The Socceroos final pre-World Cup hit-out has ended in a disappointing 3-1 loss to the United States at Ruimsig Stadium. With national coach Pim Verbeek fielding a strong side, they were expected to challenge their more-illustrious opponents. But from the moment midfielder Vince Grella gave the ball away cheaply for Edson Buddle to blast past Mark Schwarzer in the 4th minute of the game, it was always going to be a long night for the Socceroos.
The pace and direct running of Buddle and his strike partner Robbie Findley was creating numerous goalscoring opportunities, which, fortunately for the Socceroos, were being wasted. Findley managed to break the offside trap in the 15th minute and rounded Schwarzer, but inexcusably missed an open goal. The United States were left to rue their wastefulness when Tim Cahill slid the ball past Everton team-mate Tim Howard to level the scores at 1-1.
But the Americans were soon in front again thanks to Buddle’s second goal. Craig Moore, the former Brisbane Roar defender, misjudged the flight of the controversial ball and left Buddle unmarked at the back post, with the simple task of heading past Schwarzer. He made no mistake.
The Socceroos started more brightly in the second half, but were given another life-line when Findley missed another golden opportunity by hitting the cross bar. Moore decided to give the Americans another chance to score by weakly heading the ball back into the danger area. From the resulting scrap, Fulham star Clint Dempsey thought he had put his team out of reach with a diving header, but it was suprisingly ruled out for offside.
Unlike the game against Denmark, the Socceroos decided to play a more expansive, attacking game in the second period and created a few good opportunities themselves. Striker Josh Kennedy had the best of them, when he fired over from close range and then missed a relatively simple header at the back post after good lead-up work by Scott Chipperfield.
But the United States always looked dangerous on the counter, and in the 92nd minute they finally ended the contest. Landon Donovan drilled a ball across the six-yard box and left substitute Herculez Gomez with a tap-in. It was a deserved victory for the Americans and will provide the Socceroos with plenty of work to do ahead of the World Cup.
Moore and Grella’s performances in particular were cause for concern and their inclusion against Germany needs to be carefully considered by Verbeek. All three of the goals conceded by the Socceroos were caused by lapses in concentration and poor marking. Being out of contract and 34 years of age, Moore was lucky to even make it into the final 23-man squad. He offers great experience, but has shown he is prone to making defensive lapses and was completely outplayed by Findley and Buddle.
It is becoming increasingly unclear why Verbeek persists with Moore and does not try Michael Beauchamp or even Mark Milligan. Both have international experience, are young and pacy, and deserve a chance.
Injured for much of the season at Blackburn Rovers, Grella has not had the best build up for the World Cup, and he has been woeful against New Zealand and the United States. Apart from making terribly mistimed and disgusting tackles, he has turned over possession time and again and should be replaced by either Jason Culina or Mile Jedinak in the vital role of protecting the back four.
Despite beating New Zealand and Denmark in the lead-up to the game against the United States, the Socceroos have been poor as a team, with Moore and Grella the stand-outs. This result should give their coach the incentive to drop a couple of under-performing veterans, but, knowing Verbeek, he will stick with the same players and wonder why his team is torn apart by the class of Germany, Ghana and Serbia.