Australia went down by the only goal of the match in a tightly contested game against Turkey at Docklands Stadium in Melbourne on Monday evening - the second match in a two-game friendly series for the inaugural Freedom and Friendship Cup. Nihat Kahveci expertly drove a free-kick high into the Australian net just before the half-time break in a stunning display of power and direction.
Speaking through an interpreter, Turkey coach Ersun Yanal was delighted to have won his first trophy in just his third game in charge, "I'd like to thank the Australian Soccer Association as well as the citizens of Australia of Turkish heritage. We're very pleased to (have) this moment with the Turkish community in Australia. It was great to win, but the most important thing was to learn more about our players and what we can do with them. Our team has the ability to win if they are determined to work towards the one goal together. The Cup is a symbol of this."
It is a good start for Yanal, taking over the reins after the disappointment of Turkey's non-qualification for Euro 2004 after Turkey's magical performances which deservedly earnt third-place in the 2002 World Cup.
Australia coach Frank Farina was also able to draw some positives from the series. "All of us are disappointed with the result, but I felt we played extremely well tonight. We were very solid all over the park (and) created a number of opportunities. If you create that many chances, you've got to be reasonably pleased. You'd like at least one of them to go in, (but) I'd have more concern if we weren't creating chances."
The closeness of the contest illustrates how grievously Australia is mis-ranked in the FIFA schedule. According to FIFA's current list, Turkey is ranked seventh and Australia eighty-two places behind in 89th place. Few would regard FIFA's rankings with much credibility, but this is a travesty. Ranked above Australia are nations recently defeated by the Socceroos, some convincingly on their own turf, in recent years. These include Scotland, South Africa, and - famously - England, with no recent match being played on home soil. There would be few teams outside perhaps the top ten against which Australia could not compete with fair prospects of a victory, and there would be none around Australia's placing which might expect other than a drubbing.
Australia needed to win by two goals or more to win the silverware following its 1-3 loss in the first game in Sydney just three days prior. Despite opening well, and seemingly having the upper hand during the first-half, it was Kahveci's free-kick as the break was imminent which proved the difference. Kahveci had missed the first game because of his late arrival from his Spanish club, Real Sociedad, and it was his combining with Hakan Sukur up front for the Turks which provided the greatest test for the unfamiliar Australian defence.
Sukur was one of only two Turkish players who saw all 180 minutes of match-time - the other being captain Bulent Korkmaz, and the travelling Turkish media sought to know if this was a signal that Yanal was readying himself to cease their international careers of both. "No," said Yanal. "(Sukur and Korkmaz) played (every minute) because they were doing a good job. As a nation we have to treat some of our legends as idols - we have to embrace them. They've achieved everything that they can achieve in Turkish football."
This was a more confident Australia, and - to be fair - one which would not have surprised were it to have won the match such were the number of chances crafted and opportunities available.
Marco Bresciano - returning to the city where he had played his domestic football before becoming the nation's most expensive sportsperson following a transfer to Italian SerieA club Parma - was involved in the greatest number of these opportunities, one as early as the seventh minute after Max Vieri gained possession and crossed from the right. Shortly after, Bresciano chased a long through-ball only to be beaten by the bounce as he attempted a volley to catch the ball as it dropped over his shoulder.
Bresciano made it three within three minutes just before the quarter-hour in a breathtaking start. Running onto a cleverly-played ball from the clubless David Zdrilic on the left, Bresciano sought to place the ball across Turkish goalkeeper Rustu Recber to bend in at the far-post. Recber did well to reach it and gratefully palmed it away.
But just to show how sharp Turkey is, within seconds it had been played to Sukur who was in a promising position and breaking up the inside-left channel and into the penalty-area. Steve Laybutt was chasing, more in hope than in prospect, but his presence was enough to put even the mighty Sukur off and his shot was muffed.
Australia looked to be seeking to spread the play and keep Turkey's formation farther apart than in the first match. From the early moments of the game, Australia played the ball quickly forwards from deep positions. In one such instance, goalkeeper Zeljko Kalac took a quick free-kick outside his penalty-area onto which Zdrilic ran. Zdrilic's cross was battered away at the last for a corner as Vieri lay in wait and ready to convert.
Speaking after the game, stand-in captain Tony Vidmar told of how the new defence had come together during the series. "Friday night was the first time that back-four had played together. (Tonight) we played it more sharply to the midfield and the guys up front," he said. "On Friday night we didn't do that and we made it difficult for the players in front of us."
Midway through the half Sanli Tuncay burst through a square Australia defence onto a carefully-weighted pass. Kalac had to be at his best to save.
The end-to-end nature of the match continued as within a minute Recber was again in scrambled action. Brett Emerton - who was to have a highly physical contest with Ibrahim Uzulmez in an enthralling personal duel until Uzulmez' half-time substitution - sent in a cross from the right to Vieri in a central position. Vieri's header was punched clear by Recber who seemed to prefer to punch throughout his period on the park rather than collect the ball. Josip Skoko was quick on the follow-up with a shot.
Skoko was a key factor in Australia's confident midfield performance, and brought an additional facet to the game knowing as he does the vast majority of the Turkish players from his time with Genclerberligi. Skoko was quickly onto the scene to ensure there was no ill-will whenever there was a clash, and at the end of the game he was warmly embraced by many in the Turkey side.
There was a good mix of physicality, speed, and technical skills throughout the game. This was no end of season exhibition match. Emerton was probably the one whose body was most on the line, and his presence would have been taken note of by Turkey in both games of the series.
With the mid-point of the first-half only just reached, further Australian pressure led to a series of corners. Stan Lazaridis - playing his fiftieth game for the Socceroos, a surprisingly low number for such a key member of the national squad - was instrumental in its genesis. Lazaridis had cleverly set up Vieri up the left, who in turn slipped a ball inside to space for Bresciano. It took a desperate defensive lunge at the last to knock it away for the first of the corners. The Turkish defence failed to adequately deal with them and Vince Grella found himself marginally too far in front of a cross to convert before the ball was scragged away for another corner.
But once again Turkey showed how dangerous it could be on the break. Sukur had been as deadly in possession as when creating space. It required fine defensive judgement from Vidmar to break up a perilous move from Sukur, but Sukur was quickly back in possession after a cross, only to shoot wide.
Australia's best moment yet arose with seven minutes of the half to play. Vince Grella took a free-kick from 26 metres which crashed off the bar. Recber had been well-beaten by its pace, and although he got the faintest of touches, were it marginally lower, it would not have been sufficient to have turned it over.
As the sparse home support in a stated 29,000 attendance started to believe this could be Australia's match, two incidents within a couple of minutes turned the contest. Simon Colosimo, deputising in the unfamiliar position of right-back as he had in Sydney, made a shocking tackle on Kahveci wide on the right and was probably lucky to have seen just the yellow-card proffered by New Zealand referee Derek Rugg.
Although nothing of substance arose directly from that free-kick, in the next passage of play Rugg awarded Turkey another, this one slightly closer and more centrally placed, after Okan Buruk went down following a challenge from Grella. Television replays, not available to the match officials and likely not shown on the stadium's screens, seemed to indicate the only thing that could have caused the Turk to tumble was a blade of grass or a teaspoon-measure of displaced soil striking him on the shin-pad. Despite this, Farina dismissed questions of the legitimacy of the award, "I think it was a foul. (And) it was a foul we didn't have to make."
Kahveci took the free-kick himself and blasted it high into the top corner of the net away from Kalac's despairing left glove.
"That's world-class. It was a wonderful free-kick," said Farina. "Zeljko Kalac was beaten by pure power. You never like to concede a goal, but you've got to take your hat off sometimes for a strike like that."
"Some people are born with the ability," said Kahveci through an interpreter after the match. "But you always have to work at (free-kicks), and this is what I'm doing."
The half-time whistle sounded almost immediately after. It was a harsh way for Australia to have ended a half it had dominated.
Turkey made a quadruple-change at the start of the second half. Swapped were Recber in goal for Volkan Demirel, as well as two from Turkey's left defensive ranks. Buruk, who had fetched and carried behind Kahveci and Sukur, also departed to be replaced by Fatih Akyel.
Australia's first change was not made until just after the hour when strikers Vieri and Zdrilic were replaced by Mile Sterjovski and Ante Milicic.
"Max (Vieri) made an immediate impact on Friday when he came on," said Farina. "Max is very competitive, he looked really sharp tonight. He and David (Zdrilic) got through a lot of work and tired towards the end. He did a fantastic job for us tonight. He showed that he can hold the ball up, and (that) he can make runs into deeper positions and compete with the best."
But two more good chances for Australia had arisen before the double-change. Vieri had a sharp chance which required a blocking save from Demirel, and shortly afterwards, Grella played Bresciano clear through. Bresciano was able to chest the ball down but his left-foot shot on the volley went wastefully wide.
Steve Laybutt - a player whose form has been remarkably improved following his period in Belgium for Royal Excelsior - was nominally a centre-back in the selection, but managed to see a header cleared off the Turkish line by Korkmaz with Demirel totally stranded. Laybutt had linked up for set-pieces and corners earlier in the game, but had never before found himself so ill-attended.
Farina made another double change with ten minutes remaining. Colosimo was belatedly exchanged for Jade North and Emerton replaced by Ahmad Elrich. Colosimo had offended with two subsequent badly-timed challenges following his first-half caution, either of which would have produced a second yellow from a less forgiving referee.
As the game's final minutes were entered, Milicic showed he was not outclassed at this level by slipping a ball inside for Bresciano. Bresciano's shot was deflected wide.
In the last minute, the cruel fate of Australia conceding a second goal was only just escaped. Kahveci took a free-kick playing the ball into the penalty-area. Substitute Seyhan Tolga rose with Vidmar in an aerial challenge. It was Vidmar's head that made the more positive connection, but insufficient to change its goalwards direction. Vidmar, and the Australia fans, were relieved to see the ball crash onto the bar.
"(Restricting the Turks) to one goal and a minimal amount of chances (showed) the defence did really well," said Vidmar after the game. Not only the defence - the midfielders and the attackers, because we made the line from defence to the strikers as small as we could to restrict their play."
"The tactics we employed tonight worked very well for us," said Farina. "We had bodies around the ball all the time when we didn't have possession. And when we could get turn-over we were going to get opportunities to go forward."