Australia V Uruguay - 1st Leg Preview

In less than 24 hours time, the battle for the a place at the FIFA World Cup Germany 06 will finally get underway on the football pitch, when Australia face Uruguay at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo.

In less than 24 hours time, the battle for the a place at the FIFA World Cup Germany 06 will finally get underway on the football pitch, when Australia face Uruguay at the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo.

For a little under a month since Uruguay qualified as the 5th place South American team, the battle has been played off the park, out of the administration offices of the two countries and at FIFA.

The political manoeuvring and mind games has been intense and at times become rather heated. It-s a pity this wasn-t the first leg of the tie, because the Football Federation Australia (FFA), would be going in with a handy lead, given the problems Uruguay have encountered.

Thankfully though, the majority of football games are not decided off the park and the real action starts at roughly 7.00am on Sunday morning (AEDT).

Four years ago it was the same two sides, with Uruguay overcoming a 1-0 defeat in Melbourne to win the return leg 3-0 in Montevideo and thus ensuring another dark chapter in Australia-s World Cup qualifying history.

Every four years, Australians become entranced with the Socceroos bid to qualify for the World Cup and for a large generation of fans that has nearly always ended in play-off heartbreak.

The 1974 team that made it through to the FIFA World Cup finals, ironically in West Germany, is the only team to successfully negotiate the tough qualifying path thrown up to the number one team from the Oceania region.

The Estadio Centenario, the scene of our latest heartbreak, is where it all begins this time around. Regarded as one of the most intimidating football grounds in the world, the Socceroos, at least this time round, know what to expect.

Thankfully, there was also no trouble when the players arrived in the country, with the Australians whisked away from within the airport, rather than escorted through a mob of unruly fans, as was the case four years ago.

Australia is without a doubt a better team than four years ago, but so is Uruguay, who remained unbeaten in their last nine qualifying games to capture the 5th place.

Both sides have many players returning and have the addition of several new players, who look equally, if not better, than those that were part of the 2001 games.

Uruguay has a formidable array of attacking talent, Diego Forlan, 2001 tormentors Richard Morales and Dario Silva, Marcelo Zalayeta, Alvaro Recoba and Mario Reguiero. However Forlan injured his thigh just prior to these games playing for Villarreal in the Champions League and has been in serious doubt ever since.

Uruguay say that Forlan is a chance of playing, but if he does, its almost certain he will not be playing at 100% and in the intense atmosphere of games like these, that may backfire on them. He is there most consistent goalscorer at all levels, especially with Villarreal, where he was Spain-s leading goal scorer last season and won the European Golden Boot award, along with Thierry Henry.

If Forlan doesn-t play, Recoba (pictured left) and Morales appear the keys in attack. Recoba was the architect of Australia-s downfall four years ago and it was his goal against Argentina that ensured they finished fifth in the South American table. Very dangerous from anywhere just outside the box, especially at set pieces and needs to be contained at every cost.

Morales- height will be a factor and was evident against Argentina that a lot of their game plan revolves around long balls into him with players running off him. In 2001 he came off the bench and became the Uruguayan match winner with two goals, the second a crucial header from a Recoba free kick.

Real Madrid-s Pablo Garcia, a good friend of Aussie striker John Aloisi (played together at Osasuna in Spain), will control the midfield, but will be minus regular partner Gustavo Varela (suspended). Monaco-s Diego Perez is likely to partner Garcia, in what is predominantly a defensive shield in front of the back four.

Defensively they are very sound with veteran Paolo Montero, Diego Lopez, Carlos Diogo, Carlos Lugano and Dario Rodriguez. Lugano is another suspended for the first leg, with Diogo his most likely replacement.

Uruguay-s goalkeeping situation is not so cut and dried, with their two first choice keepers both injured. Fabian Carini, the No.1, is likely to be picked, with Sebastian Vieri in a worse state than he is.

What is likely is that Uruguay would like to kill the tie in Montevideo, going to Sydney with a two or three goal lead, which they would feel comfortable protecting.

However Uruguay are not a side that can totally dominate games and even four years ago, Australia had them under the pump for a while in the second half, but just couldn-t convert and before we knew it the game was taken away from us.

There are several X factors in Australia-s favour this time around that could prove the difference to the overall result.

Most notably is the arrival of Guus Hiddink (pictured top right) as coach. While many questioned his late appointment, after Frank Farina and the FFA parted company after the Confederations Cup, Frank Lowy and John O-Neill made sure they got the appropriate person that could take on such a task and in Hiddink, there is probably no coach better in the world.

As coach of the Netherlands and then South Korea, he took them both to the semi finals of the last two World Cup-s and is currently head coach of Dutch 1st Division leaders PSV Eindhoven.

You only have to listen to the players to know that he is making a difference, as his attention to detail is second to none, especially when it comes to organisation on the park.

The defensive failings at the Confederations Cup is most likely what cost Farina his position and is the area that Hiddink has worked hard on since taking over. Every player knows exactly what he has to do and that starts with the strikers, then midfielders and then ultimately the defenders and goalkeeper.

The loss of captain Craig Moore from the defence line is a massive blow to Hiddink, as he was one of our better performers in Montevideo last time around and is highly experienced and as tough as they come.

Hiddink-s main point when it comes to defensive work is not to have too many spare men at the back, hence players need to adaptable depending on how many strikers the opposition are playing. With Uruguay likely to play three up front, Hiddink may well go for a back four with Scott Chipperfield occupying the left wing-back role.

Morales opponent will be an important role with Ljubo Milicevic or Tony Popovic big and strong enough to handle the Uruguayan strong man. Milicevic is seen as the most logical choice, given he is playing regularly for FC Thun in the Champions League and Popovic has hardly played a game this year due to injury and then non-selection in Crystal Palace-s side.

Hiddink seems to favour Lucas Neill in a more central role than out on the right, given his pace while Tony Vidmar maybe getting on in age, but there is no person that will be up for this game more than the veteran defender and as most experienced player, it will no doubt come in handy for this game.

In goals, Hiddink has the choice of Mark Schwarzer and Zeljko Kalac. Schwarzer probably has the edge because he is match ready, with Kalac having to sit on the bench at AC Milan, as No.2 to Brazil-s Dida.

Vince Grella appears the most logical choice for the holding role in front of the back four, given that he has performed a similar role on Recoba quite a number of times in Italy, where they both play their club football. Grella will run all day and will tackle anything that goes near him.

The attacking options in midfield and up front is where the real strength of this Australian is though and where they could possibly hurt Uruguay-s tough defence.

Hiddink has an abundance of choices, with all players capable of doing the job required and with good effect.

Box to box players like Brett Emerton, Tim Cahill, Marco Bresciano and Josip Skoko will run all day and have the ability to score goals.

While Emerton looks certain to get the right wing-back/midfield role (depending on formation), the more central role is a little more complicated. Bresciano has been under an injury cloud all week after hurting his ankle on the weekend, only training with the squad on Thursday. This would tend to give Cahill the edge, with Skoko struggling for game time with Wigan Athletic.

You then have more forward thinking midfielders in Jason Culina and Harry Kewell, with Culina now an important member of the squad and seemingly one of the first on the team sheet. His performances in the green and gold have been a highlight of the national team this year and he has proven to be our bolt-from-the-blue player.

Kewell (pictured right) is and has been for a long time, the money man for Australia. If he plays, Australia-s chances increase by about 20% according to most people.

The debate is whether Hiddink should start with him in the first game or have him come off the bench as an impact player and then possibly start him in the second game. Having only just returned from a serious groin injury, the Liverpool attacking midfielder, is certainly not match fit and would probably struggle to play out two 90 minute games, so which game does Hiddink consider the most important.

The first 30 minutes in Montevideo is critical for Australia, where keeping Uruguay at bay is vitally important and Hiddink expects a lot of energy to be expanded. Keeping Uruguay scoreless in that time will only increase the pressure on them and with that the game opens up, which ultimately will play into Australia-s hands more.

If he doesn-t start with Kewell, Hiddink has several options up his sleeve including Bresciano (if fit), Skoko and possibly Stan Lazaridis, who could swap with Chipperfield, the FC Basel midfielder into the more forward role, which he is very accustomed to.

Mark Viduka, the most likely captain for the two games, is the obvious choice as a possible lone striker, a job he performs with great distinction. He is sure to be targeted by Uruguay-s defenders, but he is a big, strong lad and can look after himself.

Viduka is relishing the role as the Socceroos leader and is very confident of Australia-s chances this time around. He is also acutely aware of Australia-s last two failures and with this being possibly his last chance of playing in a World Cup, he is desperate to do everything he can to ensure Australia qualify.

Dukes, a goal or two in Montevideo will do nicely.

John Aloisi and Archie Thompson are both more than handy back up players off the bench in the first game at least, with Aloisi showing at the Confederations Cup what he can do with four goals, while Thompson-s pace, off the ball movement and form in front of goals, make him a player to watch when the opposition is a little fatigued.

However there is one thing that is noticeably different from four years ago, the unknown factor.

Four years ago Australia was somewhat naïve in its expectations upon arriving in Montevideo. The airport, four days holed up in a hotel, police escorts, closely guarded training sessions and the intimidating Estadio Centenario seemed a distraction to some players and they duly performed as such.

Moving ahead, the FFA administration has left no stone unturned in giving the players the right preparation for the first leg by setting up base in Buenos Aires and only traveling to Montevideo, one day ahead of time. They also made sure security was tight when they arrived in Montevideo and thankfully there was no incidents of note at the airport or getting to the team hotel.

The players are relaxed, confident, but not over confident, and come Saturday night (Sunday morning AEDT) they know the job they have to do.

Aloisi believes that the Uruguayans are scared of the Australian-s this time around and he might be right, when you look at Recoba-s comments that Uruguay belongs in the World Cup and Australia doesn-t. That comment smacks of hope rather than belief.

If the Australian players have the belief, desire and determination than a good result is possible in Montevideo and a return home to get the job finished in Sydney.

GO THE Socceroos   Please note - The FFA website will have a Live Update of the 1st Leg from 6.30am (AEDT) on Sunday (November 13) morning.