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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: Australia vs Uruguay play-off

    by Paul Marcuccitti

    First leg: URUGUAY 1 AUSTRALIA 0

        The Australians have a great task ahead of them on Wednesday when they face Uruguay in the return leg of their World Cup qualification playoff after the Celeste scored the only goal of the first match in Montevideo.

        The match kicked off at 6.00 pm local time. If you had a look at my preview, you’ll know that the starting time was a point of contention in the build up to the game. After Australia refused Uruguay’s request to move the match from 9.00 pm back to 5.00 pm, the matter was thrown back to FIFA and the sport’s governing body compromised. It was the kind of compromise that proves that, in football, all countries are equal – but some are more equal than others. (Apologies to George Orwell.)

        Still, the best thing about the match was that it showed the irrelevance of all the silly off-field games. Australia did not play like a rattled or intimidated team. The Uruguayans also played with the composure you’d expect.

        Nevertheless, Uruguay scored and Australia didn’t, and it’s the Uruguayans that have the upper hand going into the second match.

        The match began quite early in the morning in Australia. Aussies that stayed awake through the night (and have pay television) could spend the earlier hours watching the Argentina-England friendly and at least the first half of the Norway-Czech qualifier. The wait for kick-off in Montevideo was always going to be a nervous one but, after seeing the quality on display between England and Argentina, I could only be thankful that the Aussies didn’t need to face either of those teams to qualify.

        Guus Hiddink selected an attacking formation for Australia. He chose experience in defence with Tony Vidmar and Tony Popovic joining Lucas Neill. Up forward, he gave both Harry Kewell and Archie Thompson a supporting role behind Mark Viduka.

        You could say that it didn’t work because Australia didn’t score. But the Aussies actually enjoyed more possession than Uruguay and that’s part of the battle. Sticking most of your players behind the ball for 90 minutes usually means you’ll be under siege all that time – and the likelihood of ultimately conceding more goals.

        The big surprise in the Uruguayan line up was the inclusion of Diego Forlan who had been struggling to overcome injury. Unfortunately for Forlan he only lasted 18 minutes and Dario Silva came on to replace him. Silva had scored against Australia at the Centenario in 2001.

        There is a noticeable difference in the Socceroos under Hiddink. The players look more comfortable in possession and do more work off the ball. I would only criticise one of the Dutch coach’s tactics – his decision to play Harry Kewell more towards the right-hand side. Kewell normally wants to cross with his left foot and there were times when he checked back on to his left when attacking on the opposite flank.

        Uruguay played well but did not dominate as much of this game as it did when the teams last met in Montevideo. For its part, Australia looked much more comfortable but couldn’t convert good general play into chances. Mark Viduka played a superb first half and Australia’s pressure forced five corners in the first 30 minutes. The Socceroos’ best effort in that time was a Viduka free kick which forced a smart save out of Uruguayan custodian Fabian Carini.

        Alvaro Recoba was the danger at the other end. He also struck a free kick nicely in the 22nd minute but it went straight to Australia’s ‘keeper Mark Schwarzer.

        But Recoba’s dead ball wizardry would break the deadlock in the 36th minute. A free kick from the right found full-back Dario Rodriguez unmarked near the far post. 1-0 Uruguay.

        Australia began the second half brightly with attempts from Viduka again and Brett Emerton. In the 52nd minute, Marco Bresciano replaced Archie Thompson and Bresciano almost made an immediate impact with a nice shot on the turn from outside the penalty area which didn’t miss by far.

        But the last 30 minutes was nearly all Celeste as the Uruguayans tried to add to their advantage. Recoba beat the offside trap in the 61st minute and went down in the penalty area as Schwarzer rushed towards him. Uruguay appealed for a penalty but it would have been a harsh decision.

        Uruguay coach Jorge Fossati brought Marcelo Zalayeta off in the 62nd minute and replaced him with Fabian Estoyanoff. It was a good move because Estoyanoff would really stretch the Socceroos with his runs on the right wing. Fortunately for the visiting team, Scott Chipperfield was playing an outstanding game on Australia’s left.

        In the 77th minute, Richard Morales had Uruguay’s best chance for a second goal with a close-range shot but Schwarzer made a vital save. After some uncertainty, Schwarzer also kept Recoba out from close range 10 minutes later.

        Australia’s best effort in the last half hour was a Jason Culina shot from outside the penalty area. It was just a few centimetres wide of the post but Carini seemed to have the goal covered anyway. 1-0 was the final score.

        All the Aussies played well and I felt Chipperfield was the team’s best. Unfortunately his only real mistake was a costly one – conceding the free kick that led to Uruguay’s goal. Of course, Recoba was a constant threat for Uruguay, particularly when delivering free kicks, and Carlos Diogo was also important for the home team. The lack of genuine chances tells you everything you need to know about how well both defences played.

        It was quite a clean match despite the controversies in the lead up. Admittedly a lot of players were carrying yellow cards and under threat of suspension for the second leg.

        From what I could see, there appeared to be good flavour among the supporters as well. A particular highlight was the “check out these crazy guys” look of amusement on the faces of some Uruguayans when Australian fans waved a big inflatable kangaroo in front of them.

        The big danger for Australia now is Uruguay scoring an away goal. I don’t doubt the Socceroos’ ability to control most of the home leg and score. But just one Uruguayan goal in Sydney would mean Australia needing to score three to win on aggregate.

        I’d rather be in Uruguay’s position than Australia’s – just as four years ago, I was happier with Australia’s position after winning the opening leg 1-0 at home. Australia’s failure in 2001 was not in the home leg, it was in Uruguay.

        In 2001 the Socceroos had three or four good chances to score in Montevideo. Had they scored they would have probably qualified because even a 2-1 loss would have been good enough (because of the away goals rule). Uruguay scored a third that day just minutes before full time, but it was a goal that was the result of Australia leaving itself exposed after making a last push forward.

        A 1-0 win at home in the first leg is certainly not a bad result. The Uruguayans will get at least a couple of chances in the second match. If they can take one, Australia’s task becomes a mammoth one.

        So as well as Australia played, it’s advantage Uruguay. But it’s certainly not over and about 85,000 golden-shirted supporters await the climax in Sydney.

        Ah Sydney, Australia’s first city; a place with amazing energy. Wherever you are in Sydney, you seem to only ever be a few steps away from seeing at least one of its famous landmarks nearby or in the distance: the Sydney Tower, the Opera House, or the Harbour Bridge. The first European settlement anywhere in Australia was just a stone’s throw from the Opera House. Since that settlement began in 1788, many Australian dreams have been made and broken in Sydney.

    Another one will be made or broken there on Wednesday night.


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