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2015 Asian Cup: Don’t mention the pitch

There is no need to lament the poor quality of the surface on which the Socceroos and the People’s Republic of China will do battle on Thursday night, other than to say, it is what it is.


The criticisms and the fallout from its poor quality will be reflected on, used as a lesson for future tournaments, blamed for our loss or completely forgotten depending upon the result.


Perhaps it is best to let others draw a final conclusion as to apportioning blame and focus on supporting our boys in a contest where both teams will have use of the same blades of grass.


It is obviously undesirable, yet at this stage of their preparation, the Socceroos cannot let it even remotely play a role in the way they approach this contest. This will undoubtedly be one of the most important matches they play in the early stages of their rebuild and the new direction that Ange Postecoglou has routed over the past twelve months.


Much debate has raged since Australia’s previous encounter and the general consensus appears to conclude that it was a match of ample opportunities hampered by a lack of poise in front of goal that cost one side dearly.


The fluidity and continuity of the front three struggling to work with a tireless midfield was also questioned, as was the diligence of a defence that again lapsed in a key moment.


From a Korean Republic perspective, most lauded their brave efforts and, despite changes in personnel throughout the contest, they did find ways to appear in the right places at the right times and shut down many of the goal scoring opportunities that the Socceroos had.


In saying this, there were a few moments where a Korean foot, head or lunge was a little late and enough space was provided for a class strike to beat their stoic goalkeeper. The quality of the surface then becomes either a contributing factor to some of these points or a poor excuse for a team that should have done better in front of goal.


The absolute truth probably falls somewhere within the axis of these elements. While identifying flaws, much commentary also applauded the style of play and endeavour the team showed. This appears totally fair as few could question their overall intent and application.


Whatever the contributing factors to a loss that very few saw as disastrous, the ability to curtail any thoughts of the pitch playing a decisive role in the overall result is vital. Even if many commentators are correct and it suited the Korean Republic more than the Australians.


Postecoglou certainly felt as much and mentioned it sooner rather than later.


It is wonderful that the Socceroos now perceive themselves as a team capable of capitalising on a good surface and playing sparkling and attacking football. This is one of the most heart-warming features of the game style they have displayed so far.


Gone are the memories and criticisms of days past where older generations in my family called their play stodgy, negative and lacking the true skill possessed by visiting international teams. There were probably kernels of truth behind those comments but it still hurt to have to listen to them.
The change has been an evolution rather than a sudden turnaround, yet Postecoglou has undoubtedly provided great impetus in a shift towards a faster and less stagnate overall attack.


This match will provide an acid test for the squad as Team Dragon will not be underprepared or unenthusiastic. Discipline and organisation in defence is a strength for the Chinese, as is leadership. Therefore, the potential selection of Zheng Zhi will be either a key inclusion or omission.


Underachievement has plagued China for many years, yet this time around Alain Perrin has a unit that is working efficiently towards a common goal and also possesses enough quality to trouble every side in this tournament.


From the Socceroos’ point of view, team selection will also be key. The Massimo Luongo-Marco Bresciano decision, as well as the right combination up front, will again be the focus. Postecoglou has pulled a surprise rein or two in the past and while the starting eleven appears somewhat logical, his decision to approach things from a squad perspective right from the outset increases speculation. The rumours of Tommy Oar’s inclusion continue to circulate.


So many brilliant headlines could unfold on Friday. Another Cahill goal would be an incredible story, as would two or three from other sources. Two sides to the debate on attacking firepower that, I for one, don’t care about. The source of the victory will be somewhat irrelevant, the victory itself is paramount.


Whatever unfolds let’s hope that the post-match discussion is centred on a brilliant goal or an unbelievable save and not a bumbling encounter that sees either side unable to unleash their attacking arsenal due to a sub-standard surface.


As I write the final lines of this piece I can’t help but anticipate the sheer pleasure I will gain from a victory or the deep sense of lost opportunity I will feel if the mission remains incomplete.


The analysis that follows will be harsh or glowing, or perhaps a mixture of both. I only hope that it isn’t just about the pitch.

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