June 05, 2013

Horse 1495 - Two Steps Left - To Glory or Oblivion

Japan 1 - Australia 1
Oar 82'
Konno 90' (pen)

Before the match between Japan and Australia, to come away with a point would have been a fine outcome. The fact that we're sort of disappointed that Australia only came away with that same point is really only the result of having three points snatched away at the death.

For 82 minutes, Australia's defensive back four absorbed attacks from the Japanese, which were at times both brilliant and yet relentless. Most notably was a cross in the 23rd minute which found Endo right in the middle of the six yard box and was only deflected by Maeda who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That ball was in turn thrust forward by Lucas Neill and so the game would continue in that vein.
Wave after wave of Blue attacks came and clearly, this Japan squad was faster and fitter than the hapless men in gold. After the half-time break and as the hour approached, Australia look positively lethargic but still the match remained deadlocked and scoreless. Why?

The answer I believe lies in the way that Australia defended. Unlike the match against Oman, Australia who nominally played 4-3-2-1 with either Oar or Holman up front. However in defence, they shifted back to a very disciplined 4-4-2 and on some occasions the two lines of defence (ie 4-4) provided two sets of walls, which ultimately for 90 minutes, were never beaten in free play.

This very clearly shows an organised defensive structure, with every player either being zonally marked or being given the opportunity to move forward and directly man mark. Keisuke Honda who plays his club football at CSKA Moscow again showed why he is one to be feared. Seen here, potentially on the end of Maeda's cross, he frequently was diffused. It was fitting though that he should be the one to take the penalty which equalised.
Nevertheless, Japan again showed the sort of football which made them AFC Champions and for Australia to hold them to a draw was itself noteworthy.

Japan on the other hand, when they had possession, were able to shorten the field and play very very high in defence. They played a 4-4-2 but were able to transition between Kagawa, Honda and Maeda up front. It meant that they were able to switch between positions and give each other a rest, or rather, come back and play in the midfield if the situation called for it.
One thing I did notice was that there was no preference in the Japanese defence for either Yasuyuki Konno or Atsuto Uchida to play as stopper and sweeper. Konno in particular would annoy would be attackers whilst he was playing at FC Tokyo, because he'd occasionally move right through the midfield and occasionally score. 41 league goals for a supposed central defender doesn't normally make very much sense.

Tommy Oar's "attacking ball" as he described it, wasn't really a shot. He admitted after the match that he intended it as a cross for someone else to arrive on the end of. The fact that it went it, proves that sometimes things are more lucky than good and that you take luck where ever you can find it.
Matt McKay's handball in the box in the 90th minute again showed that this match turned on a spell of luck. After looking through the video on a frame by frame basis, he had less than 7 frames to react to the ball being shot at him like a rocket, which equates to less than a fifth of a second.

To expect Australia to come away with a point before the match, would have been a fine outcome. The fact that they did come away with a point is still a fine outcome. The manner which they did so, shows that maybe a trip to Brazil in 2014 is still a possibility but they'll need to play this well in subsequent matches for this to become a reality.

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