Wednesday June 23rd, 2010

Three quick thoughts after Australia's 2-1 victory over Serbia in Group D:

1. What heart displayed by the Socceroos. Australia entered the game as the longest of shots to advance to the second round. The Aussies needed to defeat Serbia, hope for Germany to win against Ghana and then score enough goals to make up a goal differential that had been torpedoed by a 4-0 loss to Germany earlier. Many teams would have rolled over facing such odds, particularly after Serbia took control of the game early. But the Socceroos kept working, and in the 68th minute Tim Cahill scored on a header (does he score any other way?) and the Aussies were lifted, scoring again five minutes later and holding on for the victory. Australia will be disappointed it didn't go through, but its fans can be proud of how the team responded in its final two games.

2. Australia manager Pim Verbeek made two smart moves. Serbia owned possession in the first half, and Verbeek watched as the second half started the same way. He responded by bringing on Scott Chipperfield and Brett Holman in the 64th and 65th minutes. Almost instantly, the game changed. Cahill's goal came minutes later and then Holman, who also scored against Ghana, ripped a 30-yard shot into the bottom right corner in the 73rd minute to make it 2-0. Given how Australia finished the game and the tournament, Verbeek deserves credit for his smart tactics and most of all for rallying his team. Australia could do worse than have him back from another World Cup cycle.

3. One play might have been the difference. Rarely does the game turn on a single moment, but the save by Mark Schwarzer in the 22nd minute comes pretty close. Branislav Ivanovic had gotten free in the box and he struck a fierce shot from a good angle on the right. Schwarzer, the Fulham keeper, made a reactionary save, throwing up his right hand and parrying the ball wide. The way Serbia was dominating at the time, Ivanovic's goal might have opened the floodgates. Or, it might have at least slimmed Australia's hopes to the point that its second-half surge wouldn't have materialized. It was a fantastic save, a true game-changer.

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