Australia has won the second leg of the OFC Nations Cup final 6-0 at Aussie Stadium (SFS) Sydney in front of 19,208 fans on a balmy Spring evening. Australia thus also qualifies for the Confederations Cup In Germany (15-29 June 2005) as Oceania's representative. The Socceroos raced to a two goal lead by the 8th minute mark, but it was not until late in the 2nd half that the score line soared.
The Qantas Socceroos had secured a convincing 5-1 victory over the Solomon Islands in the first leg of the Oceania Nations Cup Final played in Honiara on Saturday in the first of the two-match final series. The final doubles as the qualifier for the 2005 FIFA Confederations Cup. Saturday's away game was played in extreme heat and the conditions tonight, though quite warm, were much more conducive to good football.
Australia started out playing the ball around but in the 3rd minute Solomon's Batrum Suri got up on the left side of the field past his defender, after a move that had suspected 'hand assist' all over it, however he screwed his shot wide across goal to the right.
In the 5th minute, from a corner on the right, Harry Kewell played the ball to Josip Skoko who laid it off to Brett Emerton. Emerton swung the ball in an arc over the defence to a lurking Ante Milicic in the goal area on the left. The newly signed Sydney United striker touched it past the keeper and into the right side of the net.
Australia raced to a two-goal lead, and 7-1 on aggregate, when in the 8th minute a long ball over the goal area found Tony Popovic up field and his header picked out Kewell free in the area. The Liverpool star placed the ball easily past the exposed goalkeeper, Ray Felix. The game looked like it may be a rout but as the Socceroos relaxed they dropped possession and although the Solomon's couldn't make any penetration themselves they repeatedly stymied forward moves by Australia.
In the 13th minute Alick Mamae got into range on the left but his wayward shot went into the side netting. Australia seemed to take their foot off the pedal at this stage and turned over more possession that most of us would be comfortable with under renewed defensive vigour by the islanders.
A nice move for Australia in the 24th minute when Emerton passed the ball square, Milicic dummied, and Colosimo unleashed a shot from 25m only to see it go wide. One minute later Emerton again took a corner but it flew over the penalty area out of reach of 'keeper and attackers. In the 26th minute Milicic swept past defenders on the left, and his cross found Skoko. The Turkey based midfielder shot, and blocked the rebound fell to Emerton but his shot was wide.
In the 32nd minute Kewell sent a great ball down the right for Skoko, but his cross was poor. Nevertheless Australia were cranking up their possession rate.
In the 37th minute a rare foray by the Solomons, when Batrum Suri found space on the left, but the ball ran away from him. In the 40th minute an overhit ball from Emerton across field was recued by Skoko and placed onto Kewell's head. Perhaps tiring, his free header went off-target.
In the 48th minute a through ball was played to half time substitute Archie Thompson but the 'keeper was quick to close him down. From the Solomon Islands first corner two minutes later Socceroo goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer sent Thompson away with a long clearance but the Lierse (Belgium) striker lobbed the goalkeeper and the goal.
In the 53rd minute the Solomons got a long ball into the area for a running Mamae, whose cheeky deft flick wrong footed the defender but he could only force a corner kick.
The 3rd goal didn't come until the second half when in the 59th minute, from a corner by Emerton on the right, the ball sailed into the box and the keeper couldn't reach it, however Wynnum Wolves (QLD) midfielder Joel Konofilia headed another Emerton corner straight into Tony Vidmar's path. The ball rebounded from him and into the net for his third A-International goal in 65 games. The 34 year old Cardiff City defender is now the third most 'A' capped Socceroo player ever, having passed legend Peter Wilson in this series. He is also the longest serving with 13 years 249 days (debut v. Czechoslavakia 6/2/92).
The 4th goal came in the 78th minute. A solid and typical weaving run by Emerton ended with a strong push of the ball through the defence. Archie Thompson, with his first cap since the WCQ in Coffs Harbour in April 2001, looked to be outpaced by the ball. Somehow he caught up and slotted the ball past the keeper.
In the 80th minute Emerton crossed to Milicic but his snap shot went over the bar.
The fifth goal saw substitute Ahmad Elrich make a surging run up on the left and as he closed on goal he deftly steered the ball past an advancing Felix Ray at the 81st minute mark.
Emerton, who deserved more, scored the sixth and final goal in the 88th minute. Good lead up play by evergreen Ante Milicic who received a perhaps lucky ball over the defence. As he entered the goal area on the left side he played a square ball to the surging Blackburn Rovers midfielder whose side-footed shot was well struck.
The final score line of 6-0 and aggregate of 11-1 reflected the Socceroos dominance and their attacking formation, however the tempo of the game was slow, with no overwhelming pressure brought to bear on our defence. The young midfield did well but was not tested. Shooting was still generally delayed for an easier location.
The Solomon Islands started with a 4-4-2 formation, with experienced players Batrum Suri and Commins Menapi (formerly of Sydney United but now with YoungHeart Manawatu in the NZ National League) up front. Australia introduced Harry Kewell into the new formation option of 4-3-3 and his cameo appearance lasted for just 45 minutes and yielded one goal. Looking tentative and not willing to risk heavy tackling he danced around the Solomon's players however receiving a slight knock he did not re-appear after half time.
In fact this appearance, his first in Australia since the Uruguay game at the MCG in November 2001, along with the sensible ticket pricing, contributed to the good and vocal crowd of 19,208. There were problems with organisation as many of the strong 'walk-up' crowd were caught in traffic as parking arrangements were tested and milled around outside trying to get tickets. How many went home without boosting the numbers is not known.
Australian coach Frank Farina said after the game, "I was pleased as I thought they carried on with it in the second half. The three guys that came on added a lot of spark." Asked about the depth of his squad, given the number of injury related withdrawals, he said that this could happen at any time before games that matter, he had to be prepared for it. "I was thrilled with the performance of the younger players over the two games." "I'd be surprised if you don't see a few more in coming games". Australian senior men's coach since 1999 Farina is now second in the number of Socceroo games coached at 'A' level with 50 games, beaten only by the late Eddie Thomson.
After having failed the last two times the Socceroos will now travel to Germany over 15-29 June 2005 to compete in their third Confederations Cup, where they will meet Greece, Brasil (seeded) , Argentina, Tunisia, Japan, Mexico and the hosts (seeded). The draw is scheduled to take place in Frankfurt on 1 November this year. This will be excellent competition and help build the squad with the World Cup Qualifiers late in 2005 in mind. The Solomon Islands will have to meet Australia again over two legs in September 2005 for the right to play-off versus the 5th placed South American country.
Unable financially to maintain English coach Alan Gillett, having extended his contract from May to this series, the Solomon Islands will have to start over. Nevertheless the experience of playing Australia three times already will remain with their key players.
The Socceroos next scheduled games are v. Norway in November 2004, and v. South Africa in February 2005. Neither will be played in Australia.
written by Chris Dunkerley