Football Shaped

Notes and News by Leo Hoenig


Cahill saves Australian blushes

After the downpours of day 1, the second match was played in bright sunshine. The 5.20 kick off time is just late enough to allow the shadow from the roof to cover the playing surface, but spectators on the open side will still face the glare of the sun.

Australia have picked a side based completely in Europe, six from the English Leagues, two each from the Netherlands and Italy, and Mile Sterjovski from Basle. For the Oman side, Bolton’s Ali Al Habsy is in goal, no less than seven now play in the Qatar League, one player plays in Kuwait and only two in Oman itself.

Australia in 4-2-3-1 formation with Viduka up front Mark Schwarzer; Brett Emerton, Patrick Kisnorbo, Lucas Neill, Luke Wilkshire; Jason Culina, Vincenzo Grella; Mile Sterjovski, Mark Kewell, Mark Bresciano; Mark Viduka – John Aloisi (for Sterjovski, HT), Tom Cahill (for Grella, 62), Brett Holman (for Kisnorbo, 78)

Oman in 4-1-4-1, Al Al Habsi; Juma Al Wahabi, Mohamed Al Noobi, Said Suwailim, Hassan Al Gheilani; Ahmed Al Mahijri; Yousuf Al Busaidi, Badar Al Maimani, Ahmed Al Mukhaini, Ismail Al Ajmi; Amad Al Hosni – Fawzi Doorbeen (for Al Maimani, 60), Mohamed Al Ghassani (for Al Busadi, 65), Younis Al Mahyijari (for Al Hosni, 80)

The match started at a sluggish pace, suggested that neither side was truly at home in the conditions. The first true chance came after 22 minutes when Neill floated a free kick to an unmarked Kewell by the far post, who could not direct the ball goalwards. This appeared to create a spell when the Aussies were on top, but any illusion was shattered on 31 minutes when Al Hosni broke down the left and angled the cross back to Al Maimani to have time to control and shoot, while the Australian defence could only look on. Australia’s attempt to reply was a free kick from 20yards, which Emerton hit well over. The Australian defence continued to show too much space to their opponents, allowing Ismail Al Ajmi a pot which sailed over. The rest of the first half was more free flowing, except when a couple of Omani players decided to take a break by going down injured – much to the annoyance of the considerable Australian presence in the crowd. This displeasure was sounded out as they roundly booed their opponents off the field at half time.

For the second half, John Aloisi replaced Mile Sterjovski and Australia switched to 4-4-2 with Aloisi joining Viduka up front and Kewell moving wide on the left, (Bresciano going right). Although the Aussies started the period well, the first chance went to Oman when Ahmed Al Mahaijri feinted one way, then went the other to make space. Schwarzer was just equal to the shot. By the time the hour mark had been reached, Oman were seeing more of the ball than Australia, who bought on Tim Cahill to try and change things around. Cahill slotted in the Australian midfield, while two Omani substitutes (Fawzi Doorbeem and Mohamed Al Ghassani) did not change the basic shape of their team. Australia’s best chances appeared to be from the set-piece, with one from Wilkshire finding Aloisi who headed over under pressure. Oman should have doubled their advantage on 70 minutes when Amad Al Hosni had a header well saved and then reacted to get his head to the ball again, but the ball went wide. Australia were finding that Oman had better ball control and were quick to pounce on any lack of control from Australian players (not mentioning Harry Kewell by name. On the negative side, they give away a few too many free kicks.

As the game entered its last fifteen minutes, the sun dropped from the skyline, and a thick and threatening black cloud came in from the east. While Australia were preparing their final substitution, Brett Holman – Oman again missed a golden chance to double the lead as Doorbeen found himself free, but could not beat Schwarzer. The rain was not slow in coming, and the sound of rain soon drowned out any remaining chants from Australian support as Oman replaced the injured Al Hosni with Younis Al Mahyijari. By this stage it is clear that only Schwarzer has kept Australia in the game, although it also took a few desperate legs to keep Australia at bay as the ground became slippery, and one fine dive as the again threatened with a late free kick.

Australia finally equalised as four minutes of injury time started. A shot by Bresciano was parried and for once it was not a defender but Tim Cahill who was first to the loose ball, giving Australia an undeserved point

While the Omani tactics may infuriate Australian fans, they are no worse than they or their team mates will apply when with the European clubs, overall the difference between the teams was in defence, where the Oman side where organised, while the Australian players were not. After the game, the Oman coach (Gabriel Calderon of Spain) seemed the more satisfied of the two, while Graham Arnold, the Australian coach was eager to place the blame for a result that left him both “disappointed, and relieved” on the conditions. He said that because of the conditions, he had players who could not breathe or perform after just 20 minutes, and that with seven or eight players who did not defend, they were bound to have problems. He rightfully praised Schwarzer for the saves that kept them in the game, and Cahill for being at the right place at the right time to get the leveller.

What I saw was a team that changed formation three times, but were always tactically outmanoeuvred by opponents who were more aware than themselves, a team based on the Premiership and other European leagues almost beaten by a team reliant on the Qatar league to keep them in jobs.