Thursday, July 7, 2011

Judging the Joeys, a tough task

First published at GGArmy website 6th of July

Ouch! Two red cards and a four-nil loss to Uzbekistan at the Under 17 World Cup in Mexico sent the Aussies crashing out of the Round of 16. It’s been a week now… but ouch! Watching the Joeys fall apart was really tough to take.

A red card to wunderkind Dylan Tombides and two yellow cards to Teeboy Kamara and it all came crashing down. It’s really hard to sit here at my PC having a go at a group of kids aged between 15 and 17. After all they are just kids. However this is football and logic gets thrown out the window. And after such a loss it’s time to point fingers and vent.

High Hopes
Lots of things were expected form this group of Joeys. It was the first time the under 17s have qualified for the World Cup since we joined the Asian confederation. FFA has changed the structure of the youth program – starting it a year earlier – which means this team had spent almost two years training and playing together at the AIS. The other major factor was the Dutch influence. Love it or hate it, the 4-3-3 system is now being taught to all our national teams and is part of the national curriculum. I really see it as a cautious 4-5-1 myself.

The man in charge of the Joeys, Jan Versleijen, is also the Under 20s coach and is reportedly the highest paid youth coach Australia has ever had. So when you are talking about million dollar coaches, new fandangled systems and the next big thing in Dylan Tombides (who was being touted as the next Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka all in one), expectations were high for this new bunch of Joeys.

The Tournament
No doubt the Joeys had a tough group. While they were lucky to beat the Ivory Coast without playing the fluid football that we expected, the Joeys still did remarkably well to come from a goal down and win. The positives from that game were Tombides and Jesse Makarounas’s quality finishes for the goals and 15-year-old African refugee Kamara showing explosive skill and speed when he came on in the second half. It seemed that Australia had an impressive attacking triumvirate that would be a threat to the remaining teams they would face in the tournament.

In the next game Australia suffered a narrow one-nil loss to Brazil, after a brilliant free kick.
The Joeys played better in this game especially in the first half. However the team’s inability to maintain and control possession led to few clear-cut chances. At times it looked like the defence had never been introduced to the midfield rudely bypassing them to look for Tombides.

Other results meant that the Joeys had to avoid a three-nil loss to Denmark to move into the round of 16. Denmark where tearing open the Australian defence and led one-nil when the game was called off due to heavy thunder storms. First the game was postponed for 90 mins and then, luckily for the Joeys, the game was to be replayed the next morning from the beginning, erasing Denmark’s lead.

For the third straight game, the football purists could say that the Joeys were outplayed and struggled with everything. But Australians don’t lack in fighting spirit and, after having a man sent off in the second half the team, fought from a goal down and Luke Remington’s quality left foot strike late in the game levelled the scores and booked a second-round date with Asian Cup nemesis Uzbekistan.

Round of 16 Ouch!
It wasn’t supposed to be like this! Uzbekistan lost 4-1 to New Zealand in their first game. Did you hear that? New Zealand. The Joeys would have had revenge on their mind after losing to the Uzbeks in the semi-final of the Asian Cup. And The Uzbeks were supposedly weaker opposition than they had faced. So it looked good for progression to the quarters.

Boy were we wrong. For the most part the Joeys controlled the game and had more possession.
But Versleijen went all Pim Verbeek on us and changed the structure of the side. Okay, he had to accommodate the suspension of midfielder Yianni Perkatis, but the decision to move the reliable left back Corey Brown to the midfield meant the Aussies had to shuffle the side around. This led to the Aussies conceding two goals from the left in the first half. From then on the Joeys had a struggle on their hands.

The game was all over in the second half when Tombides was sent off. The Uzbeks scored two more and the game finished rather nastily for Australia as Kamara had a youthful brain explosion, picking up two yellows to unceremoniously earn an early shower.

It’s hard to be too critical of this group of players. They are only aged 15 to 17, just boys, and they are learning their craft. There are many positives. Players like Tombides, Remington, Makarounas, Kamara, Brown and Cooper all had their moments. Having to back up against Denmark and travel a long way with only one-day’s rest in between games did not help the preparations, but there are many questions.

These, in my opinion, include the words Dutch system, millions of dollars, and a coach who was unable to get the Joeys to control possession leading to limited gilt-edged scoring chances. We hoped for world domination, what we got was much less.

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