Pim VerbeekAS BORED journalists fire up the predictable rumours of a split in the Socceroos’ camp, midfield enforcer Vince Grella has a typically forthright message to his teammates on how to deal with the tension: ”Be a man about it.”
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After being routed and humiliated by Germany in Durban, Australia’s World Cup hopes – not to mention the reputations of coach Pim Verbeek and his players – go on the line against Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday night. Anything less than a win and the Socceroos will be heading home into a firestorm of recriminations.

Fact is, there is no split in the camp – only a coach looking into the mirror for the first time, and a group of players dealing with bruised egos. But there’s little doubt the team is under pressure, and it’s how they deal with it that matters.

Be a man … midfielder Vince Grella attempts to tackle Germany’s Thomas Muller in Durban. Photo: Steve Christo

Reports on Wednesday indicated there was a rift between Verbeek and a group of players, including Harry Kewell, Mark Bresciano and Grella. The players had allegedly complained to FFA about Verbeek’s selections and tactics. But the FFA has denied the rumours and said Kewell in particular was upset at the reports.

Grella, hooked at half-time against the Germans as Verbeek essentially admitted he had got his tactics wrong, has never been one to hide from responsibility.

”We’ve all got to be men about it, forget the bullshit and get on with it,” he said. ”Of course we can turn it around. That’s the beauty of football, and that’s what we’ve got to look to do. We have to fix the wounds and play a massive game against Ghana. If your maths is as good as mine, we can still get six points, and then we go through. Simple.”

Pressed on Verbeek’s surprise tactical switch against Germany, Grella replied: ”Hindsight is an easy thing. Whether the players were OK with it or not, it’s the manager’s call. We follow the game plan the coach’s put out there, and we have to respect his decision.”

While Verbeek hasn’t conceded he got his tactics wrong against the Germans – it was the first time he had started with a 4-4-2 structure since his first game in charge 2½⁄ years ago – there’s little doubt he will revert to his usual 4-2-3-1 against Ghana.

But while the formation will be familiar, the personnel might not be. Grella is one of several senior players under scrutiny, and for the first time the shadow players are applying genuine selection pressure.

Three regular starters unused against Germany – Josh Kennedy, Mark Bresciano and Harry Kewell – are also clamouring for a recall but it’s the so-called ”second-tier” players, among them Brett Holman, Mark Milligan and Mile Jedinak, who are leading the charge. With no margin for error, the media tasting blood and disillusioned fans agitating behind the scenes, the heat is on Verbeek to get it right.

Defender Luke Wilkshire, one of the few to emerge with any credit in Durban, is convinced the team can turn it around.

”We’ve definitely got the character in the team and the spirit,” he said. ”We know that we can do better. We know there’s a possibility there, and we’re going to be fighting to the end.”

Midfielder Brett Emerton, who also had a good game, added: ”I still feel we’ve got a good team but for some reason against Germany we weren’t at it. That’s football. The best thing we can do is try and forget about it, learn from our mistakes and try to improve on that next time.”