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bahrain v australia

Learning the lessons of Manama

November 20, 2008
By Jason Dasey
(Archive)

Australia's listless World Cup qualifying performance in Bahrain said as much about the players who weren't on the field as those who were.

GettyImagesBresciano is congratulated after his late goal.

Brett Emerton, Scott Chipperfield and Craig Moore were conspicuous in their absence as the Socceroos looked like a shadow of the side that thumped Qatar barely five weeks ago.

And that's despite having an attacking front third led by Tim Cahill, Harry Kewell, Josh Kennedy and Mark Bresciano.

Pim Verbeek's team were disjointed, lethargic and largely ineffective as they struggled to come to terms with a lively Bahraini side and a bumpy pitch at Manama's National Stadium. It was like the ill-fated 2007 Asian Cup all over again.

On the balance of play, Australia deserved to lose by at least two goals. Yet they escaped with an unmerited 1-0 victory, courtesy of Bresciano's late, opportunistic strike.

Emerton's absence hurt the Socceroos more than anything else. With his overlapping runs and tireless work in defence, the Blackburn Rovers midfielder is a vital cog in the Socceroos' machine. FC Basel's Chipperfield provides similarly honest value on both sides of the ball.

Moore's brave battle with testicular cancer - which the Socceroos used as their inspiration for the trip to west Asia - ruled him out as he took it easy back in Brisbane. There's no doubt that Australia are far more composed at the back - and have better distribution - when he partners Lucas Neill instead of Chris Coyne.

Coyne has been sitting on the bench for English League One side Colchester and was clearly below the level he produced in previous World Cup qualifiers. Equally, the lack of playing time in the English Championship for national team-mates David Carney (Sheffield United) and Mile Sterjovski (Derby County) is also starting to tell.

Australia's biggest stars were disappointing to say the least: playing on his less familiar right-hand side, Galatasaray winger Kewell produced a rare poor performance in a Socceroo shirt, while Everton's Tim Cahill seemed out of place - and perhaps nursing a niggling injury - in a dual striker role beside the equally off-key Kennedy.

Palermo's Bresciano was probably Australia's best player but as he tried to ignite things from midfield he made plenty of mistakes. It was only until that fateful injury-time mistake from captain Mohamed Husain that he got the better of an impressive Bahraini back four.

With 20 shots compared to six from the visitors, the Bahrainis kept Socceroo goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer busy. Midway through the first half, you could see the Fulham man yelling at his teammates to "Wake Up!" as the home side went close to scoring.

Unfortunately, the Socceroos never seemed to snap out of their sleepwalking state. And let's not forget they were facing a team who were missing four top players through suspension and were thumped 4-0 by Saudi Arabia last week in a friendly.

The Aussies can blame many reasons for their sub-standard effort - from a limited preparation on a non-FIFA date to a raft of late withdrawals that also included Celtic striker Scott McDonald and Blackburn midfielder Vince Grella.

But, instead, they need learn the lessons of Manama and thank their lucky stars for three priceless points away from home that takes them significantly closer to South Africa 2010.

Football is the kind of the game where good fortune has a habit of balancing out over the course of a campaign. You can be sure that a similar performance won't bear fruit when Australia line-up for their next qualifier against Japan at Yokohama's Nissan Stadium in February.

•  Sydney-born Jason Dasey (www.jasondasey.com) is an international broadcaster and corporate host. He covered the 2006 World Cup and 2007 Asian Cup for ESPN.