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    Articles related to OCEANIA 2006 WC qualifiers:

    Preview Apr 25, 2004
    Preview May 27, 2004
    Update May 30, 2004
    Update Jun 2, 2004
    Update Jun 4, 2004
    Update Jun 6, 2004
    Wrap-up Jun 28, 2004
    Update Sep 4, 2005
    Wrap-up Sep 19, 2005
    Preview Nov 8, 2005
    Update Nov 13, 2005
    Update Nov 16, 2005




    Update: OFC qualifiers, Stage 3, 1st Leg

    by Paul Marcuccitti

    Australia 7 Solomon Islands 0 (HT 3-0)

        When the 2nd stage of Oceania qualifiers concluded in June of last year, I was quite excited. Vanuatu had defeated New Zealand, and Solomon Islands drew with Australia. The outcome - the Solomons qualifying for the 3rd stage at the Kiwis' expense - was a departure from the tradition of Australia and New Zealand, New Zealand and Australia.

        The competition was probably designed with the expectation that Oceania's big two would be the last teams standing. When the round robin 2nd stage (of 6 teams) was played in Adelaide, the top 2 nations were to qualify for both the final of the Oceania Nations Cup and the final stage of Oceania World Cup qualifiers. The other 4 would be eliminated from both competitions.

        Solomon Islands' shock 2nd place ahead of New Zealand was wonderful in the sense that it provided Oceania with a rare upset and a story. Perhaps there was/is also some hope of the Pacific nations becoming more competitive.

        But even before Australia rattled 7 goals past the Solomons in the first leg of the playoff to decide which Oceanic team would win the right to play decisive qualifiers against the 5th best team in South America, a few realities had set in.

        The realities included the easy 11-1 aggregate victory Australia had over the Solomon Islands a year ago in the final of the Oceania Nations Cup which qualified the Socceroos for the Confederations Cup. The realities included the near full strength team that Australia would field (as opposed to the highly weakened side that drew 2-2 with the Solomons in Adelaide last year when Australia had already qualified for this 3rd stage). The realities included the Socceroos' superior preparation: we've been playing Germany and Argentina at the Confederations Cup; the Solomons have had a handful of matches in New Zealand (which included a 4-0 loss to New Zealand Knights, one of the clubs in Australia's new national league).

        Yes folks, I fell back into the sort of pessimism that the Oceania Confederation wins awards for generating. Aren't I a miserable sod?

        From Australia's point of view, the good news is that these games against the Solomons will be an Oceanic swansong. Australia will be attempting to qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals as members of the Asian Confederation.

        Things might have been a little different if the first match was in Honiara. Although conventional wisdom is that it's better to play away first and home second, it would probably have been better for the Solomons to start this series at home. An opening match in the tropics would have been more likely to produce a scare for the Aussies.

        The main point of interest in the lead up to the Australia-Solomons clashes was the "Guus factor". Yes, as you might have heard, Mr "just call me Aussie Gus" Hiddink now has an extra part-time job having taken over as coach of the Socceroos after the departure of Frank Farina. Hiddink began his tenure by cancelling a Friendly and using the most recent international date for a training camp with the Australian players. It was a good move - Australia was not short of match practice after the Confederations Cup and building a relationship with the whole squad was probably a more valuable exercise.

        The Solomons also have a different coach from the one that masterminded their success in Adelaide last year. Savvy Englishman Alan Gillett is no longer at the helm and he's been replaced by Airton Andrioli, a Brazilian who played in Australia's old National Soccer League and who is now in his second stint as the Solomons' coach.

        One of the biggest problems the islanders faced was the gap in preparation. Indeed, the Solomons were better prepared for the series in June of last year. Before that week, they had played 4 matches in the 1st Stage of Oceania World Cup qualifiers and, not long before that, they had played two Friendlies in Vanuatu. This time they came to Australia on the back of just three games in New Zealand. Sadly, a couple of Friendlies against old rivals Fiji were cancelled.

        The Solomons had not played a full international since meeting Australia in the final of the Oceania Nations Cup a year ago. (In the same period, the Socceroos had played 8 times, including 3 matches at the recent Confederations Cup in Germany.) It's the same unfortunate story - lack of resources.

        The islanders had more troubles on the pitch. At the 11th hour, they discovered that striker Commins Menapi, scorer of both Solomons goals in the famous 2-2 draw with Australia, was suspended for the match. Replacing Menapi up forward was the less experienced (but delightfully named) Kidstone Billy. Teenager Judd Molea, who starred in the recent Oceania qualifiers for the FIFA Under 17 World Championship, was part of the squad but did not get a run.

        Another member of the team's "fab four", captain Batram Suri, carried an injury into the match. The other two standout players, Henry Fa'arodo and Alick Maemae started at right midfield and left midfield respectively. I immediately felt it was a mistake for Andrioli to play Fa'arodo out wide. The Solomons were always going to have trouble retaining the ball in the middle of the park and that's where he should have been.

        For its part, Australia was able to field a stronger team from the one that couldn't beat the Solomons in Adelaide. In came Mark Schwarzer (goalkeeper, Middlesbrough); Lucas Neill (defender, Blackburn Rovers); Tony Popovic (defender, Crystal Palace); Tony Vidmar (defender, NAC Breda); Scott Chipperfield (midfielder, FC Basel); Jason Culina (midfielder, Twente Enschede); and Mark Viduka (forward, Middlesbrough).

        Parma midfielders Marco Bresciano and Vince Grella were also available and both came on as substitutes. Only 3 likely starting players were missing through injury: Craig Moore (defender, Newcastle United); Stan Lazaridis (defender/midfielder, Birmingham City); and Harry Kewell (midfielder/forward, Liverpool).

        The game was played in Sydney at the very same stadium that Australia played a 1993 World Cup qualifier against an Argentinean team containing a certain Mr DA Maradona. Aussie goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer did not play in that match but, that year, he had played in an earlier sudden death World Cup qualifier against Canada. It was in that match that he went from young, little-known goalkeeper (and the Socceroos' 3rd choice custodian) to national hero with an excellent save in a penalty shootout. To add to the nostalgia, sitting a few metres away from me was Rale Rasic, the man who coached Australia at the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany.

        Onto the match itself and perhaps the most desperate scribble on my little notepad reads as follows, "64th minute, 5-0 Australia, please can they stop now".

        For much of the first half, the Solomons looked like they might avoid suffering a massive defeat but after Australia scored its 3rd goal just before half time, the islanders lost discipline and confidence.

        The Solomons opened well against a confident and purposeful Australia. The Socceroos, under Hiddink for the first time, had switched to a 3-5-2 formation. Australia had chances in the opening 20 minutes but they were mainly long-range shots. The Solomons had crowded the penalty box and, although their players made some mistakes, they certainly didn't lack application.

        Australia's first goal came less than a minute after the Solomons' first attack and shot! Admittedly it was a tame effort by Mahlon Houkarawa but soon the ball was up the other end and Jason Culina opened the scoring with a beautiful strike after he was teed up by Tim Cahill.

        Still, the Solomons didn't lose too much heart after Australia's first went in. There were one or two moments of unnecessary panic, but the players stuck to the plan. They were even determined to play their way out of defence and not just hoof the ball anywhere (although that sometimes meant getting caught in possession). Houkarawa was a standout and goalkeeper Francis Aruwafa also started well with some fine saves. Aruwafa was preferred to Felix Ray Jr who had done quite well in the Stage 2 qualifiers. Sadly the 2nd half would be a disaster for the Solomons' 'keeper.

        After more attacking pressure, Australia finally made it 2-0 in the 36th minute but it took a wonder goal from Mark Viduka, the Socceroos' captain on the night, to double the Aussies' advantage. After the ball lobbed up from a heading contest, Viduka executed a perfect bicycle kick. I hope the footage got to PWC's No. 1 bicycle kick fan, Peter Goldstein. You'll see few better.

        In the 43rd minute, Viduka scored again, this time meeting a superb Josip Skoko cross with a strong header. Less than a minute earlier, Batram Suri succumbed to injury and was substituted. It was in that minute that the match ceased to be any sort of contest.

        At the start of the second half, Solomon Islands coach, Airton Andrioli, brought Stanley Waita on for Alick Maemae. Maybe Maemae was injured, but it seemed another strange decision. At least the resulting reshuffle of positions brought Fa'arodo into a more central role and in the opening exchanges of the second half, Fa'arodo looked lively and creative. He even forced Mark Schwarzer into making a real save, the only one the Aussie 'keeper would make all night.

        In the 53rd minute, disaster struck for the Solomons. Young defender, Nelson Sale Kilifa, who had played well at times, needlessly kicked Jason Culina and earned himself a red card. The Solomons had had enough problems keeping Australia at bay and now the onslaught would be even more emphatic.

        In the 57th minute, Guus Hiddink brought Marco Bresciano on for Tony Popovic, a midfielder for a defender, sensing the chance to put the 2nd leg well out of the Solomons' reach. Almost immediately, a Tim Cahill header made it 4-0. Aruwafu should have dealt with the header easily but the 'keeper made a complete mess of it. Cahill had deserved the goal as he had been at the heart of so much of Australia's attacking thrusts.

        Hiddink's next move was to bring striker John Aloisi off and replace him with Archie Thompson. Aloisi hadn't played at all badly but it's ironic that the player who recently put 4 goals past Germany and Argentina didn't score against the Solomon Islands.

        You might know that Archie Thompson is famous for scoring 13 goals in a single World Cup qualifier. That, of course, happened in a certain match between Australia and American Samoa in the last World Cup and I'm rather glad that Australia's move to Asia means mismatches like that should be a thing of the past.

        More importantly, Thompson plays his club football in Australia's new national competition, the A-League, and the crowd appreciated that a player based in Australia could take his place among the European-based Socceroos. He nearly scored with his first opportunity but his header was narrowly wide.

        Scott Chipperfield made it 5-0 in the 64th minute with a fine long-range strike. But it was another shot that Aruwafu should have saved. The Solomons 'keeper had lost all confidence by this stage.

        Thompson did get on the scoresheet in the 68th minute and it was a goal worthy of any occasion. He controlled the ball beautifully inside the penalty box and shot brilliantly from a tight angle.

        Both Bresciano and Thompson could have added to the score before yet another mistake by Aruwafu allowed a speculative Brett Emerton shot to make it 7-0 to Australia. It had been raining steadily throughout the match and the slippery ball would have caused problems for the hapless goalkeeper, but that really shouldn't be an excuse for three horrible errors.

        The press conferences were a lot of fun. Remember, I only moonlight as a journalist so it was a real buzz to sit a couple of metres away from Mark Viduka and Guus Hiddink.

        Hiddink said that he wants to see a few different players in the return leg. (Certainly the size of Australia's victory will allow him that luxury.) He also talked a bit about the 3-5-2 formation saying that it's easy to change without having to make a substitution.

        Viduka said that the players had talked about the difficult conditions in Honiara so they knew it was important to do well (in the home leg).

        Airton Andrioli faced the media with Henry Fa'arodo. He said he was happy with the first 20 minutes and confirmed that Batram Suri was carrying a knock from one of the warm up matches the Solomons had had in New Zealand. I asked Andrioli if he thought he might have been better off starting Stanley Waita or Jack Samani at right midfield and bringing Fa'arodo into a central role. I don't think he really appreciated the question and reiterated that he thought things had gone well in the opening 20 minutes but some players did not do what they were supposed to do whether through lack of fitness or lack of confidence.

        I know it's a tough job - trying to prepare a Solomons team to face Australia - but I do think Andrioli made a couple of questionable decisions.

        Alas, I won't be in Honiara for the return leg. It would have been a great experience but the logistics of the exercise are not favourable. The game itself will probably be a formality and while I wouldn't want to see any hiccups from the Socceroos, I do hope the Solomons can do better in front of their home crowd.

        It'll then be goodbye to the Oceania Confederation as far as Australia is concerned but it would be remiss of us to forget our OFC colleagues. Despite this result, they have developed in the last two decades and hopefully they will continue to improve. It would be prudent to retain a relationship with them.


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