31 October 2005

Round Ten Report

We've almost reached the half-way point of the domestic home-and-away season. With forty matches already played and 104 goals scored, we've come a long way (not that it feels like it) since Carl Veart and Noel Spencer helped Adelaide United and Perth Glory to opening round victories in late-August.

News filtered through this week that A-League clubs will not be eligible for the Asian Champions League draw in December this year, a hindrance to Australian football's regional expansion but at least only a temporary one. This has to be sad news for Adelaide, who strolled into Melbourne and accomplished what Perth, Newcastle and Sydney couldn't, beating Victory on their home turf. The solid win has allowed the unfancied club to continue their domination at the top of the table, but their efforts to maximise ties with Asian neighbours (especially China) could all be for nought, or little more, come the end of the season.

The other really surprising result on the weekend was Queensland Roar's 0-0 draw with Glory. It was just the second goaless game in the league's short history, both involving Roar who are arguably the most exciting pass-and-move team going forward in the competition. Ever since far back in the pre-season, Miron Bleiberg has been searching for a deadly finisher. He thought Alex Brosque was his man, but in reality Brosque is a flying contributor not a prolific scorer, a fact well known before he was signed over half-a-dozen other trialists from all over Europe and South America. It's probably fair to say that the goal-scoring burden placed on Brosque is too large. While Michael Baird is Brosque's most regularly used partner in attack, his position in the starting lineup is uncertain from week-to-week. Bleiberg is the antithesis of Adelaide's John Kosmina or Glory's Steve McMahon, who both like to sustain harmony and shape over long intervals, months if possible. Roar's coaching is helter-skelter, more like that displayed in Melbourne and New Zealand, other team's constantly fiddling with their lineups. But Bleiberg's team is full of youngsters, and it might be a good question to ask if they're capable of reacting, mentally, physically and emotionally, to so many daily transformations.

Finally, given the continual fluctuations in form among all the teams, barring the Knights who've been junk for quite some time now, I wonder if anyone else gets the feeling that we're in for a topsy-turvy season from start to finish. Maybe the grand final will be an all goals affair, with the fourth placed team in the regular season getting through the preliminaries and slamming four or five past the minor premier? It's certainly possible, which is fantastic. And for all involved, stressful! Who's to know what's coming next.

Best of Round Ten:

Player: Tom Pondeljak (pictured) - a handful of aces against the Knights, until he fell in the box, earned a penalty and fractured his wrist

U-20 Player: Jacob Timpano - another standout job at the back keeps Rudan on the bench; along with the forthcoming return of Milligan, restoring promise to SFC's beleaguered defence

Coach: John Kosmina - continuing to find all the right answers for his numerous detractors

Match: Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United

Referee: Simon Przydacz

Goal: Carl Veart - collecting Costanzo's perfect little chip over the defence and hoofing it over the advanced Galekovic

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Shengqing Qu - Tom Pondeljak
Carl Veart - Steven Pantelidis - Angelo Costanzo - David Carney
Alvin Ceccoli - Kristian Rees - Matt Horsley - Jade North
Jason Petkovic

Subs: Michael Valkanis, Richard Kitzbichler, Alex Brosque, Daniel Beltrame

24 October 2005

Round Nine Report

Tensions are high. Between the FAs of Australia and Uruguay, between John Kosmina and Miron Bleiberg, between Damian Mori and Mark Shield, and just about everywhere else in between. It's that mid-season and pre-qualifying feeling, where careers and ever-lasting reputations at stake and when so many elements are in limbo. It seems that just about everyone is making a statement and sharing an opinion about our lovely game, from tactical configurations and player selections right down to the word 'football' itself. The times are looming remarkably large for Australian football; clearly these are precious moments. If we can capture this mood and sustain it every week, as we one day hope to, the lives of footballers and football fans in Australia will be very much improved.

The voices and hearts of the naysayers will only grow stronger as we close in on the lofty heights of World Cup qualification and the smaller successes at home. At this important juncture in our history, it's important we remain focused on our long-term goals for the game. There is still plenty of room for the A-League to expand and improve its status, but likewise things could sour.

This entire season is one long knife's edge.

While Uruguay offers us a merry distraction and the topsy-turvy antics of our favoured clubs bring us jubilation and despair from one week to the next, we must remember to nourish and sustain all these sensational thoughts and feelings, even while they jolt us awake in the middle of the night. I like to imagine that the entire spectrum of football that is in our collective blood and minds is like a vast stretch of sandy beach, disturbed by the ebb and flow of the tide. We need to pick up a handful of the fine golden sand and keep it in our pockets, taking it with us on our journeys, having it on our side.

Such were my thoughts when confronted the other day by grounds keepers at a local park, while attempting to have a kick of the old round ball. "You can't play here, it's not soccer season," was the jist of the antagonist's argument. "Clearly you haven't heard of the A-League," I retorted, smiling to myself and picturing that long sunny beach...

Best of Round Nine:

Player: Matt Horsley (pictured) - making the most of a rare start to provide the spark for a nostalgic Glory outing

U-20 Player: Jacob Timpano - a gutsy and at times silky performance from the national youth captain

Coach: Steve McMahon - overcoming the bizarre situation with Mori's ring finger and limiting Thompson's opportunities by closing down Melbourne's flanks, while cramming the midfield

Match: Queensland Roar vs Adelaide United

Referee: Ben Williams

Goal: Fernando Rech - sweetly timing a run into the box and stooping low to power a header from Kemp's angled cross into the lower-left corner, leaving Higgins rooted to his line

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Shengqing Qu - Sasho Petrovski
Nick Ward - Simon Colosimo - Andre Gumprecht - David Carney
Mateo Corbo - Jacob Timpano - Ned Zelic - Matt Horsley
Clint Bolton

Subs: Remo Buess, Lucas Pantelis, Daniel Allsopp, Daniel Beltrame

17 October 2005

Round Eight Report

Two multiple-goal thrashings, a second loss on the trot for the league leaders and another spineless performance from the Knights, so much for tightly congested football in the A-League!

The glut of goals and unbalanced scorelines this week probably indicates that the teams are starting to find their peak fitness, tactical awareness and skill levels. On their day any side, with the exception of the Knights, is able to produce a big effort and wipe the opposition off the turf. From here on, consistency and mental toughness are going to become deciding factors. Determined sides like the Mariners can blow away question-riddled outfits like the Glory. Overconfidence remains a problematic issue for Sydney. For the Knights, the lack of a results-based attitude is widening the gap between last place and the rest of the table: a few draws here and there might have helped. Adelaide and the Jets are enigmatic to say the least. From one game to the next it's impossible to predict which team will grace the park, the tactical supremos or the overwhelmed duds. And as for Victory, who have probably become overnight title favourites after their dominating 5-0 performance over Sydney, one wonders if the pressure of success in this sports mad city will start to build and build, negatively influencing performance and results?

At the moment, certainly, Victory is flying high and looking good. Rampaging fullback Kevin Muscat has been a large factor in Victory's success. Muscat has definitely earned an international recall, impressing even his heavy detractors (including me). Craig Foster pointed out that Muscat was always a decent player of the ball but after so many years in the English lower-leagues he became overly reliant on his tough safety game. But now we're seeing a Muscat renaissance, replete with roulettes, rabonas, rollovers and sharp penalty taking, and it's actually quite pleasurable to witness! He may not get a gig against Uruguay, but for the upcoming campaign in Asia it's hard to think of a better locally-based captain for the national team (sooky Ned Zelic? I think not). Nice work, Kev.

Archie Thompson is, of course, the other Melbourne standout. His game has great range. His pace is always a nuisance, and when he's on fire it looks like he can keep motoring all day. I've always been a touch dubious of his close-to-the-body ballwork, but at times he can produce the Midas touch. Anyone who's seen footage of his best goals for Lierse knows what I'm talking about, as do the 18,000 who attended the weekend's match versus Sydney. It might be asking for too much, but a brace against the South Americans next month would have to just about earn him the keys to the city you'd think.

I think I might wait until the conclusion of the tenth round before compiling a summary of league and player performances to date. This week demonstrated that the putative closeness of the A-League is an extremely fluid and relative notion, which makes for wonderful football but problematic analysis. I'm just going to sit back for a couple more weeks and enjoy the show!

Best of Round Eight:

Player: Archie Thompson (pictured) - a super-confident return from international duty; his pace and form must put him in contention for a starting place against Uruguay

U-20 Player: Adrian Leijer - another comfortable outing against Dwight Yorke

Coach: Ernie Merrick - bringing in Byrnes at left back to form possibly the best defensive foursome in the league; the result: a 5-0 whitewash

Match: Adelaide United vs Newcastle United Jets

Referee: Mark Shield

Goal: Hyuk-soo Seo - after a simple Carro layoff, a stunning curvaceous half-volley from even further out than last week that caught Milosevic a touch off his line

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Archie Thompson - Tom Pondeljak
Adrian Caceres - Nick Carle - Hyuk-soo Seo - Richard Kitzbichler
Mateo Corbo - Ned Zelic - Michael Beauchamp - Kevin Muscat
Eugene Galekovic

Subs: Andrew Clark, Richard Johnson, Stewart Petrie, Scott Higgins

14 October 2005


-- Another break in regular transmission --

The Joeys recent 2-1 victory over Uruguay in the U-17 World Youth Championships in September has taken on an entire new level of significance. Although the match was a dead rubber for us, it rubs some mightily useful salt into the wounds of Uruguayans who may have forgotten how our full national team defeated theirs in the 1997 Confederations Cup semi-final in Riyadh.

There is also the reassurance of the World Football ELO Ratings, which show that we're not as far behind Uruguay as the arguably less accurate FIFA rankings indicate:


18. Uruguay - rating 1816
27. Australia - rating 1752


25. Uruguay - 680 points
50. Australia - 593 points

It ain't impossible! Expect more World Cup interruptions ;-)

Injury Replacements, Again

The A-League's controversial injury replacement policy has hit new farcical heights with news that Perth Glory's Damian Mori has extended his short-term contract as a replacement for the injured David Tarka.

Steve McMahon's has assessed Tarka's condition and come to the conclusion that "he is now only about 70 per cent fit".

Hang on a minute. If Tarka is merely unfit, doesn't that suggest he is no longer injured? We're told that Tarka even played in a recent scratch match against the Indonesian U-23s. According to Glory medical staff he's not ready to start a match for the team, but he's clearly not hobbling around on a Zimmer frame either.

So what are we to conclude from this? McMahon and Glory have bent the rules in the extreme, listing Tarka as injured when he's actually just unfit, in order to extend Mori's contract. This is not all that far removed from a coach telling one of his fringe players late in a match to get out there, take a dive and fake an injury in order to make some room on the roster for a replacement player.

Sure it's great to see Mori, but this kind of situation is unfair on the other clubs and their supporters. Questions need to be asked. Has the league administration verified Glory's medical report on Tarka? In any case, why is Tarka's lack of fitness considered equivalent to an injury? Does this mean Sydney, for instance, could put the obviously unfit David Zdrilic on the injured list in order to sign Kazuyoshi Miura? If Perth make it to the Grand Final, re-sign Mori for the third or fourth time as an 'injury replacement' for, say, Matt Horsley, and if Mori goes on to score a brace like last weekend and win the match for Glory ... if this quite possible scenario unfolds, won't the eager critics of football in this country crucify the A-League? Why foolishly supply them with ammunition?

Come on, let's respect the rulebook ... and if it's not worth respecting, then maybe we should write a better one.

13 October 2005

It's Uruguay...

-- Break in regular transmission --

Recoba, Forlan, Montero, Carini, Zalayeta, Morales ... it's going to be a tough fight for Australia's quest to qualify for the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany.

11 October 2005

Round Seven Report

No big wrap-up this week, but stay tuned for a future overview of the season thus far!

Best of Round Seven:

Player: Richard Kitzbichler (pictured) - finally stamping his class on the league, and all over Ronnie Bull, with a rampaging display

U-20 Player: Danny Vukovic - another fine performance; one more and he might keep Crawley out

Coach: Steve McMahon - wisely elevating Damian Mori ahead of Brian Deane and keeping Ishida on the pitch as long as possible

Match: Melbourne Victory vs New Zealand Knights

Referee: James Lewis

Goal: Hyuk-su Seo - magnificently flighted dipping, curling strike into the interior side netting from 25 yards

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Damian Mori - Bobby Despotovski
David Carney - Ufuk Talay - Andre Gumprecht - Richard Kitzbichler
Alvin Ceccoli - Chad Gibson - Kristian Rees - Steve Fitzsimmons
Danny Vukovic

Subs: Geoffrey Claeys, Hiroyuki Ishida, Carl Veart, Eugene Galekovic

3 October 2005

Round Six Report

Is it time to kickstart the panic in New Zealand? After succumbing to yet another 'unlucky' (some would say spineless) defeat, the Knights are really languishing behind all of their cross-Tasman rivals. What's more the debacle in the wild wet of North Harbour Stadium drew just 3,558 diehard fans. Regardless of the pouring rain, that's quite a pitiful figure given the Knights were facing the top team. It might also be suggested that the defensive style of the Reds kept fans at home, but that argument would go against the logic of Sydney fans who are already predicting a massive crowd for next week's top of the table clash (assuming, of course, that the not always level-headed Sydney fans are capable of rational speculations). Unfortunately for Kiwis, the A-League prosperity of the Knights may very well have gone down with the sinking pitch! In the distant future, we might look back on this match (if you can call it one) as a definitive turning point for the Knights who continue their miserable downward spiral.

The other big news of the week was probably Melbourne's win over the Mariners. Cellar dwellers not so long ago, Victory has climbed to third and they're starting to look very threatening indeed. They must face another week without Archie Thompson, however, who re-joins Guus Hiddink in Holland. After going down to a resurgent Sydney, the Glory are in a bit of a tangle. They face good sides in the coming weeks, starting with Newcastle. Perth will be without Simon Colosimo for that contest, but given the form of the one-time international understudy to Paul Okon some will see that as a blessing in disguise. Jets vs. Roar should have been a blinder, but the referee's dismal performance turned it into a fizzler. Dubiously sent off by A-League first-timer Mr Srebre Delovski, Nick Carle will be missed by the Jets and fans everywhere when he fails to pull on his boots next week. Delovski also gave Matt McKay his marching orders for the second time this season, meaning an automatic three-game suspension for the Roar midfielder. Given the absurdity of the Delovski's decision to show McKay a second yellow card for an apparent dive where there was obviously bugger all of anything, I wonder if Queensland will appeal the suspension?

The standard of the referees has so far annoyed everyone: players, fans, managers, and no doubt executives too. It's time something was done, whether it's paying the officials enough to turn them into full-time professionals, establishing a thinktank to discuss why our refs are so woeful, or importing officials from overseas (but not from minnow nations). Simply put, the FFA has got to figure out a way to ensure that the future of officiating in the A-League improves over time.

Best of Round Six:

Player: Shengqing Qu (pictured) - overcoming the torrential rain and horrendous pitch to heat up a very wet night over the Tasman

U-20 Player: Adrian Leijer - producing a late-winner and showing that on recent form he's good enough to keep Byrnes out next week

Coach: Pierre Littbarski - presiding over his legion without a shred of humility but backing it up with a good result on the park

Match: Central Coast Mariners vs Melbourne Victory

Referee: Ben Williams

Goal: Warren Moon - chested down clearance curled around Reddy off the outside of the boot from just outside the box

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Shenqqing Qu - Dwight Yorke
Andy Vlahos - Matt Thompson - Ufuk Talay - Hiroyuki Ishida
Mateo Corbo - Andrew Clark - Kristian Rees - Kevin Muscat
Liam Reddy

Subs: Ronnie Bull, Hyuk-soo 'Harold' Seo, Bobby Despotovski, Tom Willis