Australia v South Korea: five things we learned
Mark Schwarzer has real competition; the off-season took its toll; the Socceroos were also competing against Man Utd
Goalless scorelines often do not tell the full story
Perhaps it was the national anthem that put the visitors off. Organisers saw fit to get a local singer to perform a rendition of Advance Australia Fair that was ear-piercing to say the least. North Korean troops, not far away at the DMZ that divides the peninsula, must have thought that the south had some weird new weapon.
It can't have helped to settle a nervous and new-look Aussie team, most of whom are in the middle of a marathon close season. From the start, Korea took control in midfield through the energetic Lee Myung-joo and the graceful Ha Dae-sung and were soon marauding down the flanks with full-backs on the overlap and the widemen switching sides. They made it a very uncomfortable evening for the visitors, who made hard work of getting possession but gave it away all too easily. Australia were pinned back for long periods.
A strong run from Ryan McGowan apart, the Socceroos did nothing of note as an attacking force in the first half. If it hadn't been for the heroics of Eugene Galekovic, the game would have been over by the break. The half-time dressing down in the dressing room from Holger Osieck must have been almost as painful, if a little less shrill, as the noise that greeted the start of the game.
The second half was a little better – the heat and humidity took effect on the tempo and substitute Erik Paartalu helped the Socceroos get some kind of grip on midfield – but not much. Once again poor finishing, great goalkeeping and the woodwork somehow contrived to keep Korea out. At the end, Aussie journalists were scratching their heads at official statistics that recorded five attempts on goal and, for the opposite reason, their Korean counterparts found their team's 21 shots equally hard to believe. A more one-sided goalless draw you won't see this side of the World Cup.
Eugene Galekovic is one of the best goalkeepers in Asia
You have to wonder what Mark Schwarzer made of it all. A recent move to Chelsea may look good but the likelihood is that playing time will be hard to come by – not ideal when the World Cup is approaching and you are the wrong side of 40.
And then there was the fantastic performance from Galekovic. The Adelaide United keeper has caught the eye on the continent over the years with some stellar performances in the Asian Champions League that put the icing on the club cake after his exploits in the A-League but he can't have played better than this.
He was at his brilliant best for start to last saving from lively debutant Yoon Il-rok a number of times, and doing the same throughout the evening to deny an ever-lengthening list of ticked off Taeguk Warriors. "I can only agree that Galekovic had a great performance, the way he played today put him in the frame," said Osieck after the match.
At the very least, Galekovic can certainly position himself as Schwarzer's understudy and he made a strong case for that on Saturday. Whether he can go one step further and challenge Schwarzer for the starting spot in Brazil remains to be seen but the new Chelsea keeper must be feeling a little worried.
Second-string Socceroos can't compete with Manchester United
Australia has been slowly moving deeper into the giant continent to the north since joining the Asian Football Confederation in 2006. It has produced an Asian Player of the Year, is hosting the 2015 Asian Cup, is a member of the Asean region and is now participating in a first ever East Asian Cup by invitation. All that however can't compare to Manchester United. It's not every day that the Red Devils are in Sydney but the exhibition from the English team pushed the Socceroos off the main pages in the football media (though an exhibition of another sort from the Australian cricket team was also competing for sporting column inches). On the morning of the game, the Sydney Morning Herald's football section did mention the Socceroos but only after you had scrolled down past 12 other football stories.
Pre-match, Australia coach Osieck revealed that there had been discussions about boycotting the tournament due to complications in getting Asian teams to release their Aussie stars. Much of the media down under was obviously sympathetic and decided to go ahead with a boycott of their own.
Koreans left frustrated at their and Australia's weakness
Korea excel at producing technically gifted and mobile attacking players who can't score and the likes of Yoon, Lee Seung-ki and Kim Dong-seob all had ample chances to show their expertise in this field. So many chances went begging that long before the end, fans resorted to resigned laughter.
But while familiar, this exercise in frustration was not what the Taeguk Warriors wanted. The priority of new coach Hong Myong-bo, nicknamed "The Eternal Libero" in his homeland, is to rebuild a defence that has been lacking in confidence, cohesion and concentration for some time, an issue that very nearly cost the Taeguk Warriors a place at the 2014 World Cup.
Yet, so rarely did Australia threaten that the backline, especially the problem central area, wasn't really tested at all. The complete domination of the hosts may have been useful to test levels of concentration but a little time under the cosh would have gone down quite well.
Ultimately though, the Koreans were happy. For the first time in quite some time, the team looked like a team again and talk of splits and discord were forgotten. There was pace, technique, skill and energy – just no goals.
It wasn't all doom and gloom
After the game, the Aussies were emphasising the positives with a message that the defence may have only just held out but held out it did. Galekovic apart, there wasn't too much to get excited about but nine of the starters are A-Leaguers and haven't played competitive club football for almost four months in sharp contrast to their East Asian rivals. After early struggles against the pace of the hosts, McGowan put himself about at the centre of defence to great effect, blocking shots, getting in last-ditch tackles, generally holding things together and even getting into dangerous attacking positions on occasion and Erik Paartalu helped steady the ship in the second half. And for the rest, there are two more games to come.
Filed under: Euro 2012
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