New faces get time to shine

NECESSITY is the mother of invention, as Holger Osieck, the Socceroos’ coach, is fast discovering.
Nanjing Night Net

Osieck fielded an experimental side against South Korea in a friendly last week with a better-than-expected result when the youngsters won 2-1.

With virtually all of his players based in Europe and the Middle East unavailable for the East Asian Cup qualifiers in Hong Kong next month, Osieck has dipped into the A-League supply basket – with fascinating results, especially for those looking for clues as to the future shape of Socceroo squads when the last of the golden generation is pensioned off over the next couple of years.

For the first time in what seems like living memory stalwarts Mark Schwarzer and Lucas Neill are not in the line-up, with Russian-based Luke Wilshire (whose season is in winter recess), Sydney’s Brett Emerton and Melbourne Victory’s Archie Thompson by far the most experienced men in the squad.

But for those who are excited by the shock of the new there is plenty to look forward to as Osieck leads his squad through a whirlwind four games in nine days.

The opposition should not be too taxing, given Taiwan, Hong Kong and Guam have little history as giant killers. North Korea, the final team in the five-nation group, could, however, be a different matter. It has emerged as a significant power in recent years and qualified for the 2010 World Cup, although its heavy loss to Portugal rather dimmed the lustre of its achievement.

For Australia, this is all about the future. Osieck admitted on Thursday when announcing a 25-man squad – to be trimmed to 20 in Sydney next week – that he could not afford to risk experimenting too much while trying to qualify for the World Cup. But a tournament like this is a different matter, especially as his big guns are not available.

So the likes of Terry Antonis (Sydney), the Melbourne Heart products Eli Babalj, Michael Marrone and Aziz Behich, Brisbane’s Ben Halloran, Matt Smith and Ivan Franjic, Chinese-based Rostyn Griffiths and Dino Djulbic, Newcastle’s Adam Taggart, Central Coast’s Tom Rogic, Western Sydney’s Aaron Mooy and Adelaide’s Osama Malik, who have played either once or never for the national team, are given an opportunity.

Others are getting a chance to restate their cases to be candidates for upcoming World Cup qualifiers, such as Melbourne Heart’s Richard Garcia, the 31-year-old former English Premier League midfielder who has impressed since returning to play in the A-League this season.

Pim Verbeek once relied on an A-League-based squad in Asian qualifiers with almost disastrous results, when it drew 0-0 with Indonesia and lost at home to Kuwait, but Osieck doesn’t anticipate a similar outcome this time.

”These games are a good opportunity for the boys I have listed here,” he said. ”We have been travelling every weekend and watching matches and identifying potential players and we think they are up to the job. It will be a valuable experience for them. They show some promise, but we have to make it perfectly clear that they are not stars in the Socceroos yet, but they are talented players.”

Osieck is confident that the Socceroos are in a good place from which to qualify for Brazil in 2014. The team lies second in its group behind runaway leader Japan with a game in hand and three of its last four matches at home. He says any complacency that crept in before the shock loss to Jordan has now been eliminated. ”That’s over. There were some very clear messages,” he said.

Australia will play Jordan in a World Cup qualifier at Etihad Stadium on June 11 next year.

AUSTRALIA SQUAD: Terry Antonis, Eli Babalj, Aziz Behich, Robbie Cornthwaite, Dino Djulbic, Ivan Franjic, Brett Emerton, Eugene Galekovic, Richard Garcia, Rostyn Griffiths, Ben Halloran, Scott Jamieson, Osama Malik, Michael Marrone, Matt McKay, Mark Milligan, Aaron Mooy, Tom Rogic, Mat Ryan, Matt Smith, Adam Taggart, Archie Thompson, Michael Thwaite, Dario Vidosic, Luke Wilkshire.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.