While winning is supposedly the be all and end all for football coaches, it seems that even maximum points are often not enough to keep the critics at bay. Just take Pim Verbeek. The Australia coach might have expected praise for taking the Socceroos to within a point of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ with a 2-0 win over Uzbekistan. Instead, he faced questions about the lack of entertainment his side are providing.
Others leapt to the Dutchman's defence. In an article entitled "Can't do much better than Verbeek," the Melbourne Herald Sun's Ron Reed lauded the former Korea Republic boss. "Verbeek's main mission - to get the Socceroos to the World Cup finals - is all but accomplished," Reed wrote. The article also quoted Melbourne Victory coach Ernie Merrick, who counts among Verbeek's firmest supporters. "His job is to qualify and you can't do much better than he has," Merrick remarked.
Elsewhere, with the Socceroos now on course to seal qualification with two games to spare, the Aussie press understandably allowed their gaze to drift forward to the global extravaganza itself. South Africa 2010 was certainly the focus of an interview Lucas Neill gave to local daily The Age.
"Top 20 is a good target going into the World Cup and then who knows," Neill said. "We got to mix with the last 16 in the last World Cup and we will take anyone on in any country and we've already proven that. This is not a fluke. We've beaten France in the past, Argentina in the past and because of our spirit and the way that we've been brought up with football, always being the underdogs, always being the team that is trying to achieve, we are going to get results."
Eastern delight, Emirati woe
Elsewhere, winning really did prove to be the be all and end all for Huh Jung-Moo. The Korea Republic coach was able to bask in the glow of his side's dramatic 1-0 over neighbours Korea DPR, with local media unanimously applauding the team for ending a long run of draws in the fixture stretching back 16 years.
"Korea Republic finally shook off that uncomfortable feeling against Korea DPR," was Sports Donga's take on the match. "More importantly, the Taeguk Warriors took a giant step forward towards a seventh straight appearance at the world finals."
The nation's leading new agency Yonhap also predicted confidently that Huh's side would complete their mission, "provided they beat the already eliminated UAE on the road and add at least a point against Saudi Arabia at home."
Across the water in Japan, the Shunsuke Nakamura-inspired 1-0 over against Bahrain sparked excitement among fans and media alike. "The margin between Japan and Bahrain was small, but the victory for Takeshi Okada's side proved big," wrote Daily Yomiuri's Shintaro Kano. "Japan put one foot through the door to South Africa."
Also joining the East Asians in celebration mood were Bahrain, where local press went into raptures following their 1-0 over Qatar. In an article entitled "Victory joy," the nation's leading English language newspaper Gulf Daily News wrote excitedly about how the team had "bounced back from their away defeat to Japan and took a huge step towards booking their first-ever berth in the World Cup finals."
On the other side of the coin, media outlets across United Arab Emirates were left to lament the national team's failure to stay in contention after conceding the lead to go down 3-2 in Saudi Arabia. "Although leading 2-1 and staring at their first win, luck wasn't to be on UAE's side," was how the Khaleej Times summed up their team's tale of woe.