Sunday, March 23, 2008

Warm up or wash out?

Warm up or wash out?
Australia coach Pim Verbeek will have received cold comfort from watching his hotchpotch Socceroos flail and flounder in Singapore.

In a night of numbers in the humid and damp island nation, two would have jumped out at Verbeek: 0-0. Not exactly what the doctor ordered for a match primarily designed to prepare the national side for the gruelling World Cup qualifying clash with China at 1900m Kunming in thee days time.

There's been much conjecture over why lowly Singapore was picked as the venue and opponent for this crucial warm-up. But one thought must have been the sterility of resistance the 131st-ranked FIFA nation might present.

As it turned out, the Socceroos were befuddled as much by the awful conditions and their own naivety as the collection of naturalised foreigners fielded by Raddy Avramovic in a drab goalless draw.

Confusion abounds for those tracing the comings and goings of Australia these days.

Last week Verbeek selected two national team squads. The squad to face Singapore was drip fed into the media in small chunks. First the main party, drawn entirely from the A-League. Then the A-League additions and withdrawals. Then the overseas-based call-ups. Fine

Over the same period, the squad to face the sterner test in China was released. Only three players from the Singapore 'warm-up' squad were included. FFA officials noted that more players could be added depending on which of the Euroroos withdrew in the meantime.

Following? Probably not.

But the bottom line is that virtually none of the squad which traipsed around Singapore's national stadium against a low class opponent on a park pitch full of puddles will be involved in Kunming.

And even if they were what bearing does playing at sea level in 30C heat have on playing at altitude later the same week?

One of those that might get a look in Harry Kewell. The soon-to-depart Liverpool winger wasn't needed for February's home win over Qatar but might get the nod on Wednesday.

In Singapore, Kewell was the prefect in Verbeek's team of Year 7s. He was named captain of a starting Socceroos side which welcomed six debutants, the biggest influx of national team newcomers for almost two decades.

Incredibly, Verbeek blooded nine rookies during the match while Adelaide's Nathan Burns won just his second cap as a half-time substitute.

James Troisi, of Newcastle United, played despite not yet making his English Premier League bow, Mark Bridge, who'll line up for Sydney FC next season, started upfront while Nikolai Topor-Stanley backed up his claims with a polished performance at left-back.

James Holland capped a frankly ridiculous rise with a start in right midfield. The highly-motivated teen has made just 10 A-League appearances for Newcastle, the recently crowned Australian champions, and was earlier this month only called up by the under-23s for the first time.

Former under-20 international Mile Jedinak, a slender midfielder in the Michael Carrick mould and the Central Coast Mariners player-of-the-year, also played. Despite becoming a regular for his club over the past 12 months, the 23-year-old wasn't even involved in Verbeek's round of local training camps in January.

Finally, there's the curious affair of the Griffiths brothers. Verbeek could find no place in either squad for the league's best player Joel, simply claiming he had better options in that position.

But the Dutchman did hand a first Socceroos start to twin Adam at right-back. Younger brother Ryan was also surprisingly recalled despite a lengthy period out of the game because of a heart condition.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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