Saturday, July 21, 2007

Have the Socceroos lost the "Guus Aura"?

"A little over a year ago, Australia, which had never won a World Cup game nor scored a goal at the greatest sporting event of all, had the opportunity to come of age as a soccer nation ... Guus Hiddink's men made the world sit up and take notice ... The legend of Hiddink, which already loomed large because of his heroics with South Korea four years before, scaled even greater heights," Robert Lusetich opined in The Australian before quoting Lucas Neill's assessment of Hiddink at the time: "He's one of those managers with a lot of balls. In big pressure situations, he makes big decisions and has an uncanny knack of pulling them off."

According to Lusetich, much has changed since then. "Primarily, Hiddink is gone and with him much of the aura of that unforgettable month. It has become painfully clear that he was the catalyst; he was [Australia's] Henry Higgins. There is no better illustration of what has changed than Neill. After his sublime performances in Germany, when Hiddink turned him into an Australian Beckenbauer, Neill returned to Blackburn, before moving to West Ham, and sadly reverted to being an English fullback, tackling like a fiend and pumping speculative long balls to scampering forwards.

"Hiddink would be disheartened with the primitive way the Australians have played in the group stages in Bangkok. In Hiddink's system, the ball is played to feet from the back and space is created by sharp interchanges; it is a possession game but not a negative approach. When opponents have the ball, space is denied by a total defensive effort which involves every player; this, too, has been missing from the Australian performances in Asia as certain players have lost the will to chase."

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