Australia fires head coach, but problems likely to persist

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Let’s consider the implications of this tweet from Tim Cahill:

[tweet https://twitter.com/Tim_Cahill/status/388812875315572737 width=280]

That was the Australian international reacting to news his national team had fired their head coach, Holger Osieck. The German boss had steered the Socceroos through Asian World Cup Qualifying but had also been at the helm to two straight 6-0 defeats (to Brazil and France). After Friday’s thrashing, the former Fenerbahçe, Urawa Red Diamonds, and Canadian national team boss was dismissed ahead of a Tuesday friendly against the Canucks.

The decision wasn’t much of a surprise. Holger was asked about the possibility in Paris after the latest loss, ultimately admitting the lopsided results provided “food for discussion.” On Australian television, former Australian international Mark Bosnich said “Holger would do the right thing” and “walk away,” while Robbie Slater, another former Socceroo said “[the Football Federation Australia] need to sack him.”

But back to Cahill’s tweet – a piece of loyal if contrarian sentiment. One implication would be anything that happens on the field after Australia qualifies for a World Cup should be overlooked, a slightly paradoxical sentiment considering the team was disappointed not to have made it out of their group in South Africa. Aspiring to contend for a final 16 spot in Brazil, Australia’s form over the next eight months is fair game. That they’ve been demolished by two likely World Cup teams (France has yet to qualify) hints the team’s not ready to match their federation’s ambition.

Which, as it turns out, is exactly why the FFA let him go:

The FFA Chairman Frank Lowy AC said the long-term interests of Australian football were paramount in making the change.

“The decision is based on the longer term issues of the rejuvenation of the Socceroos team and the preparations for the World Cup and the Asian Cup,” said Lowy.

“FFA has set a strategic objective of having a highly competitive team in Brazil and then handing over a team capable of winning the Asian Cup on home soil in January 2015.

“We have come to the conclusion that change is necessary to meet those objectives.

It’s difficult to argue Australia was on a path to be “highly competitive” in Brazil. Thus, Osieck was let go, though by that standard, it’s unclear why he lasted this long.

In the 2010 cycle, Australia — debuting in Asian qualifying — surprised many by breezing through qualifying. Under Guus Hiddink disciple Pim Verbeek, the Socceroos won six and drew two in eight final round qualifiers, finishing five points ahead of Japan in Asia’s group A. For a team that was taking a huge step up in competition, moving to the confederation from Oceania, it was an unexpectedly dominant performance. In those final eight games, they only conceded once.

There was something strange about their run, though – something that needed to be corrected before this cycle. In moving to Asia, Australia brought a new, physical, direct style to the region characterized by that’s come to be dominated by Japan and South Korea’s combination of acumen, technique, fitness, and speed. Perhaps underestimating what Australia brought, Asia failed to adjust, a naivete that was unlikely to last beyond a single cycle.

This time around, Australia won only three of their eight final round qualifiers, finishing four points behind Japan. Thanks to four draws (and only one loss), they beat Jordan to Group B’s second automatic qualifying spot, but having allowed seven goals in eight games, their dominance was clearly over. Teams had adjusted.

source: Getty Images
Guus Hiddink, seem here as coach of Russian Premier League club Anzhi Makhachkala, led Australia to the Round of 16 at Germany 2006. The Dutchman is favored to return to Australia in the wake of Holger Osieck’s dismissal. (Photo: Getty Images.)

But if that was the only problem for Osieck, the 65-year-old, Australia could have adjusted. The confounding problem: Australia just doesn’t have the horses. They’re still relying on Lucas Neill (35 years old). Mark Bresciano, Brett Holman, Matt McKay, Luke Wilshire, and Mile Jedinak — all 29 or older — are mainstays, while Tim Cahill (33) remains a focal point.  Though some of these players have regressed from club roles in Europe, they remain key players for Australia.

And as their already limited squad has aged, few new talents have picked up the torch. Players like Robbie Kruse, James Holland, Nikita Rukavytsya, and Rhys Williams have their virtues, but none of them are going to push the team to the next level. Even with somebody like Tommy Oar (21) getting more time, Australia still lacks the individual talents to meet their federation’s ambition. once you factor in the age of the team’s core, the Socceroos look weaker than they did for 2010.

Perhaps that’s the argument to retain Osieck — that Australia just isn’t that good — but the FFA obviously disagrees, creating a no-win scenario for their coach. And in the FFA’s defense, back-to-back 6-0 losses are unacceptable. Even this limited squad should be playing much better.

But if Australia is hoping Guus Hiddink, the man immediately linked with a return to the job, can change their direction, they’re likely mistaken. Not only did the former Socceroos boss ultimately disappoint with Russia and Turkey, but he won’t have a chance to restock Australia’s shelves ahead of Brazil 2014.

Maybe the Dutchman can conjure some South Korea in 2002, Australia in 2006 magic. More likely: He’ll finally give the FFA reason to realize Australia’s limitations.

At the half: Injuries taking their toll on UCL final

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Liverpool came out with a furious pace in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, but the Reds suffered a massive blow heading into halftime despite their match with Real Madrid remaining scoreless.

Leading goalscorer Mohamed Salah was guided off the pitch by the Reds training staff, after suffering an apparent shoulder injury at the half hour mark.

Meanwhile, Real had its own injury scary just minutes after when right back Dani Carvajal left the game with a leg injury.

The Reds had their share of early chances, including Trent Alexander-Arnold‘s blast that forced a quality save out of Keylor Navas, but the Premier League side couldn’t break the deadlock.

Real seemed to benefit significantly from Salah’s absence though, and Los Blancos nearly took full advantage in the latter stages of the first half.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s close-range header was saved well by Loris Karius, before Karim Benzema’s follow-up attempt went in the back of the net, but was ruled offside.

45 more minutes to play.

Mohamed Salah injured in Champions League final

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Mohamed Salah‘s involvement in the UEFA Champions League final lasted less than 30 minutes.

Salah, Liverpool’s leading goalscorer with 44 goals in all competitions this season, landed heavily on his left shoulder after a challenge with Sergio Ramos.

The Egyptian forward tried to get up but couldn’t shake off the injury and was in tears as he walked off the pitch in the European final.

Ramos will no doubt receive plenty of questions as to his role in Salah’s injury as the Spanish defender made sure Liverpool’s main man hit the floor hard and locked his right arm in during the duel.

All of the focus will now be on Salah to see if he can be fit enough to play for Egypt at the World Cup this summer.

Salah is the main man for the Pharaohs, as he helped them qualify for their first World Cup since 1990.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pogba to Real? Man City eyes Isco

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Pro Soccer Talk takes a look at some of the day’s biggest transfer stories, including Manchester United possibly parting ways with one of its most-known stars.

[ MORE: PST ranks all 23 current MLS managers ]


Paul Pogba‘s return to Old Trafford has been anything but routine, and it appears his relationship with manager Jose Mourinho is severely damaged.

Don Balon suggests that United would be willing to include Pogba in a deal that sends the France international to Real Madrid, along with a large transfer sum, assuming Madrid parts ways with Toni Kroos.

The Red Devils paid over $118 million to sign Pogba back from Juventus, however, the midfielder has struggled to influence United with just 11 league goals over two seasons.


Staying in Manchester, Pep Guardiola isn’t done building his stacked roster.

Mundo Deportivo is reporting that Guardiola and Manchester City are readying a bid of over $90 million to sign Real Madrid and Spain international Isco.

Isco, 26, has become one of the biggest creators in Real’s attack over recent seasons, however, the Spaniard is reportedly growing tired of the Santiago Bernabeu.


Finally, Borussia Dortmund’s interest in Michy Batshuayi was made known this past season, and the German giants are prepared to bring the Belgium international in on a full-time basis.

Dortmund is currently in negotiations with Chelsea to make Batshuayi’s deal a permanent one in Bundesliga.

During his time with the German side, Batshuayi totaled nine goals in all competitions, including seven in league play.

LIVE, UCL final: Real Madrid v. Liverpool

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This is it. The curtain comes down on the domestic season in Europe as Real Madrid and Liverpool clash in the UEFA Champions League final in Kiev, Ukraine.

[ LIVE: Champions League final

In sunny conditions in the Ukrainian capital, the two highest-scoring teams in the UCL this season meet with Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah the danger men.

For Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid, they’re aiming for a third-straight European title which would hammer home their dominance on the European stage once again. Real seeking their 13th title to extend their own record of European trophies is a daunting prospect for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool…

That said, with Mohamed Salah having the season of dreams the Anfield club believe destiny is playing its part once again as they’re in their first European final since 2007. Klopp has lost all five of his major finals as a manager and surely his luck has to change some time soon.

Click on the link above to follow all of the action from Kiev live, while we will have reaction and analysis right here on Pro Soccer Talk.


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