Smith: Crafting Asian Cup success

Former Socceroos technical manager Ron Smith says more games and training camps in the next six months are crucial for Australia’s chances of doing well at the upcoming Asian Cup.

Smith, who recently joined Brisbane Roar as an assistant coach, said improving the Socceroos’ collective defensive effort should be a top priority.

“The fact is that [at the World Cup] we played an attacking style of play rather than adopting a defensive approach with sporadic counter attacks, like Iran did as an example,” he said.  

“Ange has made it clear that he believes in being positive in the approach to the way we will play in the future and that's the philosophy.  While we pressed our opponents and took the game to them and had some good periods in every game, we conceded nine goals and scored two in open play.

“On the surface it's easy to say we need to improve our defending and score more goals, simplistic assessment but reasonably accurate. We have three FIFA dates between now and January, which might provide six matches and possibly twelve - fourteen days for quality training sessions spread over September to November.  

“International football is fraught with problems, least of which is players getting injured playing for their clubs and coming in to camp unable to train for a few days or unable to play, in which case they don't come in.  The latter situation opens the door for other players to be considered so there is always a positive aspect.”

Smith, who previously has held several different coaching roles with the Socceroos and served as head coach of the AIS’s football program, said the effort in defence can be translated into success in attack.

“I think it's easier to improve the defensive aspect of play because you don't have to worry about ball techniques,” he said.

“Defending is a collective effort, which involves a lot of decision making, judgement and techniques; I'm not saying it's easy to do but it's easier than improving attacking play.

“The real challenge is defending quickly and effectively in transition because the more you commit to attack, generally the more vulnerable you are when you lose the ball, so it's a bit of a gamble. Successful teams are usually better at keeping the ball and will commit to attack in large numbers as Spain did against us.  

“We had our best spells in the game when our players were more compact in an attacking sense and able to transition quickly when we regained possession of the ball, but as the game progressed we tired and so the quality of our play suffered.  

“We also had problems dealing with the pressure that Spain applied when they lost the ball in the attacking third of the field, where they could press quickly in numbers and often regained the ball because they were the better team.”

The Asian Cup begins in Australia in January and the Socceroos have been grouped with South Korea, Oman and Kuwait. Smith believes a number of Asian teams will arrive with the tournament with better preparation than the Socceroos.

“Being ranked as a better team is relative to how you rate your opponents,” the former Perth Glory and Pahang FA head coach said.  

“The standard of opposition in the Asia Cup will not be as strong as in the World Cup, I think that is fair to say.  It won't be easy, in fact I think it will be tougher than a lot of people think it will be but we will rank ourselves higher than we did at the World Cup.

“I think this way because most of the Asian countries have more opportunities than we do to get the players together for preparation camps, they can play more matches and come into a tournament off the back of several weeks together and plenty of games.  

“As an example, when we played Oman in the World Cup qualifier in March 2013 they had played five or six matches for the Gulf Cup and been together as a squad for two months.

“Other countries, Japan and Korea for example will have problems getting access to their players but most of them will be playing in top leagues in Europe, so obviously they will be very difficult opponents as normal.

“Our opportunity to improve as a team revolves around the collective work with the squad and the matches we play between September and November and the desire and willingness of individuals to improve aspects of their game while in their respective clubs.  That is the most difficult, for a number of reasons but ultimately our success might depend on it.”