Australia 0 - Kuwait 1

Kuwait took one big step towards qualification for the AFC Asian Cup 2011 when they defeated Australia 1-0 in Canberra on a cool Thursday night with just over 20,000 looking on.

In front of the record crowd for an International football match involving Australia in the Nation's capital, the A-League composite were out-played and out-thought by a team which had come on a mission.

The result leapfrogs Kuwait over Australia and Indonesia into second place in Group B, behind fellow middle-East contenders, Oman with Indonesia third and Australia in the unenviable position of holding up the group.

Yet, it was not the fact that the fancied Australians lost through a counter-attack, but that the Kuwait team deserved the result and had more of the opportunities in front of goal, and if it was not through lack of composure, they could have doubled, or even tripled the scoreline.

The match also displayed the fact that the Australians were ill-prepared for such an encounter, some of the players having only two or three days of training with their team-mates prior to the game. The Kuwait team had a week's camp in New Zealand with games the previous week against Oceania Champions League clubs Auckland City and Waitakere United.

"I thought we learnt from our mistakes when we played in New Zealand,' said Assistant coach AbdulAziz Hamada. It certainly showed that Kuwait were the team who played as a team and not as individuals trying to play as a team.

This is a superb result for the young Kuwait coach, Goran Tufegdzic. The Serbian-born coach, a graduate in sports management, took over the position from his mentor Mohamed Ibrahim, having been Ibrahim's assistant for four years. The game was his first test, one he passed with flying colours.

Unfortunately for the coach, he has to wait until the next round in November for the next round. 'Our plan is to get more motivation for the next match,' he said. 'Our team came here to try to make a good result. They did what I want on the field and a little lucky the result came for us.'

The play commenced with Australia slowly moving the ball around the defence prior to launching forays, mostly with long balls towards the head of Matthew Simon. Yet, it was Kuwait who really pushed forward, and more so with midfielder Talal Alamer. Alamer took four shots within a five minute period early in the game.

None were on target, yet the first real chance also fell to Kuwait. Following a poor decision by captain Craig Moore in passing to an opponent while in his own third, Hamad Alenezi sent a fierce drive that Australian goalkeeper, Eugen Galekovic could only parry for a corner kick.

While Australia appeared to be struggling at the defesive end, it was the frailties of their attacking prowess that was undeniably exposed as a clear pair of chances, delivered by a goalkeeping error from Nawaf Alkhaldi, were not taken advantage of. First Archie Thompson watched as his attempt was cleared off the line and then the follow-up by Tomislav Pondeljak rebounded back into play from the left upright.

That was to be Australia's one real chance, for the whole game. 'The thing you have to do is score early, because they have to open up and try to score,' stated Australian coach Pim Verbeek. 'We had that chance with Archie and Tom.'

Then with ten minutes left in the half, Kuwait struck the body blow that would break the hearts of all in the huge crowd. A free kick from the left by Bader Almotawa floated into the six-yeard box. With Galekovic firmly stuck on his line and Daniel Mullen too slow off the block, defender and ex-professional player Mesaed Alenzi snuck in front of the defender and glanced the ball past the stranded keeper.

The shock from going a goal down saw the Australians dumbfounded and for the remainder of the half, they could only muster a single semblance of a shot, a Tom Pondeljak attempt that went through Matt Simon's legs before being gobbled up by Alhaldhi.

Stern words must have been the commentary from the dressing room, a room without Pim Verbeek, who was serving the second match of his suspension. Yes, Graham Arnold was actually in charge of this shambles. To have Pim face the media at the end, just shows how composed the man is.

The giant awoke and the Australians came out the stronger following the break and keener to score. Craig Moore had the first, at what can be attributed to the log of half-attempts, when he stooped down low send a looping header, from a Matthew McKay corner, into the outreached arms of Alhaldhi.

Kuwait were happy to sit back and absorb the pressure and then break out for the counter. Make that explode for the counter, such was their threat from this type of attack. The opportunites they generated to improve on the scoreline were far better than anything Australia could muster at the other end.

By the 60th minute all hope was lost, leadership went out the window, and long balls were the play of the day. Just hoof another ball towards the forward. 'After they went to long ball in the second half we tried to play a zone defence gathering up the second ball,' Hamada explained after the game, and that tactic worked a charm as nearly all of Australia's balls were dealt with easily by the Kuwait defence.

It was the group of their speedy and skillfull forwards that was putting on a show for the spectators. Jumah, Alenezi and Almotawa were causing no end of headaches for the defence, one that was becoming smaller as the game went on and more Australians were sent forward.

Almotawa should have done better on the hour. He received a ball near the half-way and ventured forward with the speed and determination of a cheetah chasing a stray antelope. He slid through the defence and when, on the edge of the box, composure was requred, he skied his shot, not even bringing Galekovic into action.

Alenezi was replaced by Khaled Matar with twenty minutes to go, and the speedy tall forward enjoyed the freedom in attack, opening up numerous holes in the pourous defence and generating chance after chance.

In the meantime, Australia's forwards made a few forays in an attempt to appease the now restless crowd, one that was more interested in the Mexican wave than what was transpiring on the field. Both Archie Thompson and Matthew Simon had far post headers, but neither found the target.

For the remainder of the game, Australia generated a rare poke at, or near, the target, but nothing that caused any concerns for the Kuwait keeper. At the other end, only a few inches separated Kuwait from doubling the scoreline. Matar played a wall pass with Almotowa and watched in pain as his shot, across Galekovic's goal, rebounded back of the far post, returning the ball from whence it came, where a matter of centimeters closer to goal and it would have rebounded into the goal.

The Australians had little to express delight over during the period and the crowd were only enthused when Alenezi was booked for taking a theatrical dive in the penalty area. The referee, correctly awarded the attacker a ten and presented him with a caution for his efforts.

So, what went wrong in this game for the favourite Australian team? That will be a question that journalists and average punters will be discussing over the water-coolers of many an office during the days that follow this debacle.

Verbeek, was very calm at the press conference. 'I am very disappointed because I think we can play much better than we did tonight. It was a qualification, so we wanted to win, especially at home because there were 20,000 people and the field and atmosphere was fantastic.

'But we did not deserve to win the game. Kuwait, defensively they did very well, were organised well, very compact and did not give us any space.

'We had to play with fast, eyeball speed and make quick decisions and we were not doing that.

'The first half the players felt it was too easy, with not a lot of emotion,' Verbeek summarsied. Then came the second period and it got worse. 'In the second we played with too much emotion, and lost organisation. So things like that we have to improve.

'I think in the second half we played with out hearts more than our head, which is understandable as we have a lot of young players. It is their first big international so we do not blame them for that.

'We can understand that we have to improve that. You have to stay in organisation, you have to make chances and you have to take chances and not start to get impatient.'

Yet, there were underlying problems in Australia's demise, two which were highly significant, and neither of these could be placed in the hands of Verbeek or Arnold.

The first lay in the inability to send a quality ball into the penalty area. Without the service, the taller Australians, at set pieces, were just pawns watching the better pieces easily move around them and take charge. It was extremely rare, if at all, that a cross generated a real, instead of occasional half-chance.

Yet, more important, and we see this through Verbeek's comments as well, was the fact that there was little or no leadership on the field. Whether there was too much raw enthusiasm that the likes of Moore and the extremely quiet Archie Thompsoncould not control, is a question worth debating. Yet, when experience was needed, all these two could do was give the ball away, and not show any semblance of the required leadership.

This has to be a more serious concern for Verbeek and he tries to recover from the mess that transpired on the deathbed they call Canberra Stadium. It was here that the Matildas, Australia's women's team was thumped 5-1 by Italy only a month before.

Fortunately for Verbeek, there are eight months before the hosting of Oman and an attempt to right the ship, one that may not see Australia in the finals of AFC Asian Cup 2011.

written by Nick Guoth