Australia 1 - Argentina 1

Match Report - Australia v Argentina		Sydney Football Stadium, Oct 31
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Australia	1		Argentina	1		Att.: 43,967

A. Vidmar  42'			Balbo  36'

TEAMS: (I only know the Aussies' club sides :-))
AUSTRALIA: Mark Bosnich (Aston Villa); Jason van Blerk (Go Ahead Eagles), Mehmet Durakovic (South Melbourne), Milan Ivanovic (Adelaide City), Alex Tobin (Adelaide City); Robbie Slater (RC Lens), Paul Wade (South Melbourne) (C), Tony Vidmar (Adelaide City), Ned Zelic (Borussia Dortmund); Aurelio Vidmar (Waragem), Graham Arnold (RC Liege). ARGENTINA: Sergio Goycochea; Jose Chamot, Carlos MacAllister, Jorge Borelli, Sergio Vasquez; Hugo Perez, Fernando Redondo, Diego Maradona (C), Jose Basualdo; Abel Balbo, Gabriel Batistuta.

Referee: Sandor Puhl (Hungary)

The teams made their entrance amid a colourful mixture of green and gold flares, a surprise fireworks display and, of course, a great roar and much flag-waving from the capacity crowd. The "away fans" were here in force with a large contingent of Argentinian supporters (probably at least 3 or 4 thousand, but DEFINITELY not 7000 as stated later in the papers) clustered near the halfway line, in prime position for their blue and white banners and T-shirts to be seen by the TV audience. Nevertheless, they were well and truly outnumbered by the very vocal Australian crowd, which was jam-packed into the stadium to such extent that it would later prove a new ground record.

The army of press reps almost entirely ignored the entrance of the Aussie team (and were roundly booed for doing so), instead opting to get a shot of the "King" Maradona entering for his comeback game for Argentina. This trend continued throughout the match, when the vast majority of the photographers positioned themselves at the end the Argentinians were attacking, obviously thinking that most of the action (and photo opportunities) would happen nearest to them. In this, they were to be disappointed.

The match kicked off just a couple of minutes late and Australia, as was the case in the last Sydney game v Canada, made most of the early running. An Aussie "speculator" shot from outside the box went high over the bar inside the first minute, and although way off target, it was an encouraging start to be able to move into a shooting position so soon in the game. More, and better, was to follow as the Aussies continued to force the pace, dominating in midfield, virtually camping in the Argentina half and making several good attacking thrusts down the right which I felt was the Argentinians' biggest weakness. Tony Vidmar got in behind the defense on the right but his cross from the edge of the box was cut out just in time. Then an even better chance presented itself, when one of the Argentinian backs momentarily hesitated, suddenly found himself (as we will hear next year) "double teamed", and was caught in possession on the edge of his own box right in front of goal. Aussie striker Graham Arnold pounced but as another back raced in to cut him off, he shot wide with only the keeper to beat. Then, as Arnold outraced the back four, he just failed to connect with van Blerk's cross from the left, again with what would have been only Goycochea to beat.

During this period of Aussie dominance it was Slater and Vidmar who were providing most of the headaches for the Argentina defence, especially down the right flank as I have already mentioned. Argentina coach Alfio Basile was later to comment that Slater's stamina amazed him and that he had seldom seen such speed from a team as that exhibited by the Aussies in the first half. Anyway, what with a few corners being won and a handful of reasonable goal-scoring chances missed, the Aussies could be considered slightly unlucky for not having taken an early lead.

With about 15 minutes left in the half Australia seemed to relax a bit and almost instantly were made to pay for it. Until the 36th minute Argentina had only once moved the ball even to the edge of the Aussie area; but then left back Ivanovic lost possession to Maradona, who rifled in a left-foot, inswinging cross, met by Balbo who sent a brilliant header into the top right-hand corner from 10 yards out. Mark Bosnich has been in brilliant form himself recently but there was nothing he could do about this one, it was perfectly placed and a foot away from his despairing dive. The back four was at fault for giving Balbo way too much room, but at that stage the damage was done and any immediate analysis was useless. Needless to say the crowd was stunned, apart from the noisy "away" contingent which went berserk and yelled their approval at such a good goal. The feeling in the crowd right then was "oh no, here we go again" since Australia had missed several good scoring chances, played really well, then made one bad mistake and had been punished by Argentina who had scored with what was really their first sight of goal. Remarkably reminiscent of the game against Canada ... and of course it was an away goal too. But as the Aussies were soon to prove, all hope was not yet lost.

At the restart the Aussies tried to push forward again, as they had done so well prior to the goal, but nothing seemed to quite come off for them. Throughout most of the match, and especially during this closing period of the first half, the Aussies were guilty of "goal shyness" and would often try to push one pass too many at the edge of the Argentinian box when I felt that a bit of long-range shooting was called for. Sure, if someone is more open than you are then pass to them if you can, but Australia seemed to be taking this a bit too far and wasted several good opportunities where they had great field position. In my opinion, a few long-range shots would have been worth a try; they can often take deflections off fullbacks and can be almost impossible to stop, or they can earn a corner or two. In any case they would have kept the keeper on his toes and the defence in two minds. But this wasn't how it turned out, and ultimately this is where Australia lost any chance of winning the game while they were on top.

However, just as the half was about to end, seemingly in disappointment for the home side, Australia were suddenly level. This was another similarity to the Canada game, since Australia scored in the 44th minute in that game too. This time round it was the 42nd minute, and Australia seems to be developing the habit of scoring near the end of the half. An important time to score it is too, since defenders often relax a bit at that time and a sudden goal right then can be a big psychological blow to the opposition. Anyway, in this particular attacking raid (again up the right), Zelic chipped the ball to Tony Vidmar on the edge of the box, who controlled the ball as it bounced then slipped his marker. As he got to the bye-line his low cross picked out his brother Aurelio, who had moved into a bit of space at the near post, and Aurelio slotted the ball clinically past Goycochea for 1-1. The crowd went wild, and my friends and I were suddenly very glad we had chosen THAT particular end of the ground to sit at ! The Argentinian net wasn't more than 20 or so yards in front of us and we had the best view in the house as the Aussie equalizer sped across the line. In making his brother's goal, Tony Vidmar also instantly redeemed himself for his own goal which decided the Australia-AC Milan game a couple of months ago ... even if I HAD driven 500 miles in the dark to see that game ! :-)

After a few delirious minutes, the crowd settled down and the teams were ready for the restart, with Australia again winning possession and pushing forward until the break, urged on by the now highly-revved up and excited crowd. There were several chances for the Aussies for fashion an opening here and go in with a half-time lead (this would have been a fair reflection of the run of play in the half) instead of behind as they had been just minutes before. But it was not to be, and Argentina played out time until the whistle. 1-1 at the break and the Aussies received a great ovation for their courage which they had displayed at coming back from behind.

After a few unwanted displays of half-time crowd lunacy (some dumb motherf***er from Newcastle [Australia] decided to throw a lit flare into the crowd in front of him, I hope he got busted) the teams made their way out again and were in the process of warming up for the 2nd half when the stadium lights decided to blow. After frantic ground-staff discussions and much crowd laughter, the players trooped off again and the restart of play was eventually delayed by 8 minutes. It seems ironic that ALL the lights are controlled by the one fuse (apparently), and that they can go off in an instant but need several minutes to warm up again once they're switched on. But as this isn't meant to be an electronics lecture, I'll drop that topic for now, suffice to say that the lights did indeed eventually "warm up" and, almost 10 minutes behind schedule, the 2nd half was underway at last.

Argentina had obviously received the proverbial "half-time roasting" job from coach Basile during the break, as they had gone in massive favourites yet been clearly outplayed in the opening stanza. And it was very soon clear to see that the "roasting" (or however it is they cook their meat in Argentina :-)) had worked, as they began to take control of proceedings in a big way. Apart from the failed attempt at saving Balbo's goal, Bosnich had had almost nothing to do in the first half; but this was changing rapidly now. Australia's defenders and midfield were clearly tiring and had the alarming habit of leaving nice big holes up the centre of the park for the Argies to run into - with or without the ball - and the Aussies weren't playing an offside trap either. Seeing as we were now behind the goal guarded by Bosnich, there was now much anxiety as the Argentinians' possession made it seem that a goal was imminent.

In truth the Aussies had several chances to go ahead during the second half, but they were weak chances compared to the Argentinians' and most of them consisted of half-volleyed shots from the edge of the box after bad clearances from Argentina's back four. None of these long-range efforts really went close, although in the very last minute fullback Jason van Blerk shot just over and gave most of us heart palpitations. Aurelio Vidmar also had another chance when he got on the end of a long ball in the box but his attempted flick over the keeper was foiled by Goycochea who made a good fingertip save to concede a corner kick.

However, these were nothing compared to the stuff Argentina turned on in the second period. They were running Australia ragged in midfield and surging forward in numbers, and some of their one-touch passing threatened to tear the home side apart. Not surprisingly, scoring opportunuties were not long in coming, and the whole half was even more frightening considering the fact that the light blue and white wave was constantly moving TOWARDS us. Several long- range shots didn't miss by all that much, then Batistuta was given space and connected with a bicycle kick only 5 yards out, which (fortunately for Australia) he bounced off the ground straight at Bosnich's chest, and he managed to hold on to it. Not long after that one of the Argentine wingers (don't know who) overlapped on the right, made his way past attempted tacklers into the box, and his vicious angled shot was touched round the post by Bosnich, although it MAY have just been missing anyway. In amongst all that lot, too, Argentina won a free kick in "prime time" position for Maradona, about 7 yards outside the box and dead centre, but instead of trying one of his trademark, curling free kicks, he instead tried a little chip shot to one of his forwards who was trying to break into space behind the defensive wall. The Aussies cleared the kick and this chance was also lost.

What made it worse for the Aussies in the second half was that they were trying to be too "cute" or fancy when they had possession in their own half. Several of their cross-field passes just missed being intercepted by wide-open blue and white forwards, making our lives flash before our eyes and bringing to mind on old saying that a lot of Aussie kids seem to claim as their first piece of footballing knowledge: "Never pass across your own goal." Indeed the Aussies were often guilty of playing schoolboy-standard football during the second half, being either caught in possession, giving it away through bad passes, or having most of their attacking options confined to hopeful long balls into the box or up the flanks which never even looked like producing anything. All this while Argentina continued to rampage and things didn't look all that promising.

Fortunately though, the Aussies weathered the storm thanks to Bosnich and our unheralded (and largely unknown by the soccer world) defenders. In particular, Alex Tobin had a fine match and blotted Batistuta almost completely out of the game. Ivanovic and Durakovic, tough Yugoslavian-born stock as their names indicate, were again solid, and apart from being at fault in the one Argentinian goal, had great games and usually managed to mop up in the box when things threatened to get nasty. The Aussie back four is improving every game and proved once again that recent shutouts of forwards of the calibre of Lineker and Papin were no fluke. And, playing in front of the back four, Aussie captain Paul Wade went close to man-of-the-match with his marking job on Maradona which never let up. Wade's marking assignment on Maradona was previewed by the media in the build-up to the game as "the toughest job in world soccer" and, while Diego wasn't at his brilliant best or even particularly dominant during the match, Wade still did extremely well and seldom let his man get away.

In the end the match petered out somewhat as the frenetic pace began to tell on Argentina as well. The final 15 minutes of the match were a bit disappointing, several fouls were committed and a couple of players from each team were yellow- carded, including Maradona in the final minute for dissent. What with a few injuries this period was very stop-start and didn't offer a lot in terms of entertainment value. Aussie coach Eddie Thomson brought on Milwall striker David Mitchell with 15 minutes left to try and inject some life into the team, but unlike the Canada game, this time his entrance failed to do the trick and went largely unnoticed. At the final whistle the feeling was largely one of relief that Australia had managed to stay on level terms. Both teams were given generous rounds of applause before leaving the field, and leg one of the tie was over, with both teams still having everything to play for in Buenos Aires in two and-a-bit weeks' time.

In general, the referee and linesmen had good games, controlling the match well and, apart from one or two questionable "line calls" (ie. which team had a throw in) seemed to make the right decisions. From memory there were only about 2 or 3 offsides the entire game, and virtually no hopeful dives in either penalty area. Actually, the match was much better-tempered than I expected, the few yellow cards coming near the end and due mainly to frustration or tiredness. So, while the ref didn't have (relatively speaking) a real lot to do, he did his job fairly well and was certainly not biased towards either side. Certainly there were none of the controversial decisions whose like have been discussed ad nauseum on this group in the last fortnight.

To sum up, the game was a classic "game of two halves" with the first half belonging to Australia and Argentina having much the better of the second. Both missed a few chances and converted one, so overall I feel 1-1 was a fair result on the day (well, night :-)). And while Argentina have an away goal and must still be favourites to win the tie in Buenos Aires, it would be foolish to write the Aussies off. They are still in there with a big chance and I think may have already surprised a few people round the world with this performance.

Good luck to the Aussies on November 17.

I hope you enjoyed this game review, and hopefully found it reasonably unbiased.

Bye for now,

Tim Hatfield (B Sc)       _--_|\  |"How can you do this to us ? There must be a 
COMPETITION ADMINISTRATOR/      \ | mafia in world football" -- Diego Maradona  \_.--._* | after the deciding penalty was given against    v  | Argentina in the 1990 World Cup Final

written by Tim Hatfield
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