China 0 - Australia 0

If Australia's move into the Asian confederation 51 months ago promised high pressure, competitive and crucial games, often, then that's exactly what our first world cup qualifier on the road, in Asia, delivered.

Make no mistake, this evening's scoreless draw in Kunming was a fantastic result for the Socceroos, especially after all the adversity that has struck Pim Verbeek and his team over the past week or so.

Elevated 1900 metres above sea-level, bereft of half a team of certain starters and at least the same amount of fringe starters, restricted to a two day preperation, struck down by a stomach bug on the eve of the game, losing one of only two strikers 10 minutes into the match, coping a penalty with three minutes left, the miracle is the Socceroos came out of it with a precious point that could prove so crucial in the final wash-up of this phase of qualifiers.

Two games, a win at home, a draw away, four points, two clean sheets; so far so beautiful for Verbeek and his men, even with all the logistical hurdles since he was belatedly made manager.

Throughout it he has been a model of calm and composure, keeping his inner-most thoughts close to home and invariably pulling the right moves.

Now Australia is on-side, and the Australian football establishment is warming to him mojo, slowly but surely.

Little doubt his players have been on board since day one, and this was another outstanding performance from a bunch of men who not only played with the pride that is trademark of the green and gold, but with the brains we haven't always associated with Australian footballers.

This is why a man of Verbeek's football know-how is critical to a nation still learning to compete consistently at this level.

Here he pulled yet an another surprise, starting with a back five and playing with two recognised holding midfielders in Grella and Valeri, three if you add the slightly more advanced Culina, five if you factor in the two front-men, Bresciano and a combination of Thompson and Holman.

As Verbeek point-out post match, the workrate of the front three was incredible. They were on the pitch as much to defend as they were to attack.

It was a team built to defend, sustain possession, keep the ball on the deck and press sporadically. No Viduka, no Aloisi, no Kennedy and no Djite, there was no natural holding target up top, so mobility became the modus operandi.

The logic behind the back three was explained pre-match; he was expecting from China many long balls, thus many second balls, thus hoping the numbers at the back would be enough pick up the second balls. No doubt the fact both Carney and Wilkshire aren't natural fullbacks (Carney looked particualrly fallible early on) also played a part in the thought-process.

It all made sense.

More importantly, it all worked, helped in no small part by the conservative approach of the hosts, who basically cancelled out of the Socceroos with a similar template; defend first, attack second.

Watching it, I couldn't help but think Petrovic was playing for second in the group and banking on knocking off Iraq at home (after drawing away on matchday 1) and hoping the Socceroos will knock off the Asian champions twice. Who knows, that might be exactly how it plays out, but Petrovic mightn't be around to fulfill it.

If the opposition are already thinking about second place, than Verbeek and his men have inflicted an early psychological blow.

Here they took control early, knocking the ball around at the back, intelligently moving it through the twin Italian screeners, 'Vinnie and mini-Vinnie'. Most of the passing was very easy on the eye, the occasional ball over-hit as it invariably took-off in the high-altitude.

Problem was there was no-one at the pointy end to keep it. The idea was to pinch something, and it so nearly happened when Holman went around Feng Xiaoting (#4) and squared it for Bresciano, who was brilliantly denied by the alert Zeng Lei.

Australia was in control, but suddenly, about 10 minutes before the break, China had a good period, the skipper Zheng Zhi (#10) then the lively Zhu Ting (#13) mis-hitting two of those second ball chances Verbeek had spoken of before the game. China's reputation for melting in front of goal was intact.

After the break, the Socceroos remained in control and it wasn't until pacey striker Qu Bo (#11) was introduced for Han Peng (#9) with 15 minutes left that China started to get in among things.

First he volleyed another one of those second balls, forcing Schwarzer to get down quickly. A few minutes later the two were back at it, Schwarzer hesitating as he came out for a long ball and paying a big price.

UAE referee Al Saedi, who had earlier allowed Sun Jihai (#17) to get away with a terrible two-footed lunge on Wilkshire, punished Schwarzer for his hesitation and all the Socceroos hard work looked like it was for nothing. As the keeper said afterwards, to lose would have been a "disaster", a massive mental blow.

Anyway, the big man stayed up for as long as possible, left his feet behind and got lucky, the ball falling into his arms.

Could the Roos punish the host and apply the knock-out? Almost. Deep into injury time Culina found Bresciano in space, inside the box, a rarity. Carney, who had started the attack, lumbered into the box and should have been on the end of it, but left wingback, Sun Xiang (#3), one of the host's best, came from nowhere and applied enough pressure.

0-0 it ended, a fair result.

The Socceroos had many heros, but Jade North continued his graduation into a fully-fledged Roo with a composed display. Ditto Valeri and Holman, who also proved they can do the job required. Valeri was a monster in defence and very constructive on the ball, while Holman, confidence up thanks his recent goals in the Eredivise, worked and probed and looked Australia's most likely.

Alongside Valeri, Grella proved he can play in Asia. Perhaps it was the more coolish temperatures at 1900 metres.

There was hardly a poor Australian player, and they can now focus on a double-header against Iraq which should go a long way to deciding top spot, especially if the Iraqis do the job in Qatar tomorrow morning.

By then, who knows who will be in the Socceroos mix, but with Pim around, pulling the strings, it's looking ok. Bravo.

written by Tony Tannous on The Roundball Analyst