Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A is for Asia

Carney and Milligan did well at the Asia Cup because of their match fitness and semi-tropical conditioning. It seems a shame that will now throw this away by going off to play in Europe.

Sydney's missing the version 2 finals, means their ambitious players are now going to seek other avenues. And the A-League needs a successful Sydney - it may be pulling well for Foxtel but the gate is poor.

Milligan's shenanigans (his agent sent an email to Sydney's CEO to say they are in France trialling) look disappointingly like the horse trading that was investigated by the Senate in the old National Soccer League.

Clearly, one or two weeks in Singapore does not thin the blood down enough to make it easier to run in 30 degrees and 50% plus humidity. We need players with ambition to play in Asia. Perhaps, the FFA need a regular hot climate team of A-league and Asian club players to play the likes of Indonesia in Java (as implied by Jakarta Casual - thanks). Surely this is how the business deals will emerge.

Oh, and if the salaries in the Middle East, Korea and China are anything to go by, Asia could be a lucrative move for young Australians.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Urgent Memo to Frank Lowy FFA - Hire Jorvan Vieira

The stand out performance of this Asian Confederation Cup is not by a player. It is by Iraq's coach Jorvan Vieira.

Australia need a coach who knows about Asia and its challenges. It needs a coach who knows the Socceroos weaknesses and how to select players who can meet the climatic conditions. Vieira has proved he has all of this.

This 54 year old Brazilian's CV includes playing in Brazil and Portugal, as well as coaching in Brazil, Portugal, Qatar, Oman, Morocco (on the coaching staff of Morocco's second round World Cup achievement the furthest an African side has got), Kuwait, Egypt, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and now Iraq. He coached leading teams and under 20 and full national squads.

Hired in April for the Iraq job, he inherited a group of players scattered across the Middle East. Worse, most have had close friends and, or family die recently. Two lost family to the Iraq conflict just before this cup.

Iraq's on field performance has been the best in the countries football history. While the team has used its anguish as a motivator, particularly in the almost unplayable hot and humid conditions, it is the cool headed Jorvan Vieira who has made the difference. Iraq have made the finals by doing enough - 1-1 (Thai), 3-1 (Aust), 0-0 (Oman), 2-0 (Viet), 0-0 (4-3 penalties Korea). They stole Australia's lunch box and set up an easy game against Vietnam and then broke the Koreans.

While they have had stand out players, it has been the tactics that have won the day. Iraq play a physical but fair game - very similar to Australia and Uzbekistan (who were robbed by poor officiating in their 1-2 loss to Saudi Arabia). Some ACC refs have made Iraq's job difficult - preferring soft and sneaky to tough and fair. Vieira has been able to both get the best out of his players and block other teams' stars. Unlike the more favoured Saudis - who have been strong in attack and very weak in defence, Iraq have been solid across the park.

Australia needs Jorvan Vieira more than it needs Graham Arnold or Dick Advocaat.

Let's show Asia respect and that we are a country that learns its lessons.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Kuwait - revenge served cold

When Australia lost 2 - 0 to lowly Kuwait in September 2006 the impact of conditions was clear. However, because we had beat this team 2-0 at home, it was the second string and A-League players that copped the retorts.

In December 2006 Kuwait's governing body for football called for Australia's exclusion from the Asian Football Confederation.

"We are against Australia joining the Asian continent, even in soccer," said Sheikh Talal.

"This is the biggest mistake made against Asian soccer. This will kill the ambitions of Asian soccer.... "What are we going to benefit from Australia's soccer team? Is it the experience. We might play with them once every four years."

And the ref for the Japan - Australia game - who yellow carded Harry Kewell and David Carney for diving and sent off Vince Grella? AL FADHLI, Saad Kameel of KUWAIT (together with assistants from Oman and Iraq).

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Asia Cup - Australia 1 Japan 1 (Japan 4-3 on penalties)

Australia tastes the northern wind. And it is a succulent flavour we will learn to digest.

We tamed Japan. But clumsy refing took away our attacking opportunity. Vinnie Grella sent off for a arm to the head. (I think Vinnie was very lucky against Iraq not to get a second yellow when he decided to push a player for diving. And Neill's second yellow seemed to me to be his stepping in to protect Vinnie who appeared to be yelling at the ref.)

But tonight, Viduka looked powerless and was replaced early. Kewell came on and began making things happen. The Australian's stood up until we got to penalties. Then Kewell and Neill looked energy less as they missed their opportunities.

This should be it for Graham Arnold. Not because he didn't have respect but because his decision making under pressure was poor (player selection and timing, and tonight the field mikes picked him up talking our players through the game ball by ball). Not least was his decision to have John Kosmina beside him, advising him. The FFA could not have been happy, but this was Arnold's shot now he has had it. An A-League team, perhaps not.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The birth of a great sporting rivary: Japan v Australia

Well here we are. It isn't the final. And maybe we have under-estimated the rest of the competition. But it is the game that the football fans in Japan and Australia have been waiting for.

The FFA and the Japan Football Association should seek out more opportunities. Australia is already a very popular holiday destination for Japanese and Japan a popular work destination for Australians. A three game contest each year could be very popular and grow interest in the sport. Particularly if it were confined to locally based players. It would also help us learn the Asian football way.

Japan is seeking revenge for the World Cup, where frankly Australia were the better team. Now current form indicates the ball is on the other foot. Plus, Australia seems drained by the heat while Japan has learned to drain their opponents - Australia v Thailand was played at 8pm local time and now we are back to the less friendly 5.20pm kick-off that undid us against Iraq.

Japan have a history of Asia Cup experience to draw on. Further, they have greater team cohesiveness with more of their players playing together in the J-League. Both teams play the total football style. Again, Japan's recent hit outs have been cleaner and classier. But you never know...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Asia Cup: Australia 4 Thailand 0 - A-League saves Socceroos

Man of the Match performance from Milligan, steady defence from Carney and a goal from blood still thinned from version 1 Beauchamp save Socceroos. Also highlights poor earlier selections from Arnold. 1-0 to Australia at half time, then Thailand had Australia under the pump till the late 70 minutes with an against run of play goal from Viduka. Then the flood gates were open.

Holman's missed another chance and needs to be replaced by Nicky Carle - who should have had a chance in the group.

Japan showed the way - with a classy 4-1 win over Vietnam - Coaches wisdom 'the ball does not get tired', after earlier saying "Most of all, I am happy that it has ended without any of our players and staff suffering a heart attack," he said. "It was such harsh weather conditions." Japan showed how to play total football in the tropics - we still need to learn. Our game was fast and furious and helped by later start and rain.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Socceroos one product among many in Asia

Watching Saudi Arabia beat Indonesia 2-1, scoring in injury time, there can be no doubt that there is very high quality football in Asia.

I admit that my experience before the Asia Cup had made me think it was going to be all inexperienced refing and stretchers. I believed our press that we were favoured to win. But no, now I think it will be at least as hard for Australia to qualify for the World Cup as it was just having to beat the 5th team in South America over just 2 rounds.

We haven't heard of many of the players. Few of them would have the connections or visa rights to get themselves in European countries early in their careers. But some appear to be just as good as many Socceroos. And they have the advantage, except for say Iraq, of playing in the same leagues as their team mates. The teams are coached by former European stars. Most know, and been selected for their ability to play in, oppressive conditions.

The greatest irony is the weather. Australia also offers hot and humid conditions. Our cricketers play in the full heat of the summer day for up 6 hours for up to 5 days with 30 degrees and 50% humidity. In this sport, our fast bowlers are the world's fastest in these conditions. And they have won in worse conditions in India. If they can't play in these conditions they get found out quickly.

The Asia Cup was promoted as being about promoting the Australian game in Asia and Australia in general. I would like to understand a bit better what the FFA have in mind. If you want to do business in another country, first you must pay your respects to that country, get the audience on side. Again, cricketers Allan Border and Steve Waugh have shown the way. Both are revered in India. Yes for their skills (which they were able to demonstrate in front of Indian audiences) but largely because of they charity work. Steve in particular is a major fund raiser for Indian charities.

Contrast this to the promotion of the Socceroos. 'Hi we're the Socceroos, we play in Europe and we are here to win.' Even the FFA stated that its funding of the Singaporean preparation camp was worth the extra expenditure because winning in Asia was so important. The Socceroos have a dis-respectful approach to the Asian game. And if they hadn't lost we may never have noticed - but Asia would have.

Perhaps the FFA didn't know how good football was in Asia, or they believed the only good teams were regular world cup qualifiers Japan, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Perhaps it was considered that if the Asia Cup was promoted as a difficult event that Australia would struggle in, then the public would lose interest in football. But most likely they believed we would make the final and that Asia would be turning on their tellies to watch our boys.

Given they probably won't be, where does this leave the Socceroos and the A-League? Well the Socceroos have a lot of learning to do. We need to get players into the Asian leagues to learn these conditions and teams - mmmmm Given the dollars in Europe this seems unlikely. However, maybe FIFA's four foreign player rule will push platers in this direction. My understanding is that in a number of Asian countries talented players already earn more than the A-League offers plus their lack of exposure would stretch A-League clubs to try them. In any case, while we now play in summer, it is still out of step with the Asian calendar and we play in the cool of night and out of our testing conditions. It is the extra stamina of these players that we need to emulate.

I hope that the Socceroos efforts do not rebound on version 3 of the A-League. I believe that the plan - the 3rd leg after the world cup, establishing the A-League - was renewed interested from an Asian audience in the A-League and Australian players - and more dollars into the sport. Plus a win in Asia was to swell Australian crowds in version 3. It will be interesting to see how that pans out.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Not happy with tomorrow's headlines, Arnold writes his own

Gee sometimes when you are a mature adult you have to know when not to talk to the press. Frank Farina knew this and SBS chased him up http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifthe tunnel and into history.

Who let John Kosmina sit next to and rev up Arnold? Kosmina is in disgrace and the FFA made it clear they wanted him out of the A-League for bringing the game, still a babe here, into disrepute.

Craig Foster on ABC Radio National said he thought there was trouble in the camp and he did talk about Neill speaking out in frustration about what they should be doing... but he couldn't have guessed this. I thought Viduka may be the problem..

Well Neill kicked a free kick in his own penalty area into the back of an Iraq player to set up their 3rd goal.. and he got sent off for a 2nd yellow in extra time... but Lucas more than any player wanted to be there wanted to impress the Australian fans.. wants to lead.. for Arnold to question him..

I agree with Andy Harper, professionally talking up football in The Australia and here. We have under-estimated Asia and it's conditions. On Fox after the game Harper basically said he felt sorry for the coach and team - then they switched to Arnold and he bagged 'some players don't want to be here.. Neill had a poor game overall... ' Ange P - who took the wrap for the u21 performance - said now he feels sorry for the fans, watch in record numbers and the coach blames the players. Some sports person eh? Have we learnt nothing from the Adelaide incident?

We went into Asia saying here we come we are going to win - well guess what, we turned into the Trophy.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Asia Cup - Thailand 2 roll Oman 0

An emphatic second half performance saw Thailand's local legs outrun Oman and two great goals.

Again a disappointingly empty stadium.

Bad news for Oman but perhaps worse for Australia. If we struggled against Oman and Thailand finished them off and drew with Iraq, where does that leave us?

Ray Gatt The Australian's football writer wrote this week that if he didn't know the Socceroos better he would believe that many didn't want to be at this cup. I suspect that our success in putting players into Europe has back fired badly, and our boys used to cold weather just don't want to suffer in these conditions.

Arnold is talking about two changes for tomorrow nights game against Iraq. This shows his lack of creativity and risk aversion. After going out on a limb and convincing Viduka to come - he now finds he has to play the big guy even if he looks dis-interested.

Arnold has Nick Carle and Archie Thompson, hot summer players siting in the stands. He has to call them down. And next time we go to hot humid conditions we need to pick a team for the conditions - not for popularity, after all I expect ratings in Australia for these matches is going to quite low, and if we look like losers, by not making it out of our group, even lower.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Asia Cup - Indonesia 2 Bahrain 1

The tail of the underdogs continued. Indonesia play an exciting attacking, even rough house, brand of football in their Man U uniforms. And a crowd of 100,000 appreciated it. At least Bahrain had their coach supporting them.

Bambang Pamungkas made his mark, and a goal, as did Budi Sudarsono (goal scorer against Sydney FC for Persik Kediri). Bahrain had its chances, missed open goals and hit the cross bar. But it is Indonesia that has a team for these conditions. And they have been prepared well by Bulgarian coach Ivan Kolev.

Forget Europe. Asia is different. Europeans have been made to look foolish in Asia for centuries.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Asia Cup - Heat the great leveler

Vietnam 2 United Arab Emirates 0
Japan 1 Qatar 1

First sensations of the cup. Qatar's former Uruguayan striker Sebastian Quintana turns out to be a dead ball wizard. Two steps and bang. His first sailed just over the bar. His second in the 88 minute beat the Japanese goal keeper with a deflection. Minutes later Qatar star Hussain Yasser was sent from the field for studs up challenge just off the ball. Boots the ball into the stands in anger and draws his coach, former Bosnian great, Dzemaludin Musovic into the argument - Musovic was then sent by Breeze to the stands. But this was enough time wasting to eat the 3 minutes extra and dash the Japanese hopes - whose 61st minute tap in by Naohiro Takahara from a left side cross - was leveled out.

Cold climate players and even dry heat players are going to struggle in this cup. One humidity acclimatised mid range star is clearly worth 3 or 4 heat drained super stars.

Australia's Matthew Breeze refing Japan v Qatar. I like Breeze's style. Unlike other A-League refs, he doesn't listen to players and calls it as he sees it. He seems to be going well. As are the players from hot dry Qatar against the slowing Japanese. Both teams building up slowly from the back. Japan's wide play, so far is ineffectual, and they are forced to shoot from too far out.

The way forward for Australia is clear. Forget a few weeks in Singapore. It is unrealistic to think that that will help a player who has just played 40 plus games in the cold. The blood thickens in cold climates and takes months to thin out. Spending millions on prep-ing is a foolish waste - the heat drains their skills. No not that. The answer for this cup is to play Archie Thompson and Nicky Carle, even Milligan and perhaps risk Burns with his under 23 heat experience.

Adjusting to humidity takes at least a season, probably a year or longer. The FFA should research effects on people who have moved from Melbourne to Brisbane, and further to Cairns and Darwin. Perhaps some specialist football migration research. And this is our answer, our advantage. We have had first class players from the tropics Frank Farina and Clint Bolton among others.

The A-League needs teams based in North Queensland and Darwin. Players in the A-League that excel in these conditions should be selected for tough away Asia matches. FFA invest in this.

At the moment we look like a navy sending in an aircraft carrier to fight a battle in a one metre deep river delta with many branches and back waters with little room to twist and turn. Don't worry about big European based bodies and fire power - all we are doing is risking their brand and reputation in the big Asian markets. Let's play the guys who may thrive on the heat and opportunity!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Australia 1 Oman 1: Arnold sees his career flash before his eyes

Oh dear.

We have seen it all before - against Kuwait or even Sydney FC in Indonesia. Heat. Sweat. Diving. Stretchers every 5 minutes. Oman scored early in the game then did every thing to waste time and tire the Australians. Why wouldn't they? We have seen it all coming but we haven't had answers. We need to come up with something fast.

Again it was Cahill to the rescue in the last 10 minutes with a poachers goal after others shots had pounded off defenders.

But the hero was Schwarzer. He pulled out 4 world class saves to keep Australia in the game.

Asia Cup Kicks Off: Thailand 1 v Iraq 1 - Man of Match: Nashat Akram

Thailand won a penalty on 5 minutes. This sparked Iraq to life and a star role for 23 year old Nashat Akram.

Iraq's Brazilian coach, Jorvan Vieira, was appointed for this event in May. He may have been influential, but we all know Iraq'a story and he has had little time to mold a group of players located across Middle Eastern football.

In the first half, Iraq were attractive to watch. Dominating the game with long and short passing moves. Starving Thailand of ball and forward options. They play a physical game not unlike an A-League team. Nashat Akram was central to Iraq's organisation. Running hard and far for possession and to set-up attacks. Plus he was prepared to strike from outside the box. And he created the highlight of the match, a bicycle kick that Thailand's goalkeeper superbly palmed onto the cross-bar. On 32 minutes, Iraq got their equaliser with a tame header over a stranded keeper from a left sided free kick.

Iraq appeared to want little more from the game. It was hot. And wet, with rain through the match. In the second half their game plan altered from a full court press to 10 players behind the ball and largely allowing Thailand possession. Iraq's lone striker looked alone and with few options.

The possession improved the look of Thailand's game but they failed to show much attacking strength. The game ground down.

Thailand is in some political turmoil due to their football fanatic Prime Minister being deposed. Ex PM Thaksin Shinawatra has bid $162.5 million for Mancester City after failed bids for Fulham and Liverpool. The FA have to deem him a fit and proper person to own an EPL club before he gets the keys. hmmmmmm.

The stadium was half full, reflecting the weather and political situation. The Asia Cup can be seen on Fox and at public venues across Australia.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Roar: Wedau replaced by Marcinho

In a well telegraphed move Marcus Wedau is to return to Germany and his foreign player place taken by recent Brazilian signing Marcinho.

- Never capped under Frank Farina
- Foreign limit (4) made early exit necessary
- Limit makes choice critical and lift quality of available foreigners
- Turnover of A-League foreign players this year and as contracts end
- Asian players have signaled their interest but A-League prefers Brazilians
- photos - right round 21 of season 2, and left at a warm up this season

Around the time of version 1, I understand Wedau was recommended to the Roar by former team-mate at German club Rot-Weiss Essen, Spase Dilevski. Miron hired Wedau for version 2 - with a typical quote, something like ... he'll set up a million goals with his pinpoint passes and score even more.

I liked the way he played. As Miron suggested - it was very much a drilled passing game. In one of the few games he hit his stride, the first round against Adelaide, he nearly pulled a rabbit out of the hat with a shot from half way. But it wasn't enough (0-0 and a turning point for the Roar - he came off in the 68th replaced by Zhang). He slipped from Miron's starting line-up as the stats guys illustrated that he was less than dominant.

Under Frank, he didn't get a start. He was on the bench in the version 2 round 19 game in Adelaide in which Frank, with Milicic also on the bench but ill, controversially played the tiring run-on -team for the whole game - a rare sight - but the 1 goal victory showed it worked and the risk of un-endorsed players not worth it. In the final game against Sydney FC his name was called, but was the first out of the tunnel in his suit. He wouldn't get another chance.

After the game I made a point of wishing Wedau well.

I suspect that Wedau was not the best foreign player available to the Roar. Having him and Zhang sit on the bench while the Roar struggled last year was difficult for fans - particularly when Lynch was injured and then lost form. I saw Wedau in a warm-up this pre-season - dominating the middle against the local teams and crossing the ball right then left to create opportunities. Text book. But probably not enough to win in an A-League where 4 teams promise to be very strong this season. The Roar needed his place for new hot talent. And when Spase's offer was withdrawn and headed for Romania and Michael Baird, Wedau surely felt that.

Fox reported that a number of Asian players hope to use the Asia Cup as a spotlight to get into the A-League - as a highly regarded league that would open doors to wealthier leagues. However, they are making their run very late as sides are finalising early this season (locking the players they need before others get them) and the foreign places fill up.

The bright side of the 4 player limit is that quality foreign players will have to consider opportunities outside Melbourne and Sydney. Maybe this will be Marchinho's story as he has made some big statements about his ability in the mid-field.

Brazil is continuing to prove A-League clubs favourite player source. And the limit is likely to severely curtail opportunities for players from countries that Australian crowds don't see producing ready made marquees. As the A-League pushes up a notch in quality, the foreign players become more vital, proven talent more expensive, and therefore success more critical to team's gate-take.

More reasons that FIFA has got this policy wrong and should reverse it for the benefit of developing football nations. The A-League needs to be the first league of choice for Asian stars - this will add to the interest from Europe on the source of the next hot talent.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Roar 4 Supersport 1

The result could be an omen for version 3.

Two goals from Reinaldo (minute 12 and 37), a return to form by Lynch (52), and a goal from 18 year old Minniecon on his first class debut (70). Reinaldo's first seems like a remarkable goal - long pass from goalkeeper Reddy, Reinaldo takes it on the opposite penalty box and bangs it in.

Grrrr I missed this game - interstate. Strong crowd of 11,600 given the lack of promotion for the game. A good sign for this year's gate.

Current season ticket holder's renewals have been extended for another week, so expect to be able to buy them at ticketec from about 14 July or so.