Venables's last game as England manager in Euro 96 was watched by a crowd of over 80,000 at Wembley, and his first match as Australian manager was watched by 10,500 at the Lakeside Oval in Melbourne. The attendance was double the number that went to an international against Japan at the same time last year, but hardly reflected the level of media interest Venables has attracted since arriving in Australia two weeks ago.
He had been received with almost messianic enthusiasm, with people at public functions queueing to shake his hand, and in the first 15 minutes yesterday, when a quick and lively Australian side opened up like world- beaters, scoring once from three or four good opportunities, it did seem that Venables might crown the night by walking across the water on the nearby lake.
The Four Nations series against New Zealand, South Korea and Norway had been organised for Venables to assess the quality of the Australian- based players, as opposed to the European-based players, such as Mark Bosnich, the Aston Villa goalkeeper.
Those overseas players are expected to form the nucleus of Venables's team for the World Cup qualifying matches later this year. Australia are expected to play off against New Zealand in the Oceania qualifying group, with the winner then meeting the fourth-placed team in the Asian group for the right to go to France.
The team Venables put out last night was in effect the Australian Second XI, taking on New Zealand's team of part-time professionals, led by Rodger Gray, a police constable who trains by running on the local farm. The Kiwis are coached by Keith Pritchett, who was a young professional at Queen's Park Rangers when Venables was club captain. Pritchett later played five seasons at Watford under Graham Taylor, the former England manager.
Apart from raising interest in the Australian national team, known locally as the Socceroos, Venables has adopted a more attacking approach than his predecessor, Eddie Thomson, a Scot who left last year to coach in Japan. Thomson had played with one or two strikers, and Venables' first change was to introduce a 3-4-3 formation with three front players who constantly interchanged positions.
The early movement from the Australian side perplexed an unprepared New Zealand, and the understanding between the Australian midfielder Matthew Bingley and the forward Kris Trajanowski, both of whom seemed likely to be included in the full Socceroo side, created the best chances for Australia.
The goal came after 15 minutes when Trajanowski's through ball found Bingley, who rounded the goalkeeper to score. Outstanding saves by the New Zealand keeper, Jason Batty, stopped Australia from increasing their lead, and as the game wore on a well-organised New Zealand side improved.
"It was a highly competitive game, and we didn't ram it home when we had the advantage," Venables said. "I'm not unhappy with what I saw, but there's a lot to be done."
Tomorrow Venables moves on to Brisbane, where his team play South Korea on Wednesday, and he winds up in Sydney next Saturday for the final series match against Norway. After much anticipation, the "Aussie Tel" show is finally on the road.Reuse content