In any sport, the sign of a good team is the ability to grind out results when not performing at optimum levels. So that makes the Sooceroos scoreless draw away to Japan in last night's World Cup qualified all the more impressive. For 90 minutes Australia was bombarded with wave after wave of attacks from the Blue Samurai, yet through expert defending, a slice of luck, and a series of world-class saves from Mark Schwarzer, the full-time score keeps us top of our group, and a whopping 6 points clear of 3rd with 4 games to play, and yet to concede a goal in the group stage after 4 matches. With three of those remaining fixtures on home soil, qualification for South Africa 2010 should be a mere formality.
Socceroo boss Pim Verbeek's selections pointed to a side quite content on a stalemate, and who could blame him, with his players in camp for just 2 days before kick-off, as opposed to the Japanese having begun preparations for arguably Asian football's biggest grudge match some 5 weeks ago. Employing 2 holding midfielders and using Tim Cahill as the lone man up front, the likelihood of an open, attacking game was remote to say the least. It was quite surprising that Josh Kennedy didn't start as the target man, with Cahill taking his usual spot in midfield. The 6ft 5in striker has not played regulary for his club side in Germany, but his height would've caused the Japanese defenders sleepless nights, and in fact Australia's best chance of stealing all three points came with Kennedy at the heart of the action late on the game.
Still, Australia is sitting pretty, and with Harry Kewell sure to return after yet another injury lay-off, the Socceroos should, and I say should, start booking their flights for South Africa.