Goal-shy Australia will struggle to reproduce class of 2006
It’s a mark of just how good a manager Guus Hiddink is that his sides not only do remarkably well under his leadership, but his legacy often ensures a lasting improvement in performances.
South Korea, for instance, are now a real force to be reckoned with in World Cup tournaments, despite never having won a game at a Finals before Hiddink took them to the semi-finals in 2002.
And the same can be said of Australia, who Hiddink led to their first World Cup in 32 years in 2006 before steering them through a group containing Brazil, Croatia and Japan. Only a controversial late Italy penalty saw the Aussies crash out in the last 16.
But the Socceroos have not had to wait another 32 years for their third World Cup Finals appearance. Hiddink might be gone, but the foundations remain, demonstrated in their successful qualifying campaign after moving into the undeniably trickier Asian qualifying zone.
They topped their group, ahead of Japan, winning six, drawing twice, remaining unbeaten and conceding just once from eight games. And a 0-0 draw with Holland in October proved that they have become an established international outfit.
But boss Pim Verbeek likes his side to play in a somewhat un-Australian conservative fashion, opting for a solitary striker – likely to be Nagoya Grampus’ six foot-plus hitman Joshua Kennedy – and two holding midfielders in front of a four-man defensive unit.
It leaves much of the creative onus on the three remaining midfielders and means Australia aren’t a side brimming with goals. The form of Tim Cahill and fitness of Harry Kewell – who has played just four minutes of football this calendar year because of a groin injury – will therefore be the main factors in Australia’s progress.
But Ghana, Serbia and of course the Germans will be tough sides to break down, and with such a defensive mindset, it’s hard to see how a side allocating so few players to force the issue will score enough goals to make it through.