The anticipation for Australia’s first game of the
There has been a range of opinions on the game, from both inside and outside the green and gold camp and, most intriguingly, it is the voice of one detached observer that is most optimistic. Lucas Neil, Australia’s experienced captain, has spoken of how a draw will do for his men. Talismanic midfielder Tim Cahill has said that coming away from the clash with the three-time world champions with anything other than a defeat is vital. Reasonably pragmatic views, then, from two of the Aussies’ key players, with the squad insiders perhaps seeking to dampen down expectations that may otherwise run rampant. The main positive voice from outside Australia has come from Arsene Wenger, with the Arsenal manager claiming that if he was the Germany Coach, he would be worried about facing Australia. It should be noted that Wenger was speaking to Australian television and was hardly going to predict Australia were about to be annihilated, but in the age of global media, where any comments made anywhere in the world can be read by everyone else, Wenger put his reputation on the line to give Australia a 40% chance of causing an upset.
Australia’s chances of taking points from Germany have undoubtedly been boosted by the German’s constant injury problems. Losing one member of the first team is a blow – to be without three, including the captain, star midfielder and first-choice goalkeeper is disastrous, but without Michael Ballack and Rene Adler, that is the situation Germany are in. To put it into perspective, think of Australia without Mark Schwarzer and Tim Cahill – a gloomy proposition indeed. Germany have more strength in depth than their Group D opponents, particularly in goal, but the loss of Ballack and Adler, as well as the other names forced out through injury, has still greatly disrupted Joachim Low’s preparations. Without the leadership of Ballack marshalling the German midfield, Germany are a much less imposing outfit, leaving it all-the-more important that Cahill recovers from his neck injury by Sunday. An Australian midfield with the Everton star has a far greater chance of taking control of the game, but without the tenacious 30-year-old, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s influence could be allowed to grow unchecked. Cahill, as well as Vince Grella and whoever partners the Blackburn Rovers man in central midfield, must put a tight leash on the excellent Bayern Munich man for Australia to have a chance of getting at least a point.
The Germany Australia will face on Sunday is not the mechanical, efficient Germany of old – or at least not just that. They still possess that Teutonic discipline but with an added verve, brought by young attacking midfielders, including Mesut Ozil, allied to Low’s inventiveness. In 2006, Germany were welded to a 4-4-2 formation, a system they may still revert to, but the emergence of Ozil has encouraged a 4-2-3-1 style to develop, with the Werder Bremen player slotting in behind a lone striker. A German side still boasting the kind of cool-headed ruthlessness that has typified them in the past mixed with more than a dash of defence-splitting flair is, on paper, a fearsome ask for any side to overcome. This game will be the biggest test of Verbeek’s managerial career and, so far in his time Down Under, the Dutchman has shown little of the innovation, motivation or tactical nous of his predecessor and compatriot Guus Hiddink. Sheer determination and a will to win cannot overcome Germany alone, but rather a clear and precise game plan aimed at taking advantage of Germany’s weaknesses – such as the high line the German defence will take, or the adventurous, and therefore, ripe for a counter-attack left flank – needs to be in place. Unfortunately for Verbeek, exploiting either of these flaws in Germany’s set up requires pace in abundance, which is not one of his team’s noted qualities. Australia are distressingly one-paced in their first XI, with only Brett Emerton and Mark Bresciano offering what could be classed as genuine speed.
Should Australia take a point – or even all three – from Germany on Sunday, it will not go down as one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history. It would, however, throw Group D wide open and give Australia a great chance to make it to the next round in pole position.