Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The kids are alright...

There should be no stage fright for the kids Friday week. They are very used to playing Sydney (3 times in 4 games) and in front of home and away crowds.

After playing in front of 32,000 at home in round 20, and then a relatively hostile (OK they were very well behaved) 23,000 away, the 30,000 to 40,000 expected next week at Lang Park should be A-OK.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Newcastle 2 v Central Coast 0: Griffiths Brothers Score

While CCM made most of the running and Jade North gave away a penalty with a foot to the head of Sasho Petrovski, John Aloisi broke a few hearts and kicked wide. Solid defence and good brakes gave Newcastle the game (together with a late penalty).

Four yellow cards and no away goals created some further headaches for CCM. So its at least 2 goals for CCM on 10 Feb.

Friday, January 25, 2008

FFA need to cite Iain Fyfe for taking out Zullo (the Roar are back!)

Off the ball. Deliberately - or 'cleverly' as described by Foxtel, Fyfe took out Zullo with an elbow charge on around 25 minutes. Foxtel have the footage and the foul is clear. More calculating than Tiatto's jab last week. Fyfe must be banned.

In the first half, the Roar tanked Sydney FC. Kruse, Reinaldo, Zullo, Ognenovski (dead ball) and Marcinho (deadball and several shots) all had goal scoring opportunities.

Sydney's single strategy in the first half, executed by Talay, Milligan, Fyfe and Renaud was to take out Zullo and Kruse. These Sydney defenders all had lucky escapes to be still playing in the finals series. If the FFA does its job, Fyfe will not be. The new Tiatto rule from round one needs to be applied!

The second half was more even. The standout event was the choking of Alex Brosque - 3 times in front of goal. And the incredible performance of Griffin McMaster, untroubled in the first half, he and Craig Moore saved the Roar in the second.

The pressure is now on Sydney. Choking and spluttering to Queensland in two weeks - after a week of Kosmina's sky blue talk...

The Roar are back...

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Player exodus

Back in the bad old days at the end of a season all the good players would line up and join the club who would pay them the most.

The Australian (22 jan 2008 p16 Ray Gatt) ran an argument that CCM with salary cap pressures and success behind them, together with many players coming off contract would have their better than average players targeted by other clubs. This is the way the salary cap is supposed to work. Spread the good players around and keep it all even as poorly performing clubs would pay more for better than average players than top performing ones. This outcome would be good.

However, there is the issue of player ambition, opportunities to be in a team that will draw the attention of the Socceroos, as well as opportunities to play in the Asian Champions league and to get watched by international talent scouts. Also, for strikers better performing clubs mean getting better final balls and more opportunities for goals. These factors mean that better than average players may be prepared to accept less to go to big clubs. And other clubs that can already offer an Asian Champions league spot can also draw talent away from lessor performing clubs.

Sometimes the lessor performing clubs must pay more for players of only average quality because of perceived lifestyle costs and remoteness from family. They tend to be filled with players either at the very end or the very beginning of their careers.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Finals shminals

The trouble for the FFA is that they are still negotiating with Hyundai for the next head lease sponsorship deal. The major final they needed to push Hyundai over the line was Sydney v Roar - 30,000 plus both home and away plus a massive foxtel TV audience in both states. And then a Grand final in Sydney with 40,000 to 60,000 or Lang Park (my guess is that you would get 52,000 for that) and again record breaking numbers of Foxtel subscriptions likely to switch on in both states.

With CCM and Newcastle in the major semi, maximum crowds will be 29,000 and 20,000 and a much smaller Foxtel TV viewer base. Expect less if if rains - Sydney and Roar fans love rain we don't care if we get wet! As O'Neil writes in his book (It's only a game) CCM weren't part of the original A-League plan because of the size of the Gosford community. And Newcastle is only marginally bigger.

So the trick will be convincing Sydney and Roar fans that despite the fact that one team's season is about to end, they should come out on mass. I haven't seen the media event to support this yet - maybe it is happening in Sydney? The Socceroo event - again FFA will be praying they win here - means it is two weeks between the legs, again a difficult marketing hurdle.

Worst case is that the results see us with CCM and Newcastle back in the Grand Final. To cover this the FFA CEO Ben Buckley has already stated that the final could be, probably will be, we'll confirm soon that it will be... in Sydney. This will happen not just to maximise the gate crowd, but also to ensure that they can promote interest for Foxtel viewers in Sydney - Foxtel's key market. And encourage Hyundia to get back on-board with the dollars to bankroll the FFA expansion plan (young player and womens league). - by the way I think all A-League teams should have 2 women players who must play the equivalent of two to four games per year (more on that story later).

So if you believe the Southerns are biased against the Roar or Queensland - no way it is in their interest for us to be there they need our fans - that is why they need to improve the refing in games up here and get a home ground advantage.

(but the decision making does seem narrow minded to some sought of football purest judgement).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kosmina's smoke screen to cover his choke

First we hear from Kosmina that Sydney's players aren't going to the Socceroo camp. Then they are. Then that he wanted to buy Tiatto for Adelaide. Then that Tiatto's temperament is always going to make him a target - for diving as we saw. Then John tells us that the Roar choked...

Wait a minute, he does protest too much. He is putting a circuit breaker in for his team. Take the pressure off Sydney's choke, far worse - at home in front of their fans and in front twice and they still can't take the title.

Sydney's draw was worse than the Roar's glorious loss. John Kosmina has been talking as fast as he can to fill up the space left by Sydney's choke in twice going ahead and twice being draw level by an under strength and under motivated Melbourne.

Melbourne blooded their new young keeper and crafty old Corica put one under him in the first few minutes. But that was what it was about for Melbourne, playing their last professional game before the Asia Cup. Trying new players and moves away from home. Melbourne had already proved their capabilities and were back on a winning streak. Sydney faced the reality of playing in front of 65,000 fans in two weeks and only managing to kill off one game (v Roar 0-0) and let go the premiership in the other.

The Roar on the other hand faced Adelaide whose coach was facing the sack after losing 4 in a row and whose team had been both way out of form and full of injuries. Plus the retirement of one of their stars as motivation. Adelaide were prepared to win at any cost. Adelaide's remedy, target Moore's injury and Tiatto's reputation. Dive after every touch and near touch, even goading the next generation of Socceroo into - as the reply clearly shows - cheating. Encouraging the crowd to chant for Tiatto's blood. Was Travis Dodd really hit that hard by Tiatto's slapping hand. He looked like he was going to die - but no by a miracle he was up throwing punches at Tiatto as he walked off. (Does this remind you of the Portuguese tactics against Wayne Rooney to get him sent off in the 2006 World Cup?)

What else is an amateur ref going to do?

And it was Angelo Costanzo's big wink that showed what his team were about - winning at ALL COSTS.

No Sydney had none of that to contend with. So John Kosmina instinctively knew he had to say some controversial things to protect his players from the press questions about their major choke. Afterall, he now has the same chance as the Roar to get to Asia in 2009.

(Does anyone remember the famous spat between Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke when Mal boasted about his Oxford grade until Hawke pointed out that at Oxbridge a glorious failure is considered better than a labourious pass?)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

FFA need to cite Travis Dodd

The Roar paid for the FFA's decision to allow its experienced refs to attend a conference.

In the opening 30 minutes that ended the Roar's tittle hopes, Adelaide prodded, provoked and won the inexperienced refs favours. Tiatto's move was unforgivable and he will pay. But Travis Dodd, first with a clear foul for the first goal on McMaster, then with un-carded charges directly into into Roar players' chests, got away with it. As did Jonas Salley and too a lesser extent Angelo Costanzo.

While Adelaide hacked down Michael Zullo and Tahj Minniecon, and held back Reinaldo, first place slipped from the Roar.

Well I wanted a home ground advantage, but not in the last game thanks.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Two up, Two Down: Central Coast 2 v Wellington 0

On paper Wellington have had a strong team. In practice, its defence goes missing at critical times. Like tonight when they had held out for most of the game but left John Aloisi unmarked for a headed goal. Or in extra time when Lia's studs up challenge, fortunately for him, only drew a yellow card, and Christen Rees, fortunately for Sydney FC, got away with pulling the shirt and holding Petrovski in the penalty box.

They had had the strike power, Ahmad Elrich, Felipe, Daniel, Shane Smeltz and most recently local 17 year old Costa Barbarouses. And scored enough goals, but let too many in.

Wellington may play in the Oceania Champions league this year (so I assume they will not be eligible if they ever qualify for the Asian Champions league - can't have it both ways) and so should have something to offer and keep their top players with.

Elrich has been linked to his brother's Newcastle, but I don't see this move as likely as owner Con Constantine seems more likely to go for Ryan Griffiths to make it 3 brothers or a bigger name that will attract crowds. As a marquee, Elrich hasn't delivered despite his early cracker of a goal. And the sight of Elrich and Felipe on the bench until the 83 minute tonight showed the struggle Ricky Herbert has had to field a strong team. Wellington agents are reported to be on their way to Europe to look for two more foreign players - my guess to hold up the defence - to try to make the four next year.

Ex-Brisbane Strikers Karl Dodd was probably the best of the Wellington defence, tonight and for the season. I don't think he has done enough to get a call-up to the return to the Roar (he left early in season one) or other clubs.

The win for Central Coast means that Sydney will have to beat Melbourne by 2 to jump to the lead tomorrow afternoon - I think that is the case - because if two teams are equal on points and goal difference (CCM and Sydney would be if Sydney one by 1) I assume that the team with the most 'wins' (CCM 10 v what would be Sydney's 9th) moves ahead (feel free to correct me - we don't have time to email FFA on this one).

The first 2 games of this round means that budget team Perth will not finish last. And that Wellington will.

Perth did well as a super team in the NSL when there was no salary cap so they just bought up all the good players and won year after year. But now there are 8 super teams and a cap - at a much higher rate than required to win the NSL - Perth face an uphill battle. Already they have had 3 owners (including the FFA last year) and 3 coaches (or was it 4?). And surely their stars must be attracting the attention of other clubs.

The Central Coast win also makes it harder for Newcastle to grab 2nd spot, as wins for either Sydney or the Roar will nudge them into the 3 v 4 must win semi.

Central Coast's defence worked tonight. Just at the right time.

By the way, I wonder how the FFA's negotiations are going with Hyundia? At last report they were quiet a way apart. But season 3 has come home like a train and the leverage of new clubs and towns should be too great for Hyundia.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Be careful what you might wish for: Newcastle 2 v Perth 1

I wished for referees that were swayed by home fans. Unfortunately, Michael Hester was.

Actually this is a mistake. All of Australia's experienced A-League refs have been forced to a compulsory clinic in Malaysia or are injured. This should have led to a protest by the FFA or a postponement of the round. The story is here.

Instead the 4 most important games of the A-League this year, and for some clubs like the Roar, the most important games ever in their history, are going to be refereed by totally inexperienced refs.

One A-League game ref, Hester sent a Perth player (Nick Rizzo) off on the half hour. He was going to give him a yellow card (he had it out and was moving to Rizzo) - but changed his mind when the crowd turned on him and the Jets players turned on Rizzo. Amateur hour! Particularly when so much was riding on this match for 3 other teams and with Perth trying not to come last.

Inexperience favours the home team as the ref is trying not to make basic mistakes so hard that the crowd can influence and cause them.

Look what the FFA said about this:

'Football Federation Australia referees manager Richard Lorenc admitted the Kuala Lumpur camp timing was unfortunate, but said it presented a great chance for four other whistleblowers.'
Marco Monteverde, Courier Mail online, January 17, 2008 11:00pm

They should give these people experience in the pre-season not in the most important round.

Does anyone need reminding? The biggest A-League round ever followed by the biggest A-League Round ever...

Last weekend was a record. More people watched the A-League live than ever before. Probably, more people watched the football across a wider geographic region in Australia than ever before - Perth to Melbourne to Brisbane.

This week there is ever more at stake with all teams on 31 points.

Come on Sydney fans get out there and watch your team!

All 4 teams have 31 points but Roar leads on goal difference. The top team only goes to Asia Cup next year - with the team that wins the Premiership. Next year the Asian Confederation will fully fund teams, meaning there is a motza to be made from TV sales and gate take. Therefore, finishing first this week is more important than the results of the finals until the last game. So for all 4 teams this is the game. For the Roar this is their biggest game ever. If the Roar beat Adelaide, they will finish first. A draw or a loss may not be enough... If the Roar win, the future of the club is sown up.

Next year, if Gold Coast and Townsville enter the A-League, this time of year could be even bigger...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tennis Hooligans

A very small minority of the tennis crowd the other night acted very dangerously. This type of thing needs to be stamped out. We know that tennis is the type of game that encourages violence and tempers. Look at McEnroe. Tennis officials and player agents really need to get together to solve this problem.

A key solution is to stop all media coverage of the games. Obviously one of the things winding people up is the wall-to-wall free to air tv and press coverage and that needs to stop.

At least this type of behaviour doesn't happen in our game, where people are more calm and dignified.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Young guns take Frank to the verge of the big time... Asia

Frank Farina has delivered on Brisbane's expectations.

With the Queensland Lions getting the Brisbane franchise over the late Clem Jones' Brisbane Strikers, Miron Bleiberg was always going to get the first shot. And Miron did select an excitement machine that still sets the benchmark for the A-League. But his selections just were not up to the physical requirements. Potentially league changing stars like Zhang, Wedau, Dilevski, Milicic and finally Lynch all failed to live up to their billing. It was the unsung heroes that showed real promise, Murdocca, McKay, later Ogenovski and the young guns Dave Williams and Vidosic. But it wasn't enough for what Miron needed to do. He nearly introduced Robbie Kruse, I watched him standing with Robbie posed ready to go on - Miron sat Robbie back down.

Last season Frank added Damien Mori, but it was still going like a train off the tracks until he relented on his view on Reinaldo (brought him back from the stands) and gave Mori a 4-4-2 strike partner. This season Frank added Moore and Tiatto. But the good work of season two seemed to be coming undone until he unleased Zullo and Kruse. After an initially impact, injury struck Zullo giving Minniecon a starting birth. Wow.

You want more?

Waiting in the wings is another from the Australian under 20 squad, Mitch Nichols from the Gold Coast. Yet to get the starting position that seems to define the release of energy that catapults youth potential into a goal making and goal scoring stars, Mitch nearing got his opening goal forcing a full stretch save from Bolton on Saturday.

If one of these youngsters, Minniecon, Kruse, Zullo, Nichols, get the chance to reach their potential on Sunday - the Roar will go to a fully funded Asia next year - and give a whole new range of talent the motivation to fight for the right to sign up here in Queensland.

And Frank will be back at the top where he surely belongs.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Marcinho, Marcinho, MARCINHO, Marcinho

Márcio Luiz Adurens came to the Roar with great expectations from the club, fans and for himself. Clearly he had been sold as a classic 'I am the man' playmaker. According to Wikipedia has has played alongside Kaka and Julio Baptista and scored goals in finals. He was to be the type of player that every A-League club, particularly the Roar, has been searching out. A Nicky Carle (ex Newcastle Jets and now signed to leading English CC Championship club Bristle City).

This is what the Roar site says about him:
Touted as the most unpredictable and skilled player ever to grace Roar’s books, big things are expected from the Brazilian midfielder this season. With an assured touch, enviable freekick and plenty of tricks sure to be pulled out of the bag, he should be exciting to watch.

The initial reality proved different. He was given lots of game time at the start of the season for limited results. And while other Brazilians like Cassio at Adelaide and Daniel and Felipe with Wellington were making the plays, Marcinho was not coming up with the goods. At one stage he had the most attempts on goal in the A-League and all were unsuccessful. Writing in the Sunday Mail, Miron Bleiberg pointed out that Marcinho wanted to score himself. We all knew it was true.

Marcinho was relegated to the bench. The Roar 'discovered' Kruse and Zullo and the season looked up. Marcinho came on in round 12 against New Zealand at nil all and set the game alight. Suddenly he was all energy, making all the plays and goal scoring opportunities. He was badly injured on the shoulder and still managed to score a cracker of a goal with one arm handing limp at his side - there was no way he was coming off - he raced over to the Roar fans on the western side and high five-d all of the kids in the front row.

He is a confidence based player, quiet off the field, with limited English.

He missed games as a result of his shoulder injury and remains a bench player, but whenever he comes on he sets the game alight, often when it looks there is no one else with an idea on how to score.

This week against Sydney Simon Lynch was given his chance. He failed to take it and rarely troubled the keeper. Marcinho came on with 23 minutes left and pounded the goal-mouth. There wasn't enough time, he had to rush and his team-mates were drained by the heat and humidity. But Marcinho has earned his spot. The week before a Melbourne fan asked me after Marcinho had come on and created space and a goal, 'Why isn't he starting?'

In my view, Simon Lynch has been given his chance and could not create, with Reinaldo back, he needs to make way (Simon is expected to play for Gold Coast Galaxy next season). Finding Marcinho a starting spot is a must in a must win game against Adelaide - to take the Roar to Asia.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A-League: Home ground disadvantage solved

The A-League establishment may not want to acknowledge it BUT the reason home teams struggle to win is no longer a mystery. 

It isn't anybodies fault, or won't be if it is addressed.

Firstly, 8 teams playing each other 3 times means that a team that does not have to entertain and can sustain a draw or rely on a smash and grab has a huge advantage. They have seen all the tapes, they know who can do what.

Secondly, I am afraid it is the refs. 

Refs know all the players. They know what to expect from them, so when a known diver is fouled, he dived and gets a yellow card. 

Refs know all the grounds and crowds. So when a crowd complains about a decision, the ref can rest easy, the FFA will back him. He does not have to worry about entertaining the crowd. And at most grounds he is protected from poor decisions by an agreement that has the big screen blanked out on contentious decisions - cutting down the reaction of the crowd.

As a result of these factors, the ref tends to a psychological position where he biases against the home team. He will discount the home crowd and their groans and shouts and assume innocence and favour the away team. It happens every week, no matter how good the ref.

This is so wrong. This does not happen in 22 team competitions. In bigger competitions, the refs don't have personal relationship with the players, they don't have to worry about what they know of player who has fouled or is fouled (even the FFA is susceptible to this look at the way they suspended Tiatto post match and then ignored worse fouls for the rest of season). The lines-people get more experience in bigger competitions and therefore they make better offside decisions. And the leagues can afford for the refs to be full time - review their performance each week and train.

It is wrong because often the crowd is right. In the Roar v Sydney match Renaud and McFlynn's mission was clear, take it in turns to foul Minniecon, Zullo and McKay to slow them down or take them out. They succeeded, and the ref allowed it. Similar tackles by home teams, even by Sydney, had been met with yellow and even red cards in earlier games.

When the home team gets punishment and the away team gets away scot free, crowds get cynical and ultimately stay away. This happened for Wellington with Ross Aloisi getting sent off for a tackle at the level that Ufuk Talay had had ignored.

But worst of all is when the refs anti-crowd psychological self protections lead to the dismissal of clear penalties. Like Kevin Muscat's, as described by the Courier Mail (14 Jan 2008 p58), 'blatant hand ball' was ignored in round 19 Roar v Victory, and last night when Ufuk Talay's hand ball and Renaud last man trip on Minniecon were both ignored. All these events made the news, the game provided the video evidence and the refs' poor, anti crowd decision making put the games into disrepute.

How to address this? Video replays. More refs who don't know the teams (guests). Replays of all major events at the ground.         

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thanks to Newcastle, Roar v Sydney: Biggest game this season?

Melbourne 3 v Wellington 0
Central Coast Mariners 1 v Newcastle Jets 2

Newcastle's win, in an amazing game that could have had either team pound the net many times, has set up the Roar v Sydney game at Lang Park tomorrow as a possibility for game of the season. It can already be locked as the biggest and most important game in the Roar's history. It has been building this way each season.

The last Roar v Sydney game, with Roar at home, each season has offered the Roar an opportunity to create a new platform for the club. It is more than the state of origin nature, although that is there - but only there for this last feature (the Sydney home fans don't come out in record numbers for a Roar game). No, each year some thing special has been on the line for the Roar.

In version 1 it was redemption - 2-1 (round 19) to Roar but not enough. In version 2 it was the last game and a bitter fight for a spot in the finals. Each time Sydney has blocked the Roar out. Last year in particular Sydney put a particularly dead hand on the game. An early slip, on a Robbie Williams' concert ruined in-goal area, from Remo Buess saw Alex Brosque cruelly rub Roar fans noses in his deflection. Then a Sara long ball was cushioned down by Reinaldo for Damien Mori to provide a special end to his goal scoring record - a 2nd half bicycle kick got in the keepers way (can you tell how it still hurts, to be the best side never to have made the finals).

And now we have. But of course now we need more. We need the Asian Champions League, and the hugh financial boost that will be provided to entrants in 2009. It was very, very disappointing to see the poor crowds mustered by Adelaide and Sydney last year against the top Asian teams. That will not be the case in Queensland. The crowds will be huge - 40,000 to 50,000 - we love big games.

Now CCM and Newcastle are tied up on 31 points, and Sydney and Roar - both with tomorrow in hand on 30. And that is the final four - so alas Adelaide, good final run Melbourne. Sydney will, for the first time, be playing to win - they must. The team that loses will have an up hill battle to qualify for the Asian Champions League (1 and 2). Because a winner would go to the top of the A-League - 2 clear of the others. If Sydney lose their goal difference could mean they may not be able to catch the Roar next week. If Roar win their goal difference advantage would mean it may only need a draw next week against Adelaide to qualify for Asia. CCM and Newcastle have both said they want a draw from Roar v Sydney - this would tie all four up - but still give Roar an edge.

Wow - 30,000 plus at Lang Park tomorrow - what a game to anticipate... wow can we, can we ... we can...

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Pim and I

I had a short discussion with Pim Verbeek while he was in Brisbane on Saturday. I wanted to push Sasa Ognenovski's case for Socceroo selection.

We also spoke about the need for Socceroos to play in the heat of Asia and, therefore, why Townsville's entry into the A-League is critical. Because our heat conditioning let us down badly in the Asia Cup, and some players will be able to play in hot weather and others will not - players need at least 3 A-League games per year where they can show their heat potential.

We also need to have a base of players who train and play their home in 35 to 50 degree heat and up to 100% humidity all the time. Townsville, and eventually Darwin, will give us that, some of that team can be the core of a Socceroo squad that will take us through the inhospitable conditions we will get in Asia. Pim has been through this with Korea, a place that is very cold in winter and very hot and humid in summer.


Roar 1 v Melbourne 2

I am hearing a lot about missed opportunities for the Roar. Actually, I didn't see many. I saw some great goalkeeping from Griffin McMaster. And I saw some refereeing that appeared to favour the away team. The research suggests that the home team should be most likely to win a match on a given day. A key part of this advantage is the tendency for refs to favour the home crowd. But this research isn't based on an 8 team competition with refs who have other jobs as their primary source of income (and are therefore not focused on training and their match day performance all week). The A-League's tender ecosystem seems to work in reverse - Central Coast have the best home record and they have only won 50% of their games at Bluetongue.

In world game terms, just under 22,000 is a reasonably sized crowd. Under these conditions, refs need to avoid mistakes that favour the away team. While the Roar played technically the best football for 90 minutes (Tahj again ripped apart Melbourne's defence, lack of experience at the back and parts of midfield particularly when Seo came off injured early - let us down).

A clear hand ball led to a penalty decision late in the game, early enough for Melbourne to open right up in a desperate bid to get back into the game - and therefore, for Roar to score again.

The Ref told the players that the match deciding hand ball was accidental and therefore not a penalty. However, the offender, Kevin Muscat, does not make this type of mistake, particularly in games his team must win. Unfortunately, as it has been pointed out elsewhere, not giving a penalty for an otherwise goal-bound hand ball isn't a judgement call, it is a technical mistake. In any case, it should have been penalty and the Roar's biggest crowd of the season - people the A-League needs to return to stay viable - went away feeling let down.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

First 3 finals places confirmed: Roar, CCM and Sydney

Wellington 0 v Sydney 2
Newcastle 2 v Adelaide 1

Ufuk Talay is the luckiest player in the A-League. Last week he broke Dean Heffernan's leg with a reckless and late lunge of his foot and only got a yellow, then scored a penalty in stoppage time. And this week he got a yellow on 26 minutes, and did two more very late tackles but stayed on the field. Then he set up Sydney's first goal. He should have his boots off and thinking about when he'll get another game, instead he is off to Socceroo camp. I thought that the FFA were trying to cut this sought of play out?

Wellington had enough chances to win against Sydney. They had the better of the first half. But they were not able to put one away. And Sydney played like they were not going to let them score - everyone in the box and behind the ball.

Adelaide also had their chances. If Bruce Djite had had a slightly better game and Fabian Barbiero had had Ufuk Talay's luck, and Barbiero's second challenge was a straight accident he was playing to kick the ball, and not got sent off - the game would have been Adelaide's.

Newcastle has put the Roar, Central Coast and Sydney beyond the reach of 5th place and therefore into the finals. 30 points is the magic number. So Newcastle (29) must draw against Central Coast or Perth to just get there. If Newcastle loose both these games, Adelaide (2 to go) and Melbourne (3 to go) have a chance if they win all their matches and get the right goal difference. At this rate, I'd back Newcastle.

To finish this round we have:
Roar v Melb
Perth v CCM

Next week its:
Melbourne v Wellies
CCM v Jets
Roar v Sydney
Perth v Adelaide

Then its:
Jets v Perth
CCM v Wellies
Sydney v Melb
Adel v Roar

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Roar week: Frank Farina is the A-League's best team builder

Rain is the only thing that can stop the Roar getting its best crowd at Lang Park this year. And after a week of rain, tomorrow the sun's gonna shine. If the sporting public of Brisbane get this message, its gonna be 25,000 plus. People who have ignored the A-League this season are thinking of going.

And while wouldn't they. Frank Farina, a very impressive, quietly spoken man who can always be relied upon to think through his words and actions, has designed and constructed the best team in the A-League. I know this is a big call and I am a big Roar fan. But the evidence is that while other teams rely on heros like Danny Vudovic, John Aloisi, Topor-Standley, Joel Griffiths, perhaps most of all Melbourne's almost total reliance on Archie Thompson, a Roar game is a team effort.

Frank has cultivated youth to go with experience. Speed to go with solidity. Sometimes their game is not great, but now they play as a team. Whatever happens this season, I have learnt a lot about building and coaching a football team from Frank.


Honourable Clayton san from Nihon has asked some questions.

1. About Minniecon: where was he lining up? wide left? more centrally? what do you think are his strengths? he looks short and stocky - i am guessing he isn`t an out and out speedster.

Hamish pointed out to me that Frank has a great skill in shaping players for their run-on debut. This was the case for Robbie Kruse, Michael Zullo and now Tahj Minniecon. We are going to get to know Tahj. Add to this the way he has stuck by and shaped the role of Reinaldo.

Against Perth last week, Tahj started in Zullo's position wide left in 4-3-3. However, he was most effective coming in behind or near to either Kruse or Reinaldo. He assisted both their goals. He made his own from what we used to call inside left - as opposed to the extreme left that Zullo will use to pull a defence wide and out-run on the way back in. The magic with Kruse is that Robbie likes to switch over playing up and down the left and right wings and all across the final third (next year Robbie could be the best player in the A-League). When Kruse and Zullo are both playing they will swap positions. When Robbie comes over with Tahj playing, Tahj has a tendancy to drop back. This creates more depth, as opposed to width. Done at speed we see Kruse's against the run of play goal on 30 odd minutes against Perth.

At least against Perth, Tahj's strength was his reading of the current and potential plays. Hence his involvement in 3 of 4 goals. Frank seems to have found a way to make the maximum impact from the skills of each of his young guns on debut. Like Wellington with Zullo and Kruse, Perth had no idea what destruction Tahj - with his pushing forward and dropping back, working off and to Kruse and Reinaldo - was about to wreck on them.

Tahj isn't short and stocky. Everyone looks like that when they stand next to Reinaldo, I know. He isn't as fast as Zullo, but no-one is (by the way Frank is going to talk to FFA about Zullo not doing the under 23 camp because he is concerned he may push to hard to impress and re-injure himself).

2. Sasho missed out on the first training camp ... who else do you think was worthy of a look but missed out (across the aleague)?

The first thing I would say is that I expect the Socceroos to win all their home games. And given that Topor-Stanley and Milligan are likely to play under 23s and A-League version Socceroos, I expect that they should.

The trouble is going to be the away games. I don't think the European players help much in 48 degrees and 100% humidity. And I believe that a Townsville based A-League team and games in Darwin should be used to help us qualify via Asia.

As far as who else from the A-League;

Starting with the Roar - Frank's team approach that has seen younger players given an opportunity to shine - so too early for Zullo and Kruse, 4 foreign players, and older players anchoring (Moore, Tiatto, McLaren), together with injuries to Andrew Packer, means - there are candidates who play great Roar team roles but aren't A-League heroes (Reddy, McCloughan and Murdocca).

Elsewhere in the A-League, those left out with potential perhaps haven't had their best year or are injured (particularly in the Adelaide camp).

I have a bigger concern with some of the names in. Some may not have the temperament to cope with Asian refs.

I see Central Coast have signed former Sydney FC, late of Japan's division 2 Avispa, Alvin Ceccoli. How do CCM afford all these stars, Aloisi, marquee Vidmar, Sasho Petrovski, Wilkinson, Vudovic, under the salary cap rules?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

These guys are getting a go but not Sasa Ognenovski

The A-League training Socceroos are:

Jamie Coyne (Perth Glory), Andrew Durante (Newcastle Jets), Adam Griffiths (Newcastle Jets), Jade North (Newcastle Jets), Matt Thompson (Newcastle Jets), Rodrigo Vargas (Melbourne Victory), Alex Wilkinson (Central Coast Mariners).

The best A-League defenders:
Mark Milligan (Sydney FC) and Nikolai Topor-Stanley (Perth Glory) have under 23 call ups.

No Sasa, not even a Craig Moore (but I think we knew that).

Kevin Muscat, who unfortunately is not at his best, is in.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

For your viewing pleasure: CCM 2 v Victory 5

John Aloisi had his best game to-date. But it wasn't enough. CCM's defence has disappeared with Dean Heffernan's (sorry I keep calling him John Hutchinson for those who saw version 1 of this) broken leg.

Melbourne only had 8 shoots and converted 5. This will present a challenge for the Roar next Saturday without hardman Craig Moore. The other 3 chances should have gone in.

Meanwhile, Lawie McKinna is saying he wants his side to be harder. Interesting, they got 4 yellow cards and Paul O'Grady was probably lucky not to get two as his first trip on Archie Thompson was waved play on. Sasho Petrovski is already steamed up and looking a little 'red mist' out of control. In any case, Petrovski had a poor game and was hardly on the ball.

The class of Archie Thompson showed as a play maker and scorer. John Aloisi was also forced to drop back, in attack, to the mid third to create - usually and fruitfully for Mile Jedinak.

The A-League, with all teams now searching for wins, is looking its best yet. And more to come.