Thursday, June 26, 2008

Verbeek keeps looking … and looking

Australia.
Pim Verbeek's Australia have made it through to their toughest qualifying campaign since joining the Asian confederation - and with a match to spare at that. But a flattering points total wasn’t enough to paper over the cracks of some suspect selections by the new national coach.

It's perhaps not so much Verbeek's first choice side which is suspect. When the canny Dutchman has Australia's full armoury at his disposal you would tip the Socceroos to be among the World Cup qualifying places at the end of a marathon AFC campaign.

It's more the ongoing and lingering doubts over the identity of the country's best backup XI.

Mind you, Verbeek's defensive tactics have taken a bit of a bashing too in Australia (he tended to use a pair of holding midfielders in the away games against Iraq and Qatar with just a lone striker upfront), a ploy which stifled any creativity fostered from Harry Kewell's busy performances.

But considering the Socceroos booked their passage into the final 10 with a 3-1 win in Doha - albeit from a Brett Emerton brace from right wing-back - few are bothering to overly quibble.

Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill and Lucas Neill were also standout absentees from Verbeek's strongest side while Josh Kennedy was also missing. It would be grossly unfair for any debate on the merits of Verbeek's management to skate over those high profile losses.

They should all return for when the qualifiers restart in September - but as always there aren’t any guarantees, particularly in the case of Viduka.

It's not, however, in attack where Verbeek's biggest headache thumps.

Consider that after an inglorious defensive display in the first of four June qualifiers, Verbeek dragged virtual unknown Chris Coyne into the team and you start to get a snapshot of the coach's concerns.

Neill was missing, certainly, and his absence internationally, despite not even being the best centre-half at club side West Ham United, causes a degree of havoc at the back.

But the backup partnership of Michael Beauchamp and Jade North was so all at sea against Iraq in Brisbane, Mark Schwarzer spent the entire game bailing them out of trouble.

Coyne, from England League One side Colchester United, received deserved plaudits for his stabilising influence when he debuted in the Middle East and could make a name for himself if he kicks on with similar performances later in the year.

Meanwhile, teenager Matthew Spiranovic is generally accepted to be the next in line for a regular call-up after making his Socceroos bow in the dead rubber against the Chinese. But there's not a great deal of depth below him.

Question marks have also been raised about the full-backs. Emerton and David Carney are politely termed attack-minded. They basically cannot defend. Recent Derby County signing Ruben Zadkovich replaced Emerton against China and froze.

Nikolai Topor-Stanley looks to have a Socceroos future on the left and is surely the next A-League star to follow Adelaide pair Nathan Burns and Bruce Djite to Europe. Topor-Stanley - nicknamed Hyphen by the Perth Glory faithful - looks to have all the makings of a long-term national team player.

But again - considering Zadkovich and Topor-Stanley are Graham Arnold's full-backs at the under-23s level - who else is coming through?

Melbourne's Rodrigo Vargas is overrated while new team-mate Michael Thwaite will this season attempt to reawaken his own Socceroos aspirations after floating around the third tier of European leagues without success.

Patrick Kisnorbo, like Coyne, will play League One football in the forthcoming English season after suffering relegation with Leicester City.

Scott Chipperfield's international days look numbered while World Cup 2006 defender Mark Milligan is still on the lookout for a club after thumbing his nose at the offer of an extension with Sydney FC. Trials with Arsenal and Manchester City have so far yielded no permanent deal.

Verbeek accepted after Super June he rode his luck and knew it would come to an end soon. Friday he will discover if a top heavy squad are talented enough to squeeze past the cream of the AFC.

South Korea, Japan, Bahrain, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Uzbekistan and the United Arab Emirates will all join Australia in Friday's draw in Kuala Lumpur.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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