World Cup warm-up preview: Australia v Croatia
With Luke Wilkshire and Josh Kennedy ruled out the Socceroos squad is looking more inexperienced than a nun on Snapchat.
Standing in front of Ange Postecoglou’s young team this Saturday morning will be a young nation already steeped in footballing tradition, having reached the quarter finals at Euro ‘96 and ‘08 and finishing third at France ‘98.
Their squad boasts some enviable talent, with a strength in depth up front that few squads at the World Cup can match - from Bayern Munich hitman Mario Mandzukic and Wolfsburg’s Ivica Olic to the quietly effective Nikica Jelvic and enigmatic Brazilian-born ex-Gunner Eduardo.
And that’s not to mention diminutive maestro Luka Modric pulling the strings in midfield.
In short, it is a team brimming with international experience and solid squad players. In many ways it will be the perfect final warm up and Postecoglou’s men will get a taste of exactly what it means to play World Cup football.
That said, we believe the Socceroos can make inroads and find success, but if they are to do so these are the key battles they need to win:
Socceroos midfield vs Luka Modric
If there’s one thing the Socceroos midfield has going for it, it is stamina. It’s got more engines than Top Gear, more legs than a prosthetics warehouse. And against the Real Madrid genius, it’ll need all eight of them.
Some in the sport think man-to-man marking is undignified - Andrea Pirlo famously called Alex Ferguson’s use of the tactic “shabby” after the United manager appended Ji Sung Park to the Italian’s backside in United’s clashes against PSV and AC Milan.
But given that Modric is the linchpin of this Croatian side, Postecoglou will surely need to employ the same tactic if he’s expecting to get anything out of this game.
In captain Mile Jedinak Postecoglou has a ready-made candidate for the job. Jedinak spent the season at Crystal Palace as Tony Pulis’s enforcer, a demanding role if ever there was one. If he can do a job the Socceroos have the beginning of a chance.
Tommy Oar and Mathew Leckie
Croatia’s defence is formidably experienced but it lacks pace, and in Socceroos Tommy Oar, Mathew Leckie and Ben Halloran Australia has some of the fastest players going.
Much depends on where Niko Kovac intends to play Vedran Corluka. The ex-Man City man was famously exposed during his time in the EPL for his chronic lack of speed, something the Aussie wings should be looking to exploit.
Oar will need to fight his instinct to cut inside, which, while effective against South Africa, is unlikely to provide similar cut-through against a fitter midfield and experienced centre halves.
Should Corluka play at centre half the Socceroos can afford to try a more direct game through the centre, with Cahill dropping into a classic number 10 position and looking to play Leckie or Oar in behind.
Australia’s young centre-backs stepping up
Of all the areas of concern for the Socceroos their defence is number one, two, three and four (and their keeper is probably five).
With the majority of players in their mid and early 20s and none of them playing week-in week-out in elite competitions it’s hard to see how they’ll cope against an attack as potent as Croatia.
However the Socceroos have an enviable habit of playing above themselves at international level.
Likely centre-halves Matthew Spiranovic, Alex Wilkinson and Ryan Gowan, will need to build an understanding quickly, in order to marshal the high line Postecoglou should demand in order to limit the space Modric has to work in and Jedinak has to stalk.
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