The Thursday Preview: Australia Vs. Ghana
I cannot be the only person to be distinctly undrwhelmed by the design of Rustenberg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium. As each major tournament goes by, we are treated to an ever more impressive array of space age arenas, but there always seems to be one stuck in the Dark Ages, a venue that breaks all the rules laid down in Simon Inglis’s seminal The Football Grounds of Europe.
More commonly than not, it’s England who are consigned to a competition’s least impressive outpost. In 1990, it was Cagliari, part of a plan to restrict the hoolies to Sardinia where the authorities could control them. In 2000, it was the Stade Communal in Charleroi that staged the Three Lions and as recently as 2006, England’s post-colonial tubthump with Trinidad and Tobago took place in Nuremberg, far from being one of Germany’s most alluring bowls.
It’s a very nippy South African winter and the open-to-the-elements design of the Royal Bafokeng won’t warm the cockles as Australia take on Ghana on Saturday. Australia famously got off to a stinking start, hopelessly outclassed by Germany – although the one Championship player to start the match, Hull City’s Richard Garcia had a pretty lively game, forced as he was to practically lead the line. Pim Verbeek mysteriously decided to omit his one experienced and fit striker Josh Kennedy, hoping that Tom Cahill’s midfield raiding would suffice. The plan backfired as the ex-Millwall, half-Samoan received his departing orders. Already two down to a brace of goals from a familiar Germano-Polish duo, the Aussies produced a performance to rival their skittlings in the 1981 Ashes – in terms of pub banter material for ourselves, that is.
The wounds will be deep and without wishing to bang on in a Hansen stylee about sheer “lack of quality”, the limitations of the Australian squad are there for all to see. They’ll do well to get anything against a Ghana side who have decisively put their own problems with injuries behind them and unhesitatingly blooded the stars of their Under-20 World Cup side and Anthony Annan in particular looked like yet another blue chip addition to the screening midfielder production line in the win over Serbia. Ghana’s ability to hold on to the ball through stength and skill should see them prevail.