Asia’s elite boosted by friendly fire
The opening qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ are now just three months away and a host of teams across the world's largest continent honed their preparations with a series of international friendlies over the past week. No fewer than ten teams were involved in as many as 12 friendlies, a number of which yielded morale-boosting results to leave the winning coaches optimistic ahead of their respective qualifying campaigns.
A rapturous Holger Osieck seemed in an emotional frame of mind following Australia’s surprise 2-1 win over Germany, with the result going some way towards avenging their 4-0 humiliation in last year's FIFA World Cup group opener. A repeat scoreline appeared on the cards after Mario Gomez put the home side ahead in Moenchengladbach midway through the opening half. However two quickfire goals from firstly Blackpool defender David Carney, and then Luke Wilkshire from the penalty spot, sealed a famous win for the Socceroos. Australia’s first victory over Germany in four attempts was their sixth over a former FIFA World Cup winner with five of those scalps claimed in the last decade.
The result came as a massive boost for Osieck, Germany’s assistant coach when they lifted the 1990 FIFA World Cup, following the disappointment of defeat against Japan in January's AFC Asian Cup final. "We never expected such a result," said Osieck, who was without several injury absentees including Tim Cahill, Josh Kennedy and Mark Bresciano. "Our rivals are excellent players so I am really proud of our boys and they did a great job."
Fielding only five players that featured in the two sides’ previous meeting at South Africa 2010, the former Canada and Urawa Red Diamonds mentor was particularly delighted with the self-belief on display after an apprehensive opening. "After conceding the opening goal, I told them to be more concentrated and be on their toes,” said Osieck. “I think that worked pretty well to bring about an aggressive atmosphere. They were really upbeat and that is what I wanted to see.”
Also in celebratory mood was Korea Republic coach Cho Kwang-Rae, whose new-look side hit four unanswered goals past Honduras, with fledgling captain, Monaco striker Park Chu-Young, setting up the second and scoring the third. Aside from the one-sided scoreline, it was their newly-discovered attacking potency that most pleased the former international midfielder. "Our touch around the net used to be a problem for us," said the 57-year-old. "But we've made big strides in our shooting and movement around the goal. I’m also glad that we're growing into a relentless team that can play hard throughout the 90 minutes."
Undoubtedly the busiest coach, though, was China PR boss Gao Hongbo, with his side managing three warm-up matches in a space of five days. In doing so he called up over 40 players to form two provisional teams, with one featuring in last Friday's 1-1 draw against New Zealand, while the other held hosts Costa Rica to a 2-2 scoreline the following day. The national team then went on to round off their packed schedule with a resounding 3-0 win over Honduras, with all three goals set up by Schalke 04 playmaker Hao Junmin.
“The friendlies provided us with a good chance to test numerous new faces and some of them put in excellent performances,” said Gao. “It also increased our knowledge on how to use the players and enhanced our options for different positions. It is good preparation in the build-up to our World Cup qualifiers.” This week’s draw for the opening stages of Brazil 2014 qualifying pits China against the winners of Cambodia and Laos in late July.
In west Asia, Qatar's newly-appointed coach, Milovan Rajevac, began his spell in promising fashion with a 1-1 draw against Russia in Doha. The Europeans needed to come from behind to earn a share of the spoils following Mohammed Kasola’s early headed opener, with Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko equalising just after the half-hour mark. Rajevac, who took Ghana to an historic quarter-final appearance at South Africa 2010, was pleased with the showing of his new charges "We played a quality game and I don’t think you can say that we looked inferior to the Russians,” he said.
Elsewhere, Korea DPR, one of five teams, alongside Australia, Korea Republic, Japan and Bahrain, who do not participate in the opening two rounds of Brazil 2014 qualifying, have yet to reproduce the form that saw them reach the 2010 FIFA World Cup. A 2-0 loss to Iraq was followed by a 1-1 draw against Jordan, leaving the east Asians winless since prior to January’s 2011 AFC Asian Cup.