Saturday, June 24, 2006

COMMENT: Hiddink gamble almost delivered lethal dose by Spider

He's publicly chased long-term rival Mark Schwarzer for Australia's number one jersey for more seasons than understudy Zeljko Kalac cares to remember.

But after an error-strewn World Cup debut, his chances of an encore against Italy in Kaiserslautern have been left in tatters.

"I've taken a world-class goal, I've taken a shit goal," Kalac said frankly in the aftermath of the Socceroos' thrilling 2-2 draw with Croatia, somewhat underplaying the manner in which he allowed a daisy-cutter from Niko Kovac to bobble in.

"He [Guus Hiddink] left Schwarzy out because of a few mistakes in previous matches and now I've made a big one. It could be [third choice goalkeeper] Ante Covic's turn next."

This last comment provides a priceless insight into the mind of Kalac, deputy to Brazil's Dida at AC Milan.

Even from his personal depth of despair, he somehow still conjures a way to besmirch his closest challenger.

Although likely born out of frustration at his own incompetence after being handed a shot at World Cup glory, this is not the first time Kalac has voiced his misguided opinion.

Just before the double-header last November - with Schwarzer struggling with fitness and form at Middlesbrough - Kalac gave himself a public vote of confidence for a starting berth against Uruguay.

What followed was Schwarzer heroics in both normal time and most notably in the penalty shootout victory in the return leg in Sydney.

With the goalkeeping foes so close in ability, perhaps Kalac believes he can talk rather than play his way into Hiddink's first team plans.

He needn't bother.

It is clear the Dutchman holds each player in high esteem, so much so Hiddink admitted considering replacing Schwarzer with the 202cm Kalac ahead of the penalty shootout against the Uruguayans.

But whether his stock is still as high remains to be seen.

The Australian coaching staff were certainly unimpressed with elements of Schwarzer's keeping in the opening group matches with Japan and Brazil.

Some even held the Middlesbrough man accountable for conceding a soft opener from Shunsuke Nakamura despite a seemingly unfair challenge from the Japanese forwards.

But any mistakes pale into insignificance when compared to Kalac's display against the Croatians.

The goalie nicknamed Spider because of his tremendous reach cut a nervous figure between the posts and although having relatively little to do, did almost all of it without aplomb.

And not just the terrible attempt to stop Kovac's goal.

The 33-year-old could easily be pulled up on his handling of crosses and ball distribution to name a few as his boastful remarks came back to haunt him.

Kalac will never play under Hiddink again that much is certain.

Whether he can recover to fight off the challenge of youngster Brad Jones and retain his international standing we shall see.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com
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