It has been a few days since the disappointment of losing to Japan in the quarter finals and I have finally got around to writing something about it - mainly because I have been at the snow at Mt Hotham without any access to a computer let alone the internet. The game was watched at the only bar on the mountain that had Fox Sports 2 and the management required some persuasion to put it on the big screen. At one stage they wanted to turn the area into a dance floor just after half time but common sense prevailed as they may have had a small riot on their hands.
Now to the game. A much better performance was put in by the team, their best of the tournament. The defence looked solid for the most part with Neill, Milligan and Beachamp gelling well as a unit. The midfield was matching it with the Japanese with Bresciano and Grella both playing a solid, attacking game. However, our final touch in attack was left lacking at times. Our only goal came from a well worked set piece with Aloisi adding to his already impressive scoring record for the national team, but it was extremely disappointing to concede almost straight away from an error from Milligan (ironically his only one in the two games he played). The refereeing for this game was not up to the standard of the game being played by the two teams. Its impact was felt with both the extraordinary amount of fouls awarded against Australia and then the unbelievable sending off of Vince Grella (who was playing his best game of the tournament) for what appeared to be the stray contact of his hand to the neck of Naohiro Takahara, who played the incident up to its full effect, rolling around on the ground clutching his face. The impact looked fairly minor as both were locked in an aerial battle for the ball and without the appearance of any blood the sending off looked unjustified - it was a yellow card at worse. Even with the numerical advantage the Japanese could not break the 1-1 deadlock. Tactically I think Arnold made a mistake in removing Aloisi from the field when we went a man down, it left us without an out and out striker and it has been shown in the past that even when a man down a team needs to be able to attack to put the pressure on the opposition. A skill the Italians used to good effect against the Socceroos in last years World Cup. It was good to see Nicky Carle get a run but without that target up front his skills were often wasted.
I don't particularly like penalties but I don't think there is any other way of deciding sudden death matches like these and it ends up being a bit of a lottery. It ended up not being our night with both Kewell and Neill having their shots saved. They can't be held responsible for the loss. It is just way the cookie crumbles as they say. It is such a bad and depressing way to lose, not only for the players but for the fans as well.
The team now has to pick up the pieces and regroup for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, where ironically their first qualifying match is against Iraq (who made it through to the semi-finals with a win over Vietnam) in Qatar. Lessons have been learnt from this campaign but action needs to be taken otherwise they will be lessons wasted. I am looking forward to the remainder of the tournament and will be interested to see who takes out the mantle of Asian champion.