World Cup 2006


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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




    Wrap-up: OFC qualifiers, Stage 3 - Next stop South America

    by Paul Marcuccitti

        Guus Hiddink would probably like a few things. More options for Australia’s defence, the rapid return to fitness of Craig Moore and Harry Kewell, etcetera.

        One thing that he’d almost certainly like – but can’t have – is more time. He’s now seen the Socceroos play two matches against an international minnow and Australia has one more game (a friendly against Jamaica) before the showdown against CONMEBOL’s 5th team. Those decisive matches against South American opposition are less than two months away.

        Hiddink has undoubtedly learned some things about his new international team but I’d be surprised if he thought he’d seen enough. His Aussies have just 90 more minutes of international football before it’s crunch time in Barranquilla/Montevideo/Santiago.

        Now this brings me to some good news from an Australian point of view – the Socceroos will be playing the first leg of the tie against the South Americans away (on 12 November) with the return leg at home (16 November). Marrakech recently hosted the FIFA Congress and that gave FIFA officials the chance to organise another round of their favourite game – pull the little balls out of the bag/glass/hat. Those balls were kind to Australia.

        [And in case you didn’t know, CONCACAF will be home against Asia in the first leg of that playoff. So 12 November sees: Guatemala or Trinidad & Tobago v Uzbekistan or Bahrain (if the latter two ever finish their AFC tie) with the return leg in Asia on 16 November.]

        The other good news from Marrakech was that the last of the formalities finalising Australia’s move to the Asian Football Confederation were completed. From 1 January 2006, Australian teams will compete in AFC competition.

        Of course, the Socceroos have still had to complete World Cup qualifying for 2006 under existing arrangements and that meant needing to win Oceania and then defeat a CONMEBOL team to reach next year’s finals in Germany. The easier part is over.

        Australia’s 9-1 aggregate victory over Solomon Islands is comfortable enough but the performance in Honiara, where the Socceroos won by 2 goals to 1, might have left Hiddink with as many questions as answers. And that’s why he probably wishes he had more time.

        Sadly, there’s not much I can tell you about the game. I wasn’t in Honiara and the match was not televised (either live or delayed). All I’ve seen is footage of the goals and it gave me the impression that there were few cameras there. These, I’m afraid, are Oceanic realities.

        I can tell you that the match was played in the middle of the day in fierce heat and humidity. I can also tell you that Hiddink took the opportunity to look at some different players and made 5 changes to Australia’s starting team. Zeljko Kalac, Jon McKain, Vince Grella, Marco Bresciano and Archie Thompson all came in for Mark Schwarzer, Tony Vidmar, Tony Popovic, Josip Skoko and John Aloisi.

        The Solomons brought Felix Ray jr back as goalkeeper. This wasn’t surprising given Francis Aruwafu’s nightmare second half in Sydney. Defender George Suri also started in place of the suspended Nelson Sale Kilifa. Star striker Commins Menapi, who was suspended for the first leg, replaced Kidstone Billy and Stanley Waita came in for Alick Maemae.

        A fine Archie Thompson lob opened the scoring for the Socceroos in the 19th minute but that would be the only goal of the first half.

        For the second half, Hiddink introduced Ahmad Elrich and Luke Wilkshire for Tim Cahill and Mark Viduka but the game’s main talking point occurred at the goal the Solomons were attacking just a few minutes after the restart. First, Lucas Neill conceded a penalty for a foul on Solomons’ danger man Henry Fa’arodo.

        Then the fun really began. Zeljko Kalac saved Commins Menapi’s penalty and had to make further saves after the ball rebounded into play. Amid the chaos, Solomons midfielder George Lui recklessly challenged Kalac and earned himself a second yellow card and a sending off.

        But wait, there’s more. The referee is told (by one of his assistants) that Kalac moved off his line before Menapi struck his penalty. So the referee decided that the penalty should be retaken and this time, Fa’arodo steps up and scores. 1-1.

        The Islanders’ joy lasted 10 minutes because Brett Emerton then made it 2-1 after finding himself completely unmarked in the Solomons’ penalty area. That was the final score.

        “Aussie Gus” was less than impressed with the Socceroos’ performance. There is no question that the heat and humidity would have affected the players and that the 7 goal head start meant that there was no real pressure to deliver a result. But the Dutchman has few opportunities to find his best combination and he would have (rightly) expected the players to impress.

        Fortunately Guus Hiddink knows all about Australia’s woeful record in crucial World Cup qualifiers and that the Socceroos need to get everything right to reach the finals in Germany. The November playoff will be the fourth consecutive World Cup cycle in which Australia has reached a decisive tie against a team from another confederation. You know what happened in the last three.

        Australia enters those matches after winning the Oceania series for the last time. Is this the time for redemption?


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