Frank Farina joins us for another edition of Farina's Forum, where he gives us an insight to the performance of the Under 23's at the Olympics and the upcoming matches against the Solomon Islands.
Firstly, sorry it-s taken so long, there-s been plenty happening with our national teams, which is a great thing. I thought I-d open up this Farina-s Forum with a synopsis of our Under 23-s performance in Athens. In hindsight I think it was a good tournament for us, in terms of developing our players. I think we-re all a little bit disappointed that we didn-t get through to the final or at least the semis, where I think we most probably deserved to be on the back of that game against Iraq, but that-s football. We-ve got to be realists, we didn-t take our opportunities and in football, if you don-t do that, you-re not going to win games. We didn-t start off too well and I think our worst game was against Tunisia, but the important thing was we managed to get through that with a 1-1 draw. However we turned that around with an excellent performance against Serbia & Montenegro and that certainly gave the players a lot of confidence for the match against Argentina. I was certainly proud of our performance against Argentina. Marcelo Bielsa (Argentina-s coach) came out afterwards and said that we gave them their toughest game and they went through the tournament without conceding a goal. If you look at our game, I think the first ten minutes they dominated, for the next eighty minutes; the majority of it was Australia, in terms of the best opportunities. We seemed to completely dominate them on set pieces, yet we still couldn-t score. Argentina was the best team in the tournament without a doubt. I mean Argentina-s side was virtually their full senior side, whereas our side was an Under 23 side with three overage players. I predicted after we played them that if we weren-t going to go all the way, they were going to win the tournament. As it worked out they did but we put up a good show against them and it would-ve been great to get a better result against them rather than a 1-0 loss. Having three out against Iraq, where we ultimately were knocked out, didn-t help. But the three players who came in did exceptionally well. I think we played well enough on the day to win the game but we didn-t take the opportunities that came our way. I think it-s a learning curve and an experience for them, no one deliberately tries to miss goals, some days they go in, others they don-t. Against Iraq was one of those days where we couldn-t score. Apart from that I was quite pleased with a number of players that have come through, the likes of Jon McKain, Alex Brosque, Ahmad Elrich, Luke Wilkshire, Adrian Madaschi, although I think they performed extremely well as a group. The tournament showed that we-ve got the talent to fill the next tier of players coming through with the national squad. You-d like to think that all of them would come through; I think the majority of them will break through to the national team at some stage, whether it-s in the next year or further down the track, I-d be disappointed if they weren-t. With all the games coming up there will be opportunities, but it-s important for them to keep going where they are, establish themselves at their clubs, keep playing regularly and that-ll open up doors for them in the future. Another thing the team did, was prove the doubters wrong. The team received its fair share of criticism before the tournament and I don-t think the criticism was justified. I would probably put it down to the good preparation we had prior to the Olympics, with the two or three months where we got some quality games and some quality time together. I also think the three overage players coming in did a really good job for us. The 18 players gelled really well as a team and you need time to do that and we had quality time prior to the games that allowed us to get that cohesion in the squad. You-re always going to cop criticism, and you don-t mind if it-s fair, but I thought on this occasion it was a bit unfair and the boys proved that to be correct. We had some good players that matched it at the top level at the second biggest football tournament in the world. With the Olympics over, we then had to turn our attention to the national team, with a training camp held in London. Coming straight off the back of the Olympics, it was virtually impossible to get a game for the September international date, but it was important to get the players together. We needed to get them tuned in for what-s going to happen against the Solomon Islands and to give them a heads up to the program which is coming up in the next fourteen months. We did a lot of things like medical screenings with players and stuff with the PFA as the CBA was discussed with the players, which good because, we could do that outside of a pressure environment where you-ve got a game. The whole camp was a bit more relaxed, treatment on players and a few training sessions. The idea of the camp itself was very, very good. One, in terms of team morale, because the players love getting together, but when you can add to that all of the things that we did, it was very beneficial. It-s most probably the first time we-ve done that and it-s something we-re definitely looking at doing in the future. When important matches are coming up it-s important. I can confirm that we have a match against Norway at Craven Cottage on the 16th or 17th of November, so that-s a good game for us to get, especially on the back of the Solomons games, against top quality opposition in Europe where there-s no travel for the players. It-ll be a good indicator for where we-re at and where we-re going and a good opportunity for players, whether they-re established players or players coming through to show what they can do against top quality international opposition. However our focus at the moment is our OFC Nations Cup final playoff with the Solomon Islands, which I think are vitally important. It-s basically the first stepping-stone in terms of where we-re going in November 2005 which is, we win these two games, it puts us into a fantastic tournament (Confederations Cup) against seven of the best teams in the world. That sort of preparation will be invaluable when we-re talking about qualifiers again against the Solomons, for the World Cup and then hopefully against the South Americans. These games against the Solomon Islands will be a great test, people are talking about blow out scores, but I think the conditions that we will play in that we will be playing in. They are predicting 30-35 degrees and very humid at 2 o-clock in the afternoon, so this will be difficult, especially for a lot of our players that are coming back from Europe. This game is not only vitally important as for where we-re going, but also valuable experience for the players. We-re going to go out there and try and win the game, whether it happens that we win by a big score or a small score won-t really matter. You can-t predict what scores are going to be, or say that we-ll play to only win by two or three. I think the Solomons on that night in Adelaide deserved the 2-2 draw that they got, irrespective of what team we played. I-m expecting this time to win both games, that-s the reality, I think we-ve got to go into it with that expectation. Whether there-ll be blow out scores, I don-t know. I think the series will be competitive, especially in the first game over there, I think that-ll set the scene for the second game. We played in Athens recently, where we experienced similar temperatures to what we will face in Honiara. The fitness levels of the players really determine, or dictate, how you-re going to approach a lot of games as well as the conditions and overall our players coped well. Obviously ball possession is very important, especially when the conditions are what they-re going to be and we-ve got the players where that shouldn-t be a problem. I always set high standards for the players or us as a team and I will be looking for us to push forward and put a lot of pressure on the Solomons in their own defensive third. That-s what we-ll be working a lot on in training and we-ll expect it irrespective of whether it-s 30-35 degrees or 18-20 degrees in Sydney. Our fitness levels are very high and I think that-ll be an advantage for us over the two legs. The squad we have selected contains no surprises really. I am not taking any chances with these games and selected the strongest squad possible. They-ve all established themselves in Europe with their clubs and they-re all doing well and have done well over a period of time and we expect the same thing of the national team, when they-re with us. It goes without saying that a lot of our boys are in top form. Viduka-s been banging goals in left, right and centre. Timmy Cahill-s started really, really well with Everton, coming off the back of the Olympics. Johnny Aloisi is also doing exceptionally well. I-m a bit disappointed for Stan Lazaridis who was in the camp in London but hasn-t played since then. But in general, at the moment, I-m very happy with the way everyone-s performing with their clubs. This is a terrific opportunity to come and see them play and I am confident the players will be keen to put on a good show for the fans. They know how important these games are in the context of things and they all want to be part of what is going to be an exciting 13 - 14 months for the national team. Till next time. Frank Farina