Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Tunisia 2:0 Australia

Tunisia 2:0 Australia.
The African champions salvaged some pride in Leipzig's Zentralstadion tonight with a 2:0 win over a disappointing Australia, who now exit the tournament with three defeats.

Strikes from Santos in the 26th and 70th minute gave coach Roger Lemerre, who won the last Confederations Cup with France, something to smile about after back to back losses against Argentina and Germany whilst his opposite number Frank Farina lamented his side's "schoolboy errors" that once more condemned Australia to fail once more to step up to the plate on the world soccer stage.

The magnificent Leipzig arena was only filled with 29 of its 45,000 capacity and as an almighty electrical storm illuminated the second half of a match that was always going to play second fiddle to the Germany v Argentina game being played at the same time and between two teams that had already been eliminated.

Neither side wanted to leave the tournament with a blank slate and this time as last with New Zealand in 2003, it fell to Oceania's representatives to bring home the wooden spoon. But Tunisia also exit the competition with wounded pride having failed to emulate Cameroon, who as African champions reached the Confederations Cup final last time around.

A scrappy match was decided by two goals from Toulouse marksman Santos, although he will have appreciated the two fortuitous 'assists' from the Australian defence that allowed him to strike. His first goal came courtesy of an aerial collision between Blackburn's Lucas Neill and the unsteady Australian reserve keeper Michael Petkovic, in response to a cross from Mehdi Nafti. The ball fell perfectly for Santos gratefully tapped in to an open goal.

His second goal arrived thanks to Craig Moore's unfortunate interception of a Tunisian pass which kindly released him in the box to fire home and kill the game.

Australia certainly had their chances but Farina's decision to rest some key players and give others a run-out clearly contributed to the defeat and sat at odds with the team's desire to salvage some pride. As the heavens above began to erupt in a cataclysmic electrical storm that followed days of searing heat, Australia found themselves two goals down so Farina brought on striker Archie Thompson and his ace in the pack Tim Cahill.

Yet as soon as the Everton man took the field in the sixty-second minute he flew in with a two-footed lunge on Santos that was lucky to earn only a yellow card.

Tunisia had 'scored' back in the twentieth minute when Adel Chadli looped a free-kick into the goal, the only problem being it was indirect. The Africans' short-passing game was beginning to dominate with Haykel Guemamdia coming close after thirty-three minutes and the Australians, and particularly Petkovic looking rattled whenever they got the ball into their box. They did give the North Africans a fright shortly before half time however when Jason Culina finished off a flowing move by shooting narrowly wide.

In the second half Tunisia should have doubled their tally in the fifty-fourth minute when Guemamdia was dithered on the ball and lost possession in the box whilst Chaouki Ben Saada stood unmarked yards away.

Australia replied by Jason Culina hitting a pin-point diagonal pass for Cahill to volley a yard wide. Simon Colosimo would go on to hit the woodwork minutes later and Archie Thompson drew a save from Hamdi Kasraoui but the Antipodeans just could not find the net.

Guemamdia streaked through but blasted wide in the seventy-fourth minute before Santos missed his opportunity for a hat-trick in the seventy-seventh.

When the final whistle blew, Roger Lemerre's bold selection of four strikers had paid dividends and he and the Carthage Eagles could leave the stadium and the competition with some comfort.

For Farina's Australia however, there will be more head-scratching at another failure to break out on the international stage. The Socceroos may be moving to the Asian Football Conference to improve their World Cup qualification chances but they are still determined to qualify for 2006, with a probable showdown with the fifth-placed South American nation in November their World Cup D-Day. They might find it easier to make the finals in 2010 but how many of today's contingent, Farina included, will still be around then?

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