Monday, June 30, 2008

Buck up your ideas: A week in football...

Frank Farina has indicated that 16 year old Thomas Oar will debut in his first major game for the Roar against Palmeiras at Land Park 12 July. That should be worth the admission.

Foxtel's Football Superstar is not great viewing - all drills and mini games - but it appears to be pulling some interesting young players out of the woodwork - from 10 finalists in each state a final 15 has been chosen by Sydney coach John Kosmina. Ultimately, one player will get a contract with Sydney FC - there are worse ways of doing this and all teams will get a look at some quality pre-talent (one player tried to get in via Melbourne and Adelaide). I'd like to see they take this up north particularly in our indigenous communities.

The Roar won't have Brazilians this season. Last season the A-League couldn't get enough South Americans. The issue is if they have proved themselves they have European contracts. If they are a safe bet, Asian clubs (as we have seen in the Champions league) will fork out for them. So the A-League tends to get those that are long shots or has beens. Even Juninho looked far too brittle for the A-League. With the Roar, showing its origins, paying up for Dutchman Sergio van Dijk, it will be difficult for them to fill their 4 foreigner quota with quality players.

Hence the interest in Scottish wild man Charlie Miller. Miller, 32, is a former team mate of Craig Moore's while at Rangers. He has a reputation of disagreeing with his coach and ending up in the stands. If Miller comes on-broad, he will add to the Roar's powder keg of Moore and Tiatto.

Speaking of such kegs, the Financial Review's 'Nil all - soccer becomes a proxy for the troubles of Israel' by David Goldblatt (AFR Review Section 27 June 2008), gives an insight into the politics that is Israeli football. Key teams are backed by political parties and political wannabes seeking promote their views and antagonise Arabs. The football stands are used as a venue to promote some very narrow views - nasty stuff.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you get what your need...

They are all groups of death.

Group 1 Australia Japan Uzbekistan Bahrain Qatar

In the last round, Qatar beat Iraq and Bahrain beat Japan. Finishing top two will be a mean feat and even top 3 commendable (for the playoff v New Zealand (or other Oceania?). Japan v Australia is always going to be close.

Group 2 South Korea Iran Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates North Korea.

South Korea and North Korea couldn't be separated and that match up guarantees virtually no one will see the games - in the last round North Korea's refusal to recognize the South's national symbols saw games played on neutral ground (the two countries plus the USA are still at war - since the 1950s). UAE and Saudi have the climate advantage.

Overall, the Asian confederation will have a climate advantage over the European teams in Africa 2010 - let's hope its us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Socceroos, Qatar, Iraq and China: and a week in football....

The FFA has run smack into a quandary. Target fostering the game at home by:

a. Making each game attract as big an audience as possible
b. Qualify at all costs for Africa 2010 and let that hoopla grow the game

Trouble is sometimes it is better to have a and sometimes b. And you can start off going for a but then you change to b. Like in the lead up Australia v China when it could have been the qualification game of the series and you want to squeeze everything out of that. But then you are already qualified and you what to keep your players happy so you let them go home and field the 2nd team. Then your a. audience goes home feeling under-whelmed.

Qatar beat Iraq 1-0 at Iraq's home ground - so their Brazilians and Uruguayans paid off after all. It is worth noting that Qatar did the heavy lifting in the group and conceded 6 points to Australia - while Australia only gained 3 points from Iraq and 1 from China. Hmmmm.

The Roar now look set to go into 2008-2009 without Brazilians. This is the draw back of buying very low cost players - Og and Reinaldo - making them key players then selling or losing them. Reinaldo made a lot of money but no room under the salary cap. Since Australia is the home of relatively cheap players, you have to look really hard to replace like-for-like at the same cost. New Dutch signing Sergio Van Dijk probably more than covered the salary gap left by Reinaldo and Ante Milicic. Leaving little for risky Brazilians. The Roar has been burnt before - remember Zhang?

Meanwhile the Roar has covered the Ogman exit with QAS and young Socceroo defender Luke DeVere. While former Socceroo defender - and once North Queensland bound, Michael Thwaite, has be loaned to Melbourne. Be interesting to seen who got the best deal there. Clearly Thwaite believes what we all want - that the A-League is a route back to the Socceroos.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Roar Season Ticket 1st Release

Roar members have been notified of season ticket arrangements for Version 4 of the A-League. The big news is that general admission season tickets will be sold this year. That is tickets without allocated seats. So if you sometimes or often bring friends and want to sit near them, you will still be able to get the season discount. These seats will be in 312 to 317, that is next to the away team bay 311 at the southern end. Great seats (as all of Lang Park is) and usually near empty because fans don't want to appear disloyal by sitting in the away team section. The Roar have fixed this problem. And at $185 for both a parent and a child (ie under $10 each per game) - a great deal. The general release of season tickets is expected from around 1 July.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Qatar 1 v Socceroos 3, China 1 v Iraq 2

It was Brett Emerton's day. Two goals and Qatar's only answer was aggression. He is tall and strong and the further forward he gets - away from his original defender role - the better the Socceroos look. He has eclipsed Harry Kewell who appears a little out muscled in the lone striker role. Yet Asian teams have learned to take no risks with Harry and foul him if necessary. Harry got his goal (and happy he was to - in Brisbane they were jelling get up Harry you're unemployed) and had a fair goal disallowed when an Qatar defender fell over his own feet in front of Emerton.

Qatar had some bad luck and their dollars backfired on them. The beautiful stadium protected the Socceroos from a desert storm said to be raging outside. It was much easy than playing Iraq - altogether a friendly atmosphere for the fans - although Qatar looked like they were spoiling for a fight and nearly went there a couple of times. But the most significant impact of the game was the injury to their captain Koni, who as centre back looked set to shut down the Socceroo attacks. He pulled his hamstring in the first 10 minutes. Koni played on but his slowness probably led to the space created for the first goal.

There were Italian scouts there to watch Harry Kewell but their presence may have led the way for a contract for naturalised Uruguayan Andres Quintana - with his mop of hair, flair and shear strength (he rolled Jade North over his back) was the best on the park. Plus he should have had a penalty when David Carney pushed him down from behind.

8 of the 10 teams are through to the next round:
DPR Korea
Korea Republic
Saudi Arabia

At least three of these teams are not going to make it.

The plus from Australia is that we have proved that we can run 90 minutes in the heat.

Game on.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Palmeiras and other nuggets

I have my Palmeiras tickets for Saturday 12 July. Palmeiras are from São Paulo. Their team for the Lang Park match is may include Juninho. Yep the Sydney FC Juninho. In the past their team has included: Denilson, Marcos, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Cafu. It promises to be a very exciting game and well worth the $20 (father-son) general entry.

I haven't been to seen the Roar training sessions yet. Jugging by the results and comments it has been a slow start. I had hoped that we would get a massive new athlete to cover the loss of the Ogman. However, all the buying seems to have been on the attack and excitement side. New squad members to look out for include:

16 year old Thomas Oar. Sounds like, eventually, he could be capable of anything.

The big name signing is Brazilian
Marcio Carioca who last season he played 13 times with Portuguese side FC Pacos de Ferreira and scored 6 times, Wikipedia says of him 'strength on the ball, accurate finishing and pace').

There has also been a lot of interest in 19 year Brazilain old Bruno Mezenga who has played for Brazil at under 15 and under 17. He is on loan from the highly regarded Flamengo where at 16 he was their youngest ever debut. However, he played 18 times for Flamengo without scoring and in 2008 he was loaned to regional Rio de Janeiro club Macae where he scored twice in 12 games. In 2007 he was loaned to another regional team Fortaleza where he also scored twice in 12 games. Perhaps like Reinaldo he will develop and eventually deliver for the Roar.

19 year old, under 20 national team and AIS rep, Isaka Cernak-Okanya is originally from Uganda. Cernak, an attacking mid-fielder has played alongside A-League young stars Tahj Minniecon, Sebastian Ryall, James Holland and Mitch Nichols.

Local striker Tim Smits gets his chance building on a pre-season opportunity 2 seasons ago when he was a short term cover for former Roar youngster Dario Vidosic.

Midfielder David Dodd (brother of former Roar and currently Wellington defender Karl).

Anyway, no new defenders which is a shame.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Gold Coast United Raid Roar

It is very disappointing that money bags Gold Coast United have used their Miron Bleiberg connections to raid the Roar's back office staff. Bleiberg has so far coached 4 key operations from the Roar. Is this what the FFA wants?

Surely a new club with mega dollars should be looking to bring in new stars to the field and to the management of the game - rather than both potentially weakening an existing club and pushing up the cost of existing experience and operations.

Fox Sports has named senior staff on the move covering: finance, marketing, commercial and media. It is very sad to see these moves at the start of a critical season.

The AFL is the place the A-League should be looking for football code management experience particularly in marketing and ticket sales. However, poaching from AFL will be expensive, particularly in Brisbane where the Bears have established themselves as a leading club able to fill the Gabba and supply management talent into AFL headquarters. That is why money bags Gold Coast as the new player with start-up challenges should have forked out for this talent. They are not doing their job to expand football and it is disappointing.

Iraq 1 v Socceroos 0, China 0 v Qatar 1: Thud

Pim's excellent Socceroos adventure is over. A magnificent curling lob from distance on the left to the top right corner ended Australia's qualifying clean sheet. Now the implications of the closeness of the group have become clear. Australia, this time looking unable to muster much in the final third, must beat the Brazilian Qatar in the heat or wounded pride China in perfect playing conditions.

China went down 1 nil as the result of a very soft penalty call - high ball from the right - defender and naturalised Brazilian both go down - penalty.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Socceroos among the 10 best in Asia

442 online have given us the updated rankings and it shows Australia on top. I hope no one is taking that for granted like FFA seemed to have done for the Asia Cup.

What rankings don't tell you is how things are going to go in World Cup qualification. Particularly in Asia. As Asian Confederation countries have perhaps the broadest range of climatic and geographic conditions, home ground advantage can be almost insurmountable. As Sydney FC about their match in Indonesia in the team's Asian outings.

When the Socceroos play here it is about entertainment and the business of football. Otherwise we would be setting up stadium in areas of our unique geographic and climatic advantage. But when we play away - it's at altitude in China, 40 degrees and dry in the Middle East, 40 degrees and 100% humidity in Thailand ... Our world ranking means nothing it is about stamina, endurance and the ability to handle culture shock.

Because China has not made points progress against Qatar in the first round of home and away games, Australia's 7 points is well within reach of both those countries. China will have not disadvantage in Australia. Qatar and Iraq, particularly based on the Brisbane performance the other night, could beat Australia in their home conditions.

Even getting to the next round, bear in mind that Bahrain (a seasoned participant at World Cups) has already beaten Japan 1-0.

Yes the Socceroos playing in Europe with our winter acclimatised players are the best team in Asia. In Asia, across home and away, we are as good as: Bahrain, Japan, China (on their day), Iraq (on their day), Iran (remember Sydney?), South Korea, North Korea (bumped us for 1966 and went onto be the surprise of that cup), Saudi Arabia, - and other teams drafting Brazilians for citizenship (and if you think that will end soon because Sepp Blatter says it should remember that Qatar are doing it and their rep is the AFC president. Only 4 and half Asian teams go through.

The answer:
- two or more A-League teams based or regularly playing games up north to produce more and better conditioned players
- win the junior recruitment battle with AFL
- AFL sees their competitive advantage as having locally based stars - so more locally based stars for the Socceroos (Pim to stop encouraging them to go to Europe)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Socceroos 1 v Iraq 0

Mark Schwarzer just may be the best goal keeper in the world. He should probably be playing for Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal. He was standing right in front of me and was as tall as I expected but thinner. He saved Australia tonight. That and Iraq's very poor finish in front of near open goals. The Socceroos defence was brittle. A good team would have had 3 goals by half time. For one, we were lucky Schwarzer can drag his feet. For another, there were about 5 Socceroos defenders but none were marking the striker in front of goal. It was like junior games. Fortunately, the striker's header was poor and the wrong option. He actually had the time to cushion the ball down to his feet and belt it in. Lucky he didn't.

I was a little dejected after the game. I thought it was a good ad for the A-League, that seemly offered games with more entertainment. But when I got home I watched most of it again and realised that, particularly in the first half, the Socceroos attacks had been much more entertaining than I could see from behind Schwarzer's goal.

The 48,000 strong crowd were a bit subdued. Perhaps because it was the Iraq that looked so fast and exciting. Perhaps it was the atmosphere from the rain that was there but fortunately only a soft pat on our faces. Perhaps it was because the guys next to me were drunk and often lost interest in the game to sing songs or try to pick fights with the dads with kids in front of them. To be fair they may have been the only ones in the crowd like that but I got to sit next to them. No 2 crowd sturing moment in the game were the 2 Iraqi's that invaded the pitch near the end - one of them pushed a Socceroo - I wonder if he will get jail for that?

The telling element of the game for me was the number times the Iraqi team had played together v the togetherness of the Australian team. The Iraqis' had far more caps that us. As I saw at home, in attack Australia was good and looking danagerous. In defence, we looked poor. I don't know how they will go in the heat of the middle east against better teams. Don't forget that Bahrain beat Japan 1-0 and Qatar beat Iraq. Our defence, in the best possible conditions for players coming out of Europe looked slow. David Carney did not look at home at left full back. And in the second when he offered the opportunity to push forward on the left, his team mates ignored him. But it was Beauchamp who had the most disappointing game. Based on this game and the other game I saw him in at Land Park against Paraguay, I don't think he cuts it at international level. Jade North looked OK.

The man of the match was Brett Emerton. He ran all night and all over the park. It was a truly Dutch performance slotting into others roles and excelling in them. And of cause setting up the goal for Harry to finish with his head just after half time. In the second half Emerton was brilliant running with the ball, passing... Harry looked good too. And the Iraqis looked like they would sacrifice a man to keep him quite.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the second half, after the goal was Jason Culina looking to pass into attack, having to turn and pass back to another defender, and then remonstrating with his colleagues, yelling at them about their static play.

Scott McDonald was another disappointment for me. I may have missed his action because I didn't see him create much. He doesn't seem strong enough or creative enough. On the other hand, Pim Verbeek's surprise was to cap Bruce Djite - despite his Adelaide rift and Europe move, another proof that the A-League is doing its job. Bruce Djite had a great time on the park. He looked dangerous. Put together some great moves and crosses. Schwarzer landed the ball on his head a number of times and he gave his defenders a very difficult time. The drunk guys near me wanted Nicky Carle, but we got great value from Bruce.

Can Australia win in the heat? We will know next week.