preserve our winning momentum.
Given the absense of experimentation by Holger in our last game, PM expect a line-up, style and overall performance very similiar to that of the Socceoos win against Wales; dynamic movement, penetrative passing, and rapid positional interchange. Giving Federici more international experience is a distinct possibility. A back-line of Zullo, Spirnovic, Neill and Williams looks very technical in style and effective in susbstance. Kilkenny and Valeri should be preferred to resume their partnership in the double pivot over Jedinak given his relative suitability to physicality, and unless Osieck opts to try the influential McKay in central midfield.

The front two and right wing are harder to predict. Holman and Cahill are the two contenders for the second striker/attacking midfielder slot. Cahill recently sustained an injury during the Toffees trip to Eastlands, but Holger might wish to preserve Holman's energies for Oman; a match with points at stake (given Holman's famous Energizer bunny impersonation, a relatively unlikely proposition). Kruse has performed excellently when substituted on by Osieck, offering mobility and incisiveness; but his lack of match time for Dusseldorf will count against him. Kennedy then, might be handed the No 9 role. Kennedy's performance against Thailand was lacklustre to say the least; then again he was not the only Socceroo that night to turn in a limp performance. Against Saudi Arabia, Kennedy looked relatively revitalised; vacating space, linking play, and using his height advantage to great effect to score. Nevertheless, in PM's opinion, Kewell and McDonald are superior contenders to lead Australia's front line, with the necessary caveat of 'when fit'.

Emerton's absence, ostensibly because of a lack of match time, leaves a slot open for right winger. Most perplexingly, and this should be covered in PM's upcoming Squad Analysis, there aren't any right wingers in favour under Osieck. Nathan Burns was called up to the Asian Cup Squad and given the No 11, but after appearing in the quarter-final against Iraq, he has not received a look-in, since losing his spot at AEK Athens due to a change in manager. Nikita Rukavytsya similarly, not in contention for the Asian Cup due to injury, has yet to receive a call-up from Holger, probably due to losing his place since Hertha's promotion to the Bundesliga.  

The most tested solution Holger might employ is to use Kennedy up-front, Cahill behind, and Holman as a narrow right attacking midfielder, cutting-in. This was how Holger deployed Australia after the Asian Cup quarter-final, with Kewell in place of Kennedy. Alternatively, because there are no qualifying points up for grabs, and the necessity to bleed new players into the squad, Holger may opt to invert one of the two left-wingers in his squad; Alex Brosque or James Troisi. Inverting a winger at international level is a risky proposition; garnering the necessary familiarity to ensure the space created is exploited effectively can really only be achieved at club level.  

The result against Malaysia will in all probability lean in one of two directions; a slaughter by the Australians or a frustrating draw/loss due to experimentation by Osieck or heroic defence by the Malays. PM would actually favour the latter; we already know our strongest line-up at optimum condition is likely to beat all but South Korea and Japan in Asia. Holger, and the Socceroos devoted fans, could find greater utility in examining how Australia's bright prospects perform on the international stage.

Now for PM to put its head on the line, stick its neck out and take one for the team by trying to predict the score. 2-0, McKay assist and Holman long distance strike or; 1-1, Williams caught out of position during Malay counter-attack.

LATER ADDITION: Cahill and Schwarzer have both been ruled out of contention due to injury. Expect Holman and Federici to start both games. Though unfortunate for Mark, this will be a prime opportunity to Federici to stake his claim to be custodian.

Holger's stance towards Emerton and Kewell are to be applauded. Most observers are of the opinion Osieck opted to leave them out of preparations in deference to the A-league schedule, but PM is inclined to take Holger's statements regarding both; that they lack match fitness, at face value. When it was suggested Emerton should be allowed to skip Malaysia and return for Oman, Holger bristled, saying national camps aren't revolving door affairs; if you're out, you're out. This is a further indication of the level playing field Holger has afforded Australian players, whereas in the past, Verbeek made it clear that European players had precedence over A-League players, even going so far as to reserve the squad numbers of absent players. 

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