Sunday, December 30, 2007

A-League: Perth 1 v Roar 4: Welcome to Tahj Minniecon's world

And Newcastle 2 v Wellington 3 - a table favour to Adelaide and Sydney.

I must say when Tahj has come on in previous games he has looked a little nervous and hasn't been able to achieve much. But tonight, while Perth were making sure that Robbie Kruse was marked tightly, Tahj set up 3 of the Roar's 4 goals. Including scoring a cracker himself.

Perth dominated the first 30 minutes. Coach Mitchell had promised that the next 3 home games would be attacking and would prove how good his side was. They looked good in all but the final third. Queenslander James Downey again had a great game setting up, from runs down the right, crosses into the box, that in-form strikers would have eaten. Perth's marksmen ended the game looking hungry.

Perth's fans wasted their energy booing their own captain Simon Colosimo who said after the game that 'nothing is official' about his move to Sydney FC next year. Clearly he has had enough. Early in the season he would complain bitterly about his team in the post game interview - a feat that few others in the A-League could expect to survive. In his case, it seems to have won him a birth in Sydney. Bad move Sydney. Don't do it. It is bad for business pinching other team's players - haven't you learnt that yet? As for Perth fans, take a cue from Roar fans - they knew Brosque - the player rescued from the sidelines of nowhere Europe was going to Sydney from halfway through season one, but they didn't boo until he was actually in a white and blue shirt (away) - and he hasn't bettered his form from those last Roar games.

Once the Roar had soaked up the first half hour, Perth's defence looked weak against the Roar's power drives - first Tahj to Robbie, then Tahj (Foxe) to Reinaldo, then immediately after Nick Rizzo had got one back for Perth - Tando (under no pressure) gave a poor throw to Downey that a pressing Tahj picked up on - bam.

The Roar's forth was a Josh McCloughan special - while Hayden Foxe had his hands around Sasa on the goal line - he left Josh free to head the ball in. Foxe hasn't been a success for Perth - injured in his first practice and since he has been fit he has looked very outclassed as a defender in the A-League.

A final word about Craig Moore. What a silly foul to get himself suspended next week. Why elbow someone after the ball has gone?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sydney on goal scoring blitz

There has been an average of more than 6 goals per game in the last 4 Sydney FC games. 27 goals - 15 for and 12 against.

Sydney 5 v Galaxy 3
Sydney 2 v Perth 4
CCM 4 v Sydney 5
Adelaide 1 v Sydney 3

And they used to have the tightest defence in the league...

A-League: Adelaide 1 v Sydney 3

25,000 watched this game. And unfortunately they experienced frustration.

Too many line ball decisions went Sydney's way.

Just after the half hour Robby Cornthwaite was red carded for a last man grab on the arm, Adelaide was a goal up and Sydney are the best 11 v 10 team in the league. I think Alex Brosque was held onto but he dived.

Just after the hour Adelaide's Bruce Djite, fairly and with skill, got round the last man and was away - called foul by referee Matthew Breeze.

A few minutes later Sydney wrapped up the match with their third goal. Unfortunately, Ruben Zadkovich had to run back from an offside position to get the ball to set-up the goal. Oh dear.

But the most unfortunate decision came in the 76th when Cassio was held back by his arm running toward the 6 yard box, penalty, red card against Sydney - no Cassio got a yellow for diving. Well it was no more of a dive than Brosque's game changer on 33 minutes.

Oh dear poor old Adelaide. If only Sydney could attract 25,000. Or even 15,000. And now they are equal second and could win it from here.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A-League: CCM 4 - Sydney 5: Best game ever!

The FFA needs to work out how we get more games like this. It was a raging success even before it started. Central Coast's biggest crowd - largely thanks to traveling Sydney fans. And the Saturday before Christmas needs to become a regular fixture - like Boxing Day is for cricket (boxing?). One marquee game everyone will watch. Foxtel must have been smoking.

It was the most entertaining game of the A-League's 3 seasons.

Sydney learned from LA Galaxy, forget about defence. I don't know what happened to CCM's defence, it was a disaster. So we have an end-to-end game that at first looked like it was going to be the Petrovski & Aloisi show, 2-0. Then Australia's best goal-keeper, Danny Vukovic, slipped or something and got himself sent off for hand ball outside the box in the 16th (Christmas pudding?). Then McKinna made his first major mistake of the season. He took off Sasho instead of Aloisi. Alosis only made it to the 59th and by the 79th, CCM had run out of subs (more treacle anyone?). Occasionally they were down to 9 as Sydney played hard and CCM had injury after injury.

The scoreline went like this:

CCM 1-0 (Jedinak), 2-0 (Aloisi slid in), Petrovski misses a slide in, 2-1 (Fyfe, Trout is OK in goal but not Vukovic), 2-2 (McFlynn), 3-2 (Dutch Owens, Popovic lucky not to get sent off for a last man foul for which the penalty was given), Sydney put everything into attack - and amazingly a 10 man CCM respond, 3-3 (Biddle weaves some magic with the CCM defence - or would you call them guys running about in the park?), 3-4 (Brendon Santalab turn and shoot wonder strike), 4-4 (Kwasnik does his job), and then, after 90 minutes, a mean foul (stretching his leg out) by Talay just outside his own box only gets a yellow - he wasn't the last man but it reduced CCM to 9 men as there is no one left on the CCM bench. Sydney race up the other end, again where is the CCM defence? Chaos in the box, hand ball to Kwasnik - red card, penalty, CCM only have 8 on the field - Talay scores the winner - Matthew Breeze blows full time.

Sydney were in CCM's box 64 times! No defence to speak of from either side. There was blood everywhere - a head clash from Popovic and Andrew Clark (Clark had a good game).

What was in that Christmas pudding?

I just realised Aloisi is going to play more than 8 guest games. How do CCM get to have two marquee players?

I said to my wife 'It'll be a long time before you see a game like that again.' She said, 'You're right.'

Thursday, December 20, 2007

How to win the FIFA World Cup (Reflections on an evening with the FFA)

Australia wants to win the World Cup. ;)

Why wouldn't we? We pride ourselves on being a world class sporting nation. We are, per capita, a world class sports watching nation. But while we have convinced ourselves of our sporting prowess, the more we find out about the rest of the world, the more we find out that just about every country loves its sports teams and thinks they are, should be, or will be the best.

In a globalising world, America has been caught out badly proving its international capabilities excelling at sports that only it plays (ok Canada plays a form of gridiron but if you talk about 'gridiron' ordinary Americans think you are talking about that odd game that the Canadians play). Or, like having 'world series' in sports that require teams to be based in America (baseball).

Now Australia, like America, is having to come clean and try to prove their world (I'll put 'sporting' in here so no one gets confused) dominance by winning at a sport that most of the world puts their sporting effort into. So we tried to build up union and cricket, no-one else is interested in AFL (particularly the Irish who complain bitterly about having to get hurt playing it every year). No one watches hockey, golf and squash are too individual to prove the point, and as tennis has expanded to more countries and demographics, we are getting less competitive.

And so, to prove our sporting prowess on the world stage, Australia wants to win the FIFA World Cup by 2020 (or 2022 to be precise).

Just how far away our capability is was demonstrated by the FFA when they invited me to go and hear their National Coach Education Manager talk at Griffith University. As background, Pim had just been appointed coach, so when I sat down and heard Kelly Cross' very English accent, I wanted to shout out 'you hide your accent well.' Our plan for the world cup has been vested in going Dutch - well if you pay of course.

To summarise the evening, this question was posed:

'Are Argentina the ultimate 'World' team?
South American qualities:
Flair, streetwise, attacking philosophy, jogo bonito
European qualities:
Hard work, strikers prepared to run for team, respect the importance of defence'

The Argentine team had just won the U-20 World Cup in Canada. They played mostly one-on-one marking, their two strikers had a key role in defending up field - closing down the opposition's defence and not letting them build an attack. They attack narrow and like the ball at their feet, passing short. They play with a classic play maker whose role it is pass players into opportunities - he is 'the man' who will pass to a player and then come and take it off him if the play isn't developing as he wants (the sought of South America our A-League teams are trying to buy but end-up with something a bit - or a lot - less). The wings are hardly used. Three defenders plus a screen ensure that no opposition gets through. By enlarge, their players are lighter and shorter than other teams (I think this works for younger teams and less so for professional teams - ie maybe this is why they are so narrow they don't try to win and create much in the air?).

This works for Argentina because they were the most talented team in the U-20 cup and the the most integrated team - only 2 or 3 were playing with big clubs overseas. Plus, and this could be a message for the FFA, their coach Hugo Tocalli had been dedicated to U-17 and U-20 as coach or head coach (since 2002) since 1994.

Anyway, I learnt a lot. I will try to apply a few things. Like getting a star player to make the plays rather than just star. And the knowledge will help my reading of A-League and other games. But overall, I know that if I apply this to the team I coach it is going to end in a mess. You need it all to be happening at once, we just aren't that good.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Melbourne 1 v Newcastle 3: It's Joel Griffiths

Two goals from Joel Griffiths sealed Melbourne's fate for this year? Probably. No Mario Jardel and that probably did the trick for Newcastle. 

Amazingly, Jardel actually did seem to be a draw card for the home Newcastle fans. Yet the A-League has perhaps under-played the returning Socceroos Popovic, Vidmar, Moore and once injury made it a gamble if he was going to play, even Brazilian world cup winner Juninho. Apart from Juninho, maybe their defensive flavour has taken some of the attacking roller-coaster out of the games. Maybe fans like that risk?

Anyway here's to more teams next year. Everyone knows it just has to be done - so just do it FFA. Sunday-Mail says Queensland will run out of young players - no, don't worry we'll find them - more people will be looking. 

New teams will bring new fans, from different places, to the game. We need that too.
Anyway he is a picture of speedy Mario for you. He is even beatin' speedy old Denni who scored first for the Jets today.

Sydney 2 v Perth 4: Merry Christmas Mr Rudan san


Perth without Colosimo, Topor-Stanley, Prentice and Harnwell, plus other players injured or leaving the club beats, thrashes Sydney?

What happened to Milligan? How does he handle the pressure of talent scouts and new national coaches (Pim Verbeek was there with his assistant and Bann taking notes) putting a ruler over his future? Three basic errors and three goals. Sydney did lose Middleby early to injury but I think that was an accident (stray foot?) from Milligan as well.

Sydney looked distracted, possibly by Rudan's early early career change. Clinton Bolton also muffed his national chance with some very ordinary keeping. Early on he nearly turned a no pressure clearance into a ricochet goal off Bertos - fortunately for him it went over - just. Sydney dominated the shot clock with 20 to 10 but their goals came out of the blue - particularly Corica's leaning back in the hammock gem.

In the past when Arnold's paradise club was in control, an A-League national team was dominated by Sydney FC. Based on last night, none of them would get a go. Their best player, Bridges, has played for England young ones, and even Alex Brosque missed some sitters.

Perth on the other hand. Wow. Suddenly we see the team that was taking shape before the pre-season and even Leo Bertos got his first A-League goal. The hero was Billy Celeski with 3.

Realistically, Pim could be looking at players we have never even considered in a national shirt. Players who have never stood up before last night. By the way, now we can see why trialling is so difficult to pick winners.

Where does Sydney go now? This year they may come back and they may even win. They really could. But they don't deserve too. And next year? Kosmina is threatening too pinch everyone else's good players - Colosimo (Perth captain), Mark Bridges (a rising star that has been sidelined by Newcastle self deprecating humour), Angelo Costanzo (Adelaide captain). This is wrong. And wrong for the A-League. It is typically bully-boy stuff that came out of the old NSL and kept the fans away. A fringe team finds a new player, gives him game time and then one of three dominant clubs comes along and makes him an offer he can't refuse - money, national interest from the paradise club, and transfer showcasing (and as it turned out monkey business).

Fans HATE their young or key players being pinched by other teams. They never forget, particularly if the other club is rich, arrogant (and pinching players is part of that) and can offer more opportunities. Eventually, fans get the message that the game is stacked against them and they go watch the cricket on free TV. If you have generations of tribalism you can survive such a lop sided league. The A-League won't. Sydney should look to its strength. The 5 million people it lives amongst. The biggest junior leagues in Australia. Sydney should be trawling through that - a Robbie Kruse is there, find the best in your own territory, spend money and patience on them, and then let the other A-League teams do the same. All clubs need a core group of players who have been with the club since their teens. We don't need the elite players packing their bags and going to a new club each year.

Plus, Sydney must fix its crowd or go to a smaller stadium. It is bad to see all those seats. Perhaps a new stadium would be easier for people to get to each week? And, a full stadium would help lift the team. Based in a satellite city they could build a relationship with their community. Go west? Penrith Park anyone? Just kidding.

Last question. Why did Sydney let Topor-Stanley go?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Wellington 1 v Roar 1; Adelaide 1 v CCM 2

CCM are staking the premiership while the Roar are gradually forcing their top 4 spot - needing 3 points from 4 games. Adelaide's spot is now in danger - 3rd but could be 5th by the end of the weekend. And Wellington are now level with Melbourne. Now all the pressure is on for Sydney (game in hand), Melbourne, Newcastle and Adelaide.

Wellington v Roar
Wellington needed a win. Coveny was almost a villain and almost a hero - his studs challenge in the first half only earning a yellow from Ben Williams, while his second half fudge-kick one-on-one with the keeper could have won it.

Massimo Murdocca - in the classic mid park playmaker role - had his best game. In the first 5 minutes, Reinaldo finds a goal. A good one too - stopping Murdocca's cross and then a neat turn and shoot through the mid box traffic. Great lead up work from Robbie Kruse. On 25 minutes, Craig Moore made his first clear cut error of the season failing to control a ball off his chest and giving it away for a break-away goal to Smeltz. Moore lasted only 75 minutes before succumbing to some type of injury putting his Socceroo February come-back at risk.

Not a classic. Roar had chances to win in the first half. In the second looked like they thought a draw was OK. Marcinho and Lynch fail to live up to their own expectations. Can you believe it, hardly any shots all game (Wellies 6 v Roar 8).

Adelaide v Central Coast
The combination of Aloisi and Petrovski aren't going to miss too many goals. Both scored tonight, but Aloisi did miss a sitter. Meanwhile Petrovski got booked for diving and Aloisi got booked for the keeper falling over him.

In fact 6 CCMers got yellows - reflects how they play. For Adelaide, good old Dez Giraldi managed to get himself booked while he was warming up as a sub - running onto the pitch and getting the ball before it went out - drop ball not a free kick? Strange all round.

Shots galore in this game (Adelaide 16 v CCM 18).

Monday, December 10, 2007

Two Roar Home Games Before Finals: Book now 5 Jan v Victory, 13 Jan v Sydney,

The Roar is on fire. Hamish is right, Seo points to Australia's footballing future, technically brilliant, humble and fair. A keeper less than Danny Vukovic and Seo's long range strike would have hit pay dirt.

Anyway, the Roar have proved they can more than match the best in the league. So while its going to be a bumpy ride, the finals and Asia beckon. Any more than 15,000, and Lang Park rocks, its intimidating in the way Telstra Dome has been for Victory. 20,000 or 30,000 and it would be deafening. We should go for 52,000 like against Paraguay...

Book here for the final home games.

Sat 5, 7:00 PM Melbourne Victory FC Suncorp Stadium

Sun 13, 6:00 PM Sydney FC Suncorp Stadium

As Frank said in his blog:

So many people were saying this match was a ‘must win’ for us and I suppose that’s easy to say when you’re not one of the players who have to go out there and get that result against a very good team.

This group of lads has a pretty special thing going at the moment in terms of the atmosphere in the dressing room and their collective will to win.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Roar 2 v CCM 1: I'm just a poor boy whose intentions are good..

This game had everything.

A clear penalty in the first 2 minutes waved on.

A goal from John Aloisi.

Two goals from Tony Vidmar. The second a nice hand ball round his keeper. And he saved us from another penalty test.

Lots of diving from Aloisi.

Great running play from Danny Tiatto on the left wing in place of Zullo - who'd have thought it? Great ball work from Reinaldo - who'd have thought it?

Central Coast tanked half way through the second half, even emptying their bench didn't work. Who'd have thought that.

Best game of the year from the Roar. Makes up for last week. And this round was perhaps the A-League's most exciting.

Crowd of 16,442, looked and sounded like 20,000.

Victory 2 v Adelaide 2: Goal ruthlessness

This was a very entertaining match. Adelaide went 2 up against the run of play and Melbourne fought their way back. A crowd of 22,000 seemed to get their money's worth, if not 3 points.

Archie Thompson was marvelous. As he has been all season.

The highlight was Paul Agostino's absolute ruthlessness in front of goal. Well the first was a tap in - which could have been offside. But the second. He beat Muscat to the rebounding header and then rammed Muscat, head first, against the post. Take that sucker.

Muscat's revenge was a beautifully executed penalty. And a a cracking own goal from Richie Alagich. He couldn't have tried to do that.

Oh looks like Nathan Burns is out for the rest of the season with hamstring problems - just when his parter Bruce Djite was ready to play half a game - how did Adelaide afford such a strong squad?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Wellies 3 v Perth 0; Syd 1 v Newc 0; Sydney get massive boost

Suspensions but no suspense.

Perth's best players Topor-Stanley and Harnwell were both sent off to give Wellington an easy win. Helping Sydney for its 2nd last home game against Perth next week. In Sydney, a crazy moment from Ruben Zadkovich on the half way line sliding into Adam Griffiths, brought Sydney back to 10 men on 52 minutes. But the most sensational moment of the whole game was Tony Popovic's off-the-ball elbow to Joel Griffith's head - knocking Griffith's out cold, he came back but didn't look right from then on - which will make Newcastle feel robbed and is likely to lead to an FFA investigation and - I would think - 2 or more weeks on the side for Popovic. If Popovic is sent off, he already had a yellow, there would be no injury time goal for Sydney, and their top 4 hopes would be in crisis. As it is, a betting person would back them from here, maybe all the way?

In terms of crowd, Sydney's season has been a disaster. Poor weather, crowd behaviour and media beat-ups scaring off families, and general version 3 blues have kept people away - only just over 10,000 made Sydney Football Stadium look lonely last night. Amazingly, Sydney have only two home games left - after next week against Perth, the next will be the last of the game of the season - what is usually the season's hum-dinger against Melbourne. But after what happened in the other two games the clubs played this season, we can expect more police than families. The week-about rhythm of going to the game just has not been built for the legion of fans the game needs in Australia's biggest city. The FFA really needs to move on new teams to get interest back... maybe the North Melbourne Kangaroos...

For me, last night's results put tremendous pressure on the Roar. They have 3 of their 6 games at home. If they make the finals, the crowds will come and life will be breathed into the A-League. If they miss out, again...

While the Roar publicity has been about how 'the rest of the table will be willing us on against Central Coast' to bring CCM back to the pack, I don't think so. I think the other teams want to cement their top 4 place. Climbing over the Roar would be an easier way to do that rather than worry about CCM's position. Lose or draw against CCM and the Roar could be out of the top 4 by the end of next week.

Perth's debacle against Wellington, means Sydney are very likely to get 6 points (3 last night and 3 at home next week against a Topor-Stanley and Harnwell depleted Perth) from 2 games and firm its bid for the top 4. The Roar, on the other hand, can't afford anything other than a victory against Central Coast or its hopes of making the top 4 for the first time will look a lot bleaker.

Next week the Roar play a resurgent Wellington in NZ, and the following week Perth (with best players Topor-Stanley and Harnwell back and desperate to appease their home fans) in WA. Both home teams will be desperate and have nothing at all to loose. Meanwhile, the Roar has been playing a 'draw is taking 2 points from your opposition' game - which is a 50-50 option when your opponents have the same game plan. Following up the Roar play Victory at Land Park, Sydney at Lang Park and finish up away to Adelaide.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

FFA signs coach

It was the strangest thing. The body language from the Australians was dreadful. Lowy and Buckley looked for all the world like they had been forced to settle for someone they didn't want. Even the room lighting was all wrong.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Perth 3 v Victory 1: Victory stumble- Thompson forced to do it all

Jerry Karpeh is looking like a great buy for Perth - speedy and with a great sense of timing and a great cross. Came on at half time and had an immediate impact flying after a long ball down the right to centre for Rukavytsya to score his second.

With Sydney with a game in hand after yesterday's rain-out at Central Coast - Melbourne are struggling to stay intouch with the 4.

Next week's game of the round could be Sunday's Roar v CCM. CCM will be without Hutchinson and Petroski whose suspensions have carried over. Moore is likely to be back for the Roar - but what does Frank have up his sleeve upfront to produce goals from the left?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Zullo looks likely to miss most of the rest of the season

Maybe proving that he can jump 2 metres off the ground wasn't such a good idea.

Time to buy a marquee striker as cover (to recover the crowd interest) or how about Mark Bridge from his wasteland at Newcastle?