In terms of a football match Australia v New Zealand is hardly the pinnacle of the sport. However it is the intense rivalry between neighbouring countries which bring such matches meaning. You have England and Scotland, Germany and the Netherlands, India and Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay...you get the picture. Well so it is here Australia v New Zealand, so it was something of an anti-climax when this match petered out into what it became. Dull.
The early match finished 1-0 to the South Koreans over Norway, Kim Do Hoon scoring in the 56th minute by deflecting a cross past the keeper. This match was expected to bring more goals and in the early minutes it looked as if it was to deliver them. Terry Venables had been espousing a more attacking approach by naming a 1-5-2-1-2 formation with the two wing backs licence to roam the length of the pitch. In the past a 1-5-4-1 was more common. The problem with the change in philosophy is that most of the players in the squad were not used to it and while they started well they fell back into old habits later on.
The game started brightly for Australia in more ways than one. As is the case these days a new kit for the 1998 World Cup campaign was unveiled at this game. The Adidas gear still relies on the green and gold principle but given these colours to work with the design is an improvement on the other shirts. David Zdrilic managed a shot in the first minute of the game, one of the few that would be on target for him (or indeed the Socceroos overall) that night. No problem for Batty.
After a very smooth passing movement by Australia Matthew Bingely tried his luck from outside the penalty area, the shot spooning over the goal handsomely it was forgiveable in the early stages. New Zealand on the other hand relied on long balls into the forward area as their main means of attack though Coveny's pace down the right flank was also a concern. However most Kiwi moves ended with high crosses into the area which were gratefully caught by Kalac.
A long ball by Trajanovski (well we can do it too) found Genc out wide on the left and the cross was lobbed superbly to the back post where Trimboli had his header on goal blocked by Batty, Craig Foster followed up the move with a shot of his own which was pushed onto the crossbar by Batty who had recovered quickly. The shot cannoned off the bar and behind for a corner.
By the 10th minute New Zealand had still not had a shot on goal, whatever attacking move they had made was either intercepted at the last moment or completely fluffed by the Kiwis. At this stage Australia seemed to be humming along with their new philosophy of attacking and flowing football and only wayward finishing had been in the path of a lead, though credit must also go to Jason Batty who his coach had described "as good as Mark Bosnich".
After an Ivanovic pass to Trajanovski, brilliantly springing the offside trap, a cross came in and both Trimboli and Zdrilic failed to put Batty to the test again. This is not the way a striker is meant to impress the new coach. Seconds later another Trajanovski cross was finally put on target by Trimboli but again Batty was in the way.
By this stage Aytek Genc was limping and Luke Casserly came on to replace him and while there's nothing particularly wrong with Luke one does feel that Genc managed to be a more threatening player in the 10 minutes he was there than Casserly for the remaining 80 minutes.
Just on 20 minutes Paul Trimboli laid off a ball for Robbie Hooker to launch one at goal and if it were not for Kris Trajanovski who was not only offside but also ducked to avoid the ball and had it ricochet out for a goal kick off his back there might have been a goal for Australia then.
When Alex Tobin fouled Mark Burton on the right another one of those aimless longballs into the centre was caught by Kalac who then threw the ball to Trajanovski near the halfway line. Very Schmeichelesque. Trajanovski then kept the fast break going by passing the ball to Matthew Bingley who, along with 2 other players, were streaming down the middle and the pass caught the Kiwi defence flat. Bingley rounded the keeper and pushed the ball into the net for the long awaited goal.
The first Kiwi shot on goal came on the half hour mark when Zoricich was realeased dwon the right side and this time the cross was met by Simon Elliotts head and Kalac made a save. It was enough to rouse a Kiwi chant from their supporters in the crowd. A few minutes before halftime Michael McGarry limped off just as Aytek Genc had for Australia 25 minutes before.
Simon Elliott had New Zealands second shot on goal as well as he skirted the penalty box and finally took a shot which Kalac took without having to move either way. He was decidedly less pleased when soon after the Australian defence seemed to be playing with a medicine ball which just wouldn't leave the penalty area which left first Coveny with a shot at goal stopped only by Kalac's legs and the follow up from that man Elliott whose awkward shot was narrowly wide of the far post.
Darren McClennan managed to beat the offside trap but was marginally later to the ball than Kalac just before the end of the half and nothing came of it. I mention this because Australia were now being caught offside with frightening regularity, it was darkly reminiscent of their match against Tahiti two months previously.
Trajanovski, Bingley, Foster air-shot. McClennan through the middle, Kalac has to make a good save and then McClennan gets a second go which he snatches at and puts well over the bar. You notice the difference? Australia are not forcing the save and New Zealand are. You can't get a goal from a shot destined for the moon, or failing to kick the ball altogether. Simple stuff really, simple enough even for me to understand. So it was that the highlights of the second half consisted of substitutions and a sure sign of the dullness of the game was the frequent crowd shots of pleasingly noteworthy women in the audience. It's still very much a guy sport :-)
Australia were reduced to 10 men briefly with about 15 minutes to go when Alex Tobin required treatment for a cut above the right eye, he was replaced when it was decided it was not worth him going back on. I feel inclined to say that in the end it was fairly pointless for any of the players to be on the pitch. Brief moments of enterprise for both sides interspersed with long boring and most notably aimless play was not what people had hoped to see and Terry Venables mentioned as much after the game when he said "the last thing you learn is the first thing you forget" in respect of the way Australia started to play as compared to how they finished playing. Credit for New Zealand for making a game of it after halftime but in all honesty Australia should have won the game by then. David Zdrilic was virtually unseen during the game and a series of blazing misses by a number of players have shown that Australia's achilles heel is, was and remains the quality of the strikers. No good playing 3 of the buggers when they all suck, the only goal from a bloody defender. Give Australia a Klinsmann, a Lineker, a Romario, a Suker well there'd be no stopping us.