Thursday, March 4, 2010

Verbeek in Oar, but is Tommy ready?

Australia.
The absence of a genuine goalscorer is tempting Australia coach Pim Verbeek into including rookie 18-year-old left winger Tommy Oar in his World Cup 23.

The cards could be falling perfectly for the diminutive Oar, who only turned 18 in December but who scooped the A-League young player-of-the-year gong last month and made his Socceroos debut on Wednesday night in his hometown.

Oar's dazzling performance on the left flank caught the eye as Australia limped into the 2011 Asian Cup finals with a lifeless victory over Indonesia in Brisbane, but the usually coy Verbeek's reluctance to play down his chances of making the World Cup in June took everyone by surprise.

"I wish I could keep the pressure down but I must be honest, I thought he played a fantastic game," the Dutch coach beamed after the win. "I can say a few things about areas he can improve but I think he was fantastic."

Although the sight of Oar taking the fight to the Indonesians was a welcome one, it again only served to reemphasise Verbeek's most pressing problem: who will score Australia's goals in South Africa.

Japan-based targetman Josh Kennedy, a 2006 World Cup squad member, has all the physical attributes but has found the target just six times in 17 appearances after another duck in Brisbane as the side's lone striker.

Scott McDonald is yet to open his account in 15 Socceroos internationals and is currently out of favour with Verbeek. The former Celtic forward is no certainty to be included and needs to get among the goals with Middlesbrough to prove he's worth a chance.

In the pecking order after Kennedy and McDonald is a raft of wildcards including talented Bruce Djite (no goals in eight appearances) and twice-capped Nikita Rukavytsya.

The latter doesn’t even have his thumbnail picture on the official Football Australia website, but Verbeek is certain to have noticed Rukavytsya banging them in for Belgium top flight side KSV Roeselare since his January loan move.

All that has left renaissance man Harry Kewell seemingly in pole position to occupy an unfamiliar lone frontman position for the Group D opener against Germany. Kewell is currently sidelined with a groin problem, but has grown in stature since leaving behind a Premier League career 18 months ago.

And it is Verbeek's inclination to deploy Kewell in attack which might create a vacancy on the left for Oar.

The teenager's dramatic rise to the fringes of the World Cup is very much a consequence of Verbeek's attacking conundrum rather than a clamour for the Dutchman to take a him to South Africa.

Oar is already on the verge of leaving the A-League with a host of Dutch heavyweights rumoured to be circling. And he's also drawn numerous comparisons with the teenage Kewell, who received his first Socceroos cap in the 1996 friendly against Chile aged 17 years and seven months, admitting that he models his game on the Galatasaray star.

But, as Verbeek also noted, shining against the 137th-ranked Indonesians on home turf is a world away from dazzling against the Germans.

The Dutchman said: "Let's try to keep it normal for the boy. Please don't mention him as the next Harry Kewell. Let the boy just develop. He had a great year and it will be very difficult to stay on the same level."

Oar also faces stiff competition. Holland-based David Carney looks certain to be included as an option for left-back or further forward on that flank, while Verbeek favourite Dario Vidosic can also operate there as well as anywhere across midfield and attack.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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