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Mar 29, 2011

Aussies rule in Moenchengladbach

Revenge is sweet. Redemption is sweeter. The Socceroos got an unexpected taste of both on Tuesday in Moenchengladbach as they secured another famous result by toppling the third-ranked Germans to ease the pain of their heavy World Cup defeat and help restore their reputation as one of world football's great underdogs.

• International friendlies review
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Holger Osieck's era continues to take on a golden tinge after the 2-1 come-from-behind victory, which looked extremely unlikely at the break. Osieck could not hide his pride after getting one over his countrymen, just as his predecessor Pim Verbeek had done when this Australian team stunned the Dutch in Eindhoven three years ago. Mark Schwarzer alluded to that result in the lead-up to this match and Germany failed to heed the warning that these Socceroos are well capable of getting results wherever they go, if given a sniff.

And thus it was proved in what was the epitome of the clichéd game of two halves. Germany were vastly superior in the first period, with their only failing being their inability to turn total dominance into more than just Mario Gomez's strike. But they came out sluggish and sloppy after half time, letting Australia get comfortable. In particular, the German pressing game dropped off and it was a case of give an inch, give a mile as the Socceroos then turned the match's momentum completely and made it count with a heavyweight's one-two knockout combination in the form of David Carney's equaliser and Luke Wilkshire's penalty within two minutes of each other.

Victory to Australia might mean more than defeat to Germany. The home side, fielding a youthful selection featuring nine changes from their 4-0 thrashing of Kazakhstan in their Euro 2012 qualifier, proved themselves the better team in the first half. They showed they had the Aussies well covered for technical quality and physical dynamism. The fact this second-string starting XI was unfamiliar might have reduced their potency in the final third - Gomez's sublimely struck goal was one of their only shots of note - but they made the Asian Cup finalists look a panicky rabble. The Australian players put in some physical challenges in their frustration, a theme that brought understandable anger from the German bench.

As is so often the case with international friendlies, the dominant team let their intensity slide. They had made their statement and earned their lead, so the young Germans fell into the trap of relaxing their work ethic without the ball in the second half. They walked off to the jeers that had greeted their peers after the Kazakhstan victory, with a lesson that effort must always marry quality against a hungry and determined opposition.

But to say Germany gifted Australia victory would be to discredit the Socceroos, who produced some impressive passing interchanges with the extra time and space afforded them and deserved at least a draw for their fight-back.

Osieck revealed afterwards that a spirited dressing room exchange sparked the turnaround.

"In the first half we played from our structure pretty good but we gave the ball away too easily," he told Fox Sports. "I said if we don't string passes together we don't get a result here. I was quite aggressive, I said 'you can do it' and we were really upbeat. I told them we are Australia, we are somebody, and we don't have to be afraid of them."

Friendlies are much more about performances and lessons than results and there was plenty of value here for Osieck. His primary gain was the knowledge his team can get on top of a superior opponent and this result will now be a touchstone in future team talks when an injection of belief is needed.

He used the same players - minus the injured Tim Cahill - as his run to the Asian Cup final and the fact he stuck with the starting XI so deep into the contest portrayed his desire to get the result. Once again Matt McKay proved his worth at this level by being one of the few to emerge from the first half with some credit before playing a leading role in the turnaround, most significantly with his deft flick that isolated three defenders and released Carney for his goal.

On the left side of a 4-4-2 is not McKay's preferred or best position and his effectiveness once drifting inside enhanced his claims for a start in the engine room, where Carl Valeri and Mile Jedinak struggled to keep possession when under pressure early on.

Carney's continued monopoly in the left-back role, despite his mixed performances there and his lack of football at Blackpool, is still an area of concern despite his goal and given McKay's ascension into the national team, one wonders whether A-League standouts Josh Rose or Shane Stefanutto might not have been more comfortable against the impressive Andre Schurrle.

Sasa Ognenovski again looked right at home next to Lucas Neill. Ognenovski did well to recover from a slip to deny substitute Miroslav Klose a seventh goal in seven internationals while Neill was lucky Klose fell theatrically when there was contact in the box.

At the other end, the desperate need for more firepower was clear as Harry Kewell and Brett Holman failed to threaten besides the former's winning of the penalty from Christian Trasch's clumsy and unnecessary tackle.

Brent McGrath made a cameo appearance significant only for the fact it was the Brondby striker's senior debut.

The Socceroos avenging their fateful 4-0 Durban disaster is an obvious angle for the headline writers but it is no less apt. Despite their shortcomings, this Australian side is well equipped heading into the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, but that was already known from the success achieved in Qatar this year. Instead, what was to gain here was the recognition from both inside and outside the camp that this team is still one to be reckoned with on the highest stage, an objective that was achieved with emphatic success. In Osieck's words, the Socceroos "are somebody" once more.

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