Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Verbeek gets crafty ahead of Qatar clash

Socceroos.
More mind games from new Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek who stunned the Australian media this morning by announcing a 39-man squad for the Socceroos' upcoming World Cup qualifier against Qatar at Melbourne's Telstra Dome on February 6.

Only 25 players were expected to be named.

The unwieldy size of the group can be attributed to the influx of 19 of Australia's Europe-based stars which again does not include Newcastle United striker and World Cup captain Mark Viduka.

However Liverpool's Harry Kewell, Palermo's Mark Bresciano, West Ham's Lucas Neill and Everton's Tim Cahill have been included.

They are not expected to jet in to Melbourne until 48 hours before kickoff.

Uruguayan-Australian striker Richard Porta, who recently transferred from Montevideo's Club Atl├ętico River Plate to Siena in Serie A, was not selected. He is tipped to choose between representing Uruguay or Australia next month.

Australia's forward line will almost surely be led by Celtic's Scott McDonald, with either Karlsruher SC's Josh Kennedy or Central Coast Mariners' John Aloisi as support, depending on Verbeek's preferred formation.

Verbeek's rationale for the number of players picked is "maximum flexibility", but in truth it will have more to do with keeping Qatar coach Jorge Fossati guessing on his starting line-up as long as possible.

With so many European club players selected, it is highly unlikely that any more than a handful of the 20 A-League players in the provisional squad will make the 18-man final squad to be named on February 4. Two days earlier, Verbeek's Australian-based players will have their last chance to impress in a behind-closed-doors hit-out with 2008 Asian Champions League debutant Melbourne Victory.

Pacesetting A-League club Newcastle Jets can be happy with its contribution, though, coughing up no less than seven players among the 20-strong Australia-based unit.

Sydney FC coach John Kosmina, who threatened to pull five of his players out of Verbeek's third all-A-League training camp on January 21 so as to prepare unhindered for his side's first-leg finals showdown with Queensland Roar on January 25, got little joy with the selection panel.

Only Socceroos defender Mark Milligan and fringe national-team striker Alex Brosque were deemed indispensable.

Roar's talismanic midfielder Matt McKay can count himself very unlucky not to make the 39, as he has been one of the A-League's most consistent and electric performers. Yet his team-mate Craig Moore, who didn't even participate in any of the three two-day training camps with Verbeek, was picked.

Verbeek, who has kept a relatively low profile since arriving in Australia from the Netherlands, knows he is set for a baptism of fire if he fails to get a result against the No. 88-ranked Qatar, which held Japan to a 1-1 draw during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup,

His preparation has been hampered by scheduling conflicts caused by the A-League going into the business end of the season and controversy over the make-up of his support staff, which includes his predecessor as national-team coach, failed Asian Cup helmsman Graham Arnold.

It is a situation highly unusual in international football to have the incumbent manager paired with the man who came immediately before him and tanked.

Qatar, meanwhile, is due to face Denmark at home on January 27 in its third and final international friendly before the WCQ on February 6.

In its two international warm-ups this month, against Iran and Syria, it has failed to score. Both matches ended in 0-0 draws. Verbeek's European-based assistant, Henk Duut, was shut out of the game against Iran at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium on January 9 and all broadcast footage of the match was banned at the request of the wily Uruguayan.

Fossati named a 28-man squad in early January that did not contain the Gulf nation's most celebrated player, Boavista striker Hussain Yasser Abdulrahman. The 24-year-old is currently being loaned out by Sporting Braga.

Given the cat-and-mouse antics so far between Verbeek and Fossati and the Qataris' dry spell in front of goal, don't rule out Yasser turning up in Melbourne when the Qatar squad touches down Down Under on January 29.

Verbeek's 39-man squad: John Aloisi, Michael Beauchamp, Mark Bresciano, Mark Bridge, Alex Brosque, Jacob Burns, Tim Cahill, Nick Carle, David Carney, Simon Colosimo, Ante Covic, Jason Culina, Bruce Djite, Travis Dodd, Brett Emerton, Vince Grella, Adam Griffiths, Joel Griffiths, James Holland, Brett Holman, Josh Kennedy, Harry Kewell, Scott McDonald, Mark Milligan, Craig Moore, Kevin Muscat, Stuart Musialik, Lucas Neill, Jade North, Tom Pondeljak, Mark Schwarzer, Archie Thompson, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Michael Thwaite, James Troisi, Carl Valeri, Rodrigo Vargas, Danny Vukovic, Luke Wilkshire.

© Jesse Fink & Soccerphile

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