Mark Bosnich held up his phone and announced, with some puzzlement: “According to my mate in the dressing room, looks like Australia’s set to play a … what? A 4-6-0. With Richard Garcia in the centre of the line as makeshift forward.” We shuffled nervously. Two hours before our World Cup 2010 opener against Germany in Durban and this was odd news indeed if it was true. “Yeah, I know, if my mate’s winding me up with this then he is seriously gone. But that’s what he says.” Bozza himself did not look happy.
It was all horribly true. Australia went out against Germany with no strikers, even with the proven talents of Tim Cahill pulled ridiculously far back. Hull man Garcia – a modest player with 20 something goals in about 200 professional games, and no goals at all at international level – was hardly going to take Mertesacker and Lahm to the cleaners either, and didn’t. The multi-mega-midfield, when they weren’t in each other’s way, had no vertical depth to provide passing options that might have either created chances or enabled better possession.
Even worse was the subtext of what uber-cautious Australian coach Pim Verbeek was saying with this formation. We can’t hurt you. We don’t believe we can take you on and win. We’ll be thankful to cling on for a draw. We’re so panicked by the prospect of playing you that we have chucked our usual formation and invented a square wheel. Sorry, we are pathetic Australia and we shouldn’t be on the same pitch as mighty Germany, so we’ll park the bus and try to limit the damage. We don’t belong in the same World Cup as you.
We had wonderful seats in Durban, more’s the pity. For the Germans showed they are plenty skillful for passing around for parked buses. And ruthless against those who hand them the upper hand both pschologically and tactically before the game even kicks off. The 0-4 hammering did the kind of damage that eventually led to Australia not progressing from the group stage; level on 4 points with Ghana in the end but inferior goal difference. Die Mannschaft meanwhile must have been delighted to set their wagen rolling in such fashion and their joyride was to continue all the way to third place in the tournament.
Fast-forward nine months and Australia face Germany in a friendly in Munich. While both teams are playing down the rematch angle, it’s clear that there’s something in the air. German coach Joachim Loew has some fresh faces to try out but still puts stalwarts like Schweinsteiger, Klose, Muller, Podolski and Gomez on the park. Australia’s new gaffer, Holger Osiek, is not about to pass up a chance to put one over his country of birth. He picks a team to do a job and sends them out with a plan and in a game of two halves, turns a 0-1 half-time result into a 2-1 victory in Munich.
It’s not a world class performance, nor is Loew slow with the excuses (as if any coach wants to lose home friendlies to nobodies and cop a bath in the fussballpress). But for Osiek it’s a reward for having a red-hot go and allowing the players some belief in themselves. A reward for trying to play football instead of building levee banks across the midfield. A reward for trusting that 90 minutes always counts more than reputations.
Thanks Holger. It might not be revenge, not yet, but it’s certainly catharsis. Take us to the next World Cup, big fella. And when we get there, let’s show that we belong. Revenge would be beating Germany to lift the trophy. Dream on, you say? Yes. A team which dares to dream is capable of anything. And the coach must allow them to do it.