21 December 2006

Round Seventeen Report

After brushing aside New Zealand with four goals in ten minutes, Melbourne Victory has deservedly won the 'minor' Premiership to clinch their first trophy (in fact, the Premiership Shield).

They hope to show off the silverware to home fans in Round 20, but might have to wait until the away game the following week in Newcastle (with a second presentation for the local fans made during the first home semi-final). I'm sure Jets fans could do without the Shield being held aloft in front of their desperate faces at the start of their final - probably crucial - game of the season. Let's hope the FFA gets flexbile on this issue and allows championship winning teams to display trophies whenever the first available home match arises.

Big wins also for Adelaide and Queensland this week. Romario finally scored - albeit from about two feet away - and played particularly well in the Reds' showdown with Newcastle. The incredible goals kept flying in throughout the game, with a few other splendid shots - one from Romario - narrowly failing to hit the back of the net. World Cup squad member Ante Covic had a debut worth forgetting for the Jets, midjudging Fernando's underhit shot. Newcastle lost the match but showed that even without the unavailable Nick Carle and Paul Okon, they are a force to be reckoned with and genuine final four contenders - I think they're capable of beating both Adelaide (questionable defence) and Sydney (not firing on all cylinders) for a spot in the final.

Queensland clawed and scraped against the intentions of the referee as much as Central Coast's graft. Liam Reddy couldn't stop two Mariners' penalties, one of which had to be re-taken, but Matt McKay and Dario Vidosic conspired and toiled to pull off a terrific 3-2 result for the Roar. It's the first positive thing to happen for Queensland for some time - the question now is will they be able to gather steam and make a late charge for the top four? With Newcastle and Central Coast both at home to the top two teams in the league, a good result for the Roar away to New Zealand next week might put them right back in contention. It doesn't get any easier, though, with away matches against Melbourne and Sydney, then a tough home match against Adelaide to follow.

Perth Glory submitted to a lacklustre Sydney, going down to Alex Brosque's first goal of the season (starting to turn it around, as predicted last week). They will need to win all four remaining matches to stand only a tiny mathematical chance of making the finals, but I suspect determining the future direction of the club over the next three home matches and one away game in far off New Zealand will be the foremost priority in the minds of Glory management, who have miserably failed to meet the high expectations of the club's former NSL supporter base. Something needs to be done, but nobody seems willing to take the affirmative steps.

The only team worse off are New Zealand - will they still exist in just over a month's time? The forced withdrawal of the club's owners, player contract disputes, the appearance of yet more part-time players on the field (by my count the Knights have now used 31 players this season!), and the arrival of New Zealand Soccer as temporary license holders, has turned the club into a bit of a fiasco over the past week. Count me as a member of the ever-decreasing circle of supporters for a New Zealand team in the A-League - but only under the provision that murky issues surrounding the team's split-regional status between Asia and Oceania are sorted out. I can't imagine any prospective owner being encouraged by the team's ineligibility for the Asian Champions League - what a farce that would be if the Knights ever did qualify - thus largely restricting sponsorship deals to New Zealand and Australia. I think there's a national audience for the Knights, but I'm not sure that there's a financial system based around the New Zealand national market to fully support the team's continued involvement.

Best of Round Seventeen:

Player: Dario Vidosic - another match-winning performance. Good thing he's contracted for another year - as a proven scorer of crucial goals he'll be worth a great deal on the park and/or in the transfer market for the Roar next campaign. Adelaide's Jason Spagnuolo also had an instrumental performance.

U-20 Player: Ben Griffin, Queensland - his thundering volley past Danny Vukovic ('Where'd what go?') was the highlight of the match. As predicted, Frank Farina has been able to draw excellence from the Roar youth. Farina's not doing too bad with some of the senior players either.

Coach: Frank Farina, Queensland - a successful reshuffle on this occasion, with Buess (left fullback) and Seo (defensive midfield) starting where they ought to in the minds of most fans.

Match: Adelaide United vs Newcastle United Jets

Goal: Greg Owens, Adelaide - quality shimmy and finish after the lay off from Romario, and such a massive goal in the context of the final four. Roar's Ben Griffin and Victory's Adrian Caceres also scored screamers - as The Roundball Analyst points out, this was a week of great goals.

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Alex Brosque - Damian Mori
Jason Spagnuolo - Dario Vidosic - Mark Bridge - Leo Bertos
Matt Thompson - David Tarka - Mark Milligan - Ben Griffin
Danny Vukovic

Subs: Clint Bolton, Steven Pantelidis, Steve Corica, Romario

14 December 2006

Round Sixteen Report

More than 80,000 people attended the round's four matches, the highest overall attendance in the league's short history.

Newcastle destroyed Queensland to set themselves up for a very big finish indeed.

Neither Melbourne or Sydney were prepared to test the waters too any significant degree so close to the finals, resulting in a classic goalless draw.

Perth pretty much surrended its campaign to a suddenly watertight Central Coast unit.

Romario and Aloisi were finally dragged by John Kosmina, their replacements gaining an important point against a determined and fortunate New Zealand.

Although Glory, the Knights and Roar all seem unrealistic final four contenders at this stage, just about everyone still has something to play for - each club has between one-third and one-half of their playing staff coming off contract at the end of the season. Who knows what personnel changes might eventuate between now and the start of the third A-League campaign? As Alex Brosque showed last year, loyalty is something to speak highly of in the press but ignore when it comes time to make a bottom-line decision (that hasn't turned out particulary well for him, so far, but you get the feeling an exceptionally important goal might be just around the corner). Over the coming weeks, expect to hear plenty of positive self-judgements seeping into the press from players and agents seeking new deals.

Meanwhile, Sydney stands to lose competition points due to salary cap breaches involving payments to David Zdrilic, the FFA finally seems to have given New Zealand's owners the big flick, and Brazilian commentators - seeking excuses for Romario - have weighed-in on the slow pace and lack of sharpness evident in Adelaide's midfield.

Never a dull week of football.

Best of Round Sixteen:

Player: Mark Bridge, Newcastle - his chances have been come and go, as you expect from youth, but when he's come in and played well he's really given that extra option to lift the Jets

U-20 Player: Dario Vidosic, Queensland - came on as a sub and looked one of the few Roar players interested

Coach: Gary Van Egmond, Newcastle - it's just remarkable, right now they have to be genuine title contenders

Match: Melbourne Victory vs Sydney FC

Goal: Mark Bridge, Newcastle - take your pick, the first a great one-two-three with Milton Rodriguez, the second a perfect demonstration of when to be greedy

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Mark Bridge - Archie Thompson
Stewart Petrie - Stuart Musialik - Simon Colosimo - Travis Dodd
Damien Brown - Rodrigo Vargas - Mark Rudan - Jade North
Mark Paston

Subs: Tommi Tomich, David Tarka, Robbie Middleby, Alen Marcina

10 December 2006

A Look at Attendances

Following the record-breaking crowd of 50,333 at the Melbourne vs Sydney fixture on the weekend, average attendances for the current season are closing in on 13,000. In comparison, the last regular season finished with an average of just under 11,000 per game. So, we're clearly seeing a big improvement, albeit one fueled by Melbourne's stunning crowds (which have increased an enormous 85% from last year). Central Coast (up 24%) and Adelaide (up 10%) are the other teams to have significantly increased their home-and-away season crowd averages, while New Zealand (down 25%) and Perth (down 21%) have witnessed the biggest slides.

Yet, we still get ridiculous pieces of 'analytical' journalism such as this from Philip Micallef:

IF Terry Butcher wants to know why Melbourne pull far bigger crowds than Sydney, he should look no further than Friday night's blockbuster ...

Contrary to free-spirited Victory, whic [sic] is without doubt the flag-bearer of the league, Sydney does not create many scoring chances and is not exactly pretty to watch.

Perhaps this is why Victory gets huge crowds and Sydney's gates are poor, compared to last season at least.

Good grief. This is simply inane and vulgar sports commentary with no basis to factual reality. Micallef wants us to believe that exciting, attacking football brings patrons to games, an assertion that could be disputed with reference to all manner of examples from home and overseas. Queensland, for instance, are arguably playing less attacking football than last year - Miron Bleiberg stated as much before his departure, and Frank Farina's Roar has hardly managed to exhilirate fans so far. Average attendances to Roar matches have barely fluctuated from last year, though - the same fans are still turning up, regardless of the 'quality' of the attacking display.

Secondly, Micallef wants to drag Sydney through the mud some more - why not, everyone else is? Sydney's gates are down from last year, yes, but only by a relatively modest 8%. The situation is clearly far more dismal in the far east and west bases of the league, but perhaps due to their remoteness and low key media profiles those clubs haven't received the wrath of an ill-informed, agenda-based press. It's quite evident that an endless stream of negative media reports is at least partly, and possibly mostly, responsible for Sydney's poorer turnouts this year. Terry Butcher's heavy-handedness and watchful style probably hasn't helped an awful lot, but it's incredibly facile to assert his results-oriented approach is the major reason for fan disgruntlement. John Kosmina has also carved his team in the Jose Mourinho results-over-substance style, and one doesn't hear too many complaints from the larger Adelaide crowds.

Relative degrees of success is of course the other big factor affecting the fluctuation of attendances. (Perhaps I shouldn't say 'of course'; what might be obvious to 99% of us clearly isn't at all to a handful of imbeciles holding down decently paying jobs at our major sportscasters.) As the most successful team in the league in terms of the win column, Melbourne has benefited most of all from the post-World Cup intensification of interest in the local game. Since they keep on winning and remain on top of the table, Victory has been able to sustain the football bubble longer than anyone else. The enormous expectations surrounding Sydney after last year's championship no doubt contributed to the slowdown when early league results - especially at home - did not go their way. Meanwhile, the successful but not entirely satisfying inaugural seasons of the Reds and the Mariners may have helped pave the way for their improved attendances this year - the fans have had a taste and now they want more.

Finally, there's one more piece of the puzzle Micallef overlooks, much to his discredit: for an intense rivalry to emerge, it takes two to tango. If Sydney is so boring, why haven't 50,000 (or even 30,000) Melbourne fans attended any of the Victory's matches against any of the league's other teams? The analysis (not that Micallef did any) of home gates is just one aspect of the story. To provide a more complete picture of the league's favoured and disfavoured teams, both home and away attendances need to be taken into account.


By the way, if you're looking for a breakdown of current and historical aggregates and averages, please navigate to the approporiate page on AusFootballReview.

5 December 2006

Round Fifteen Report

Best of Round Fifteen:

Player: Daniel Allsopp, Melbourne - benefits so much from the hard running of Thompson and Caceres, as well as the precise passing of Muscat and Fred, but deserves every accolade for the way he's rebounded from a lacklustre first season to top the scoring charts

U-20 Player: Chris Grossman, Queensland (see comments) Adrian Leijer, Melbourne - not much competition this week, with Burns quiet and a little clumsy, Vidosic and Zadkid on late, and so many other U-20s on the bench

Coach: Ernie Merrick, Melbourne - no, the defeat against Newcastle was not a sign of hard times ahead - after demolishing Adelaide with their pace, vision, movement off the ball and hard tackling, Melbourne are still clear favourites for the title

Match: Central Coast Mariners vs Sydney FC

Goal: Matt McKay, Queensland - maybe a bit fortunate Tomich was slow to get across to his far post, but a fine looping shot to win the match for Queensland

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Daniel Allsopp - Joel Griffiths
Robbie Middleby - Kevin Muscat - Andre Gumprecht - Spase Dilevski
Matthew Kemp - David Tarka - Mark Rudan - Wayne O'Sullivan
Liam Reddy

Subs: Tommi Tomich, Dean Gordon, Fred, Nick Carle

27 November 2006

Round Fourteen Report

A number of surprises this week. Biggest of all, the Jets triumph over a fairly lacklustre Melbourne. Just goes to show the impact of a key suspension (Muscat) in combination with a defensive reshuffle (Theoklitos, Piorkowski and Storey all sitting out). One loss such as this doesn't imply that a chink in Melbourne's armour is about to become a significant hole - let's wait until next week before assessing the situation any further.

The Mariners topping the Reds so comfortably was another mild surprise. Romario was completely ineffective and perhaps even detrimental for Adelaide, who were in with a shout but couldn't match Central Coast's finishing. Two quick goals soon after half-time and it was back to the drawing board for next week's massive clash against Melbourne at Hindmarsh - a game I'll be attending (and hoping for much better things from Romario).

The other result of note was Sydney's demolition of Queesland. What do they say about a few weeks in football...? Having slipped from second to seventh, and with few signs of a rapid resurrection, the Roar are now in serious trouble. The timing of Miron Bleiberg's exit has made it an extremely difficult initiation for Frank Farina, who may not survive long if the confidence and form of the squad are as low as they seem. Since I'm a cynic, allow me to suggest that Bleiberg knew precisely what he was doing when he jumped ship with such tricky matches approaching - Farina is already bad guy.

Ron Smith on the other hand has seen his gamble of playing Jamie Harnwell up front for Perth Glory pay off twice in succession. Three goals this time for the converted front man, albeit against the ten men of a Knights outfit that has surely condemned itself to another wide-ranging cull during the off-season. There's only one worthwhile question for the Knights now: Could life possibly be worse if the team was mostly comprised of local talent?

Best of Round Fourteen:

Player: Ivan Necevski, Newcastle - came on early for an injured Ben Kennedy and firmly bolted the back door to set up a massive win for the Jets.

U-20 Player: Nathan Burns, Adelaide - a cameo to outshine Romario.

Coach: Lawrie McKinna, Central Coast - hats off to Gary Van Egmond, but McKinna proves he's still the best personnel manager in the league - after losing Mori to the Roar, plonked Mrdja back into the starting eleven and reaped the dividends of a fresh formation and tactics. Also dealed very well with the media hype surrounding Romario during the week.

Match: Melbourne Victory vs Newcastle United Jets

Goal: Milton Rodriguez, Newcastle - used the time given to him by the Victory defence to glide a cheeky shot past the 'keeper's near post after Nick Carle's little dink into the box

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Jamie Harnwell - Daniel Allsopp
Robbie Middleby - Nick Carle - Mile Jedinak - Leo Bertos
Gregory Duruz - Tony Vidmar - Mark Milligan - Steve Eagleton
Ivan Necevski

Subs: Robert Bajic, Seo Hyuk-soo, Steve Corica, Adam Kwasnik

23 November 2006

Round Thirteen Report

Best of Round Thirteen:

Player: Fred, Melbourne - played just 45 mins after collecting an injury early on, but carved up the porous Roar midfield to set up the win for Victory. (Of those on the pitch for more than one half, Perth's David Tarka.)

U-20 Player: Adrian Leijer, Melbourne - aside from the odd random malicious act, has been so consistent all season

Coach: Ron Smith, Perth - interesting to see the gamble of playing Jamie Harnwell up front pay off, even if it was a bit of a cowboy trick

Match: Perth Glory vs Newcastle United Jets

Goal: Luka Glavas - calmly stealing the win with a well-placed, side-footed strike inside the far post in the 94th minute. Lovely turn to beat two defenders from Leo Bertos in the build-up.

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Damian Mori - David Zdrilic
Stan Lazaridis - Grant Brebner - Steve Corica - Leo Bertos
Seo Hyuk-soo - David Tarka - Mark Rudan - Iain Fyfe
Tommi Tomich

Subs: Michael Turnbull, Rodrigo Vargas, Robbie Middleby, Reinaldo

20 November 2006

Farina Back in the Spotlight

Miron Bleiberg resigned last week knowing full well that whomever his replacement turned out to be, his successor's immediate job was not going to be simple. Queensland's next opponents were the runaway league leaders; a home match but far from an easy one for new coach Frank Farina. Contrast this with the move to axe Nick Theodorakopoulos the weekend prior to Newcastle's clash with the cellar-dwelling New Zealand Knights. Gary Van Egmond stepped in, got the relatively easy victory that was expected, and the Jets have looked a different team ever since - certainly a group with more zip and confidence.

It's going to be extremely interesting to chart Farina's success - or lack of it - in the A-League. His tactics never quite managed to cut the mustard on the international circuit, but his player management skills were passable and his talent identification has arguably been of a very high standard. Farina blooded Marco Bresciano when he was nothing much more than a bouncy go-getter. He gave Mile Sterjovski every possible chance to prove himself on the big stage, inevitably leading to the Sterj's mini-downfall after a woeful performance against New Zealand (and Danny Hay in particular) as a target man. Farina also fully supported the likes of Jonathan McKain and Ljubo Milicevic, burly stoppers who he often attempted to play in the holding role.

Something Farina's first match in charge of the Roar showed is that old habits die hard. Chad Gibson and Stuart McLaren both found themselves thrown into the defensive midfield position by Farina. Utility-man Spase Dilevski, another old favourite of Farina's, started wide in midfield, just where Farina routinely positioned him during the Athens Olympics. Then there was Ante Milicic - whose caps for the national team have all come under Farina's stewardship - getting a full game up front at last. Miron Bleiberg had been playing him off the bench in previous weeks, but clearly Farina is a fan and will be determined to see Milicic play himself into some form with regular appearances.

Given some of Farina's reasonably predictable approach, presumably Victory coach Ernie Merrick was comfortably prepared for the mental duel. The 2-0 result may have been an indication of the quality and confidence gap between the two sides, but Farina's gambits might not have helped constrict that gap to any telling effect. That's part of the battle he'll have to face over the coming months. Every head coach, assistant, and trainer in the league knows all about Farina's methodology, at least they do if they've had more than a passing interest in the national team over the past decade or so (Terry Butcher might be excused, but that's why you have Ian Crook around). Finding a way to sustain his preferred tactical arrangements while introducing new elements to surprise opponents - that would seem to be Farina's first challenge on the road to . . . winning the A-League, yes . . . but also becoming the national team coach once again. Surely, even if it's just lurking in the depths of his subconscious, that above all else would have to be his long-term objective. He's likely to outlive Frank Lowy, his number one naysayer, after all.

15 November 2006

Round Twelve Report

Best of Round Twelve:

Player: Mark Bridge, Newcastle - started ahead of Milton Rodriguez and was instrumental in Newcastle's dominating performance, scoring a great how-do-you-do volley and setting-up Nick Carle for another with a nice flick out the back

U-20 Player: Kristian Sarkies, Melbourne - hopefully a glimpse of more to come

Coach: Terry Butcher, Sydney - finally seems to have worked out how to get Petrovski and Zdrilic on the park together

Match: Newcastle United vs Central Coast Mariners

Goal: Grant Brebner - unmarked, but a game-winning shot from outside the area, so he gets the nod ahead of Petrovski's low-drive, Bridge's powerful volley and Mori's looping header

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Mark Bridge - Carl Veart
Adrian Webster - Ufuk Talay - Fred - Joel Griffiths
Alvin Ceccoli - Michael Valkanis - Jamie Harnwell - Wayne O'Sullivan
Tommi Tomich

Subs: Robert Bajic, Steve Eagleton, Grant Brebner, Sasho Petrovski

13 November 2006

Testing the Depths

The Socceroos will be without Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill, Josip Skoko, Scott McDonald and possibly Craig Moore for this week's clash with Ghana. As a result, Patrick Kisnorbo, Michael Thwaite, Shane Stefanutto, Kasey Wehrmann, Ryan Griffiths and possibly Michael Beauchamp could all play a part in the fixture. England-based Neil Kilkenny, Aaron Downes, Trent McClenahan, James Troisi and possibly James Wesolowski (and/or Nick Ward; conflicting reports) have also been brought into camp in order to bolster training numbers.

If Moore can't go, Beauchamp and Kisnorbo may start in the middle of a back four featuring Chipperfield and Emerton out wide.

Strange days.

I wonder how long it's been since a League Two player (McClenahan) was involved in the national set-up?

Of the lot, I'm most interested in how Wehrmann goes. Australia still lacks a natural deputy for Vince Grella (perhaps Mark Milligan in the long-run). Vinnie is fit and ready to tangle with Michael Essien and friends, and I'm sure Wehrmann would be a big step down in terms of passing and organisation, but I'd still like to see the Lillestrom hitman come on for a few minutes. His presence might also lead to the release of Jason Culina further upfield. I really enjoyed watching Jason hound the Dutch backline for 90 minutes in that build-up match to the World Cup and would love to see him given that sort of dogged front-running role again.

Brett Holman is another guy I hope gets a run, a much longer one. He may be one of the few Socceroos with the pace to stretch any of the Ghanaians. It seems that Australia will need to rely on tight, slick passing from Grella, Bresciano, Culina and Sterjovski if it's too have any chance of breaking the Black Stars down. I rather fancy John Aloisi's chances too. This is a big match. It's going to be physical and require mental toughness. Openings will be scarce. Factors like these seem to sway in favour of Aloisi, who has demonstrated before that he naturally thrives under such pressure.

8 November 2006

Round Eleven Report

Best of Round Eleven:

Player: Daniel Allsopp, Melbourne - in the sort of dynamic poaching form that had him among the top goal-scorers in the UK; now seemingly on the verge of international call-up

U-20 Player: Adrian Lejier, Melbourne - just pipping fellow stopper Sime Kovacevic and tireless Knights striker Adam Casey

Coach: Paul Nevin, New Zealand - having the courage to blood Dustin Wells and Mark Paston, while grinding out a necessary result with behind-the-ball football

Match: Melbourne Victory vs Central Coast Mariners

Goal: Daniel Allsopp, Melbourne - his second, to tie the match in the dying minutes with Victory down to nine players; a great volley in the top corner after Fred's remarkable verve, vision and cross

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Archie Thompson - Daniel Allsopp
Robbie Middleby - Fred - Dustin Wells - Joel Griffiths
Gregory Duruz - Adrian Leijer - Paul Okon - Steve Eagleton
Mark Paston

Subs: Clint Bolton, Josh McCloughan, Jamie McMaster, Adam Kwasnik

6 November 2006

U-20s Coming Home Early

Well, the better team won and it certainly wasn't Australia. Korea Republic were scintillating in a match they utterly dominated yet only managed to win 2-1 due to over-zealous long-range shooting and the best efforts of Australia's last man standing, Matthew Spiranovic.

Someone will have to take the fall for a performance that put the Koreans eons ahead of us in terms of teamwork, skill on the ball, tempo, organisation and running in midfield, and slickness in attack. We were no match at all, which is quite alarming when you consider this generation of U-20s is ostensibly one of our best.

Some will blame the pitch, again. The Koreans managed to adapt to the bumps and hollows, playing some marvellous football. Why not us? Did coach Postecoglou give the lads a fair run on cow paddocks back home in order to prepare? Or did we continue to play on smooth AIS pitches during our pre-tournament drills and warm-ups? Instead of air-balling it would have been nice to see a bit of the old Control The Ball First mantra being exercised.

Some of the players just have to share the blame. Shaun Ontong was terrible tonight, as he has been during the tournament in my opinion. He's Postecoglou's general on the park, and I see no other reason why he's been made captain. His distribution was woeful, his Grella-like suggestions made with much pointing and arm-waving were often not the best choices, his long balls were constantly cut out by the opposition 'keeper, and so it goes on. Aside from Spiranovic, the back line has also been at fault during the tournament. Tonight goalkeeper Tando Velaphi joined the merry antics of the clowns in front of him, finding himself out of position for the Koreans second goal, which bounced over his outstretched arms (probably off a divot of some kind). Kaz Patafta ran out of breath after about sixty minutes. David Williams was majorly unsighted for most of the evening. Incessantly, Bruce Djite tried to turn when safer options were available. Sebastian Ryall was sent off late in the match for a badly disguised follow through on a Korean who made a mockery of Ryall's defensive abilities a little earlier with a glorious skinning - you could almost hear the Korean thinking his way through the move, which he executed with perfection, leaving Ryall sprawled on the ground and attempting to haul the Korean in with his . . . arms.

It's hard to find positives, really. In fact, I'm not far off disgusted. As for the South Koreans, I hope they win the thing. Postecoglou will surely receive his pink slip now, but who's going to replace him? Nobody seriously qualified comes to mind, frankly, especially when you consider that anyone brought in will be obliged to acquaint themselves with the AIS and state league system that has been erected in "support" of youth football here. Sure, we need an academy, but I'm not sure the AIS structure is the answer.


From an article on the NZ Knights website regarding part-time signing Fernando De Moraes:

Some A-league commentators have regarded Fernando as one of the unluckiest players not to be signed by a club and some internet blogs have listed him in their top ten that should have been picked up.

Possibly the first mention of the blogging community in an official A-League release. But who are these bloggers referred to? Can't say I've come across a post on something like the Top Ten Unsigned State Leaguers before. Good idea. Never managed to do it myself. Too many considerations! e.g. Do you include or exclude previously signed players, former or current part-timers, youth players based on potential and future earning capacity? etc.) Maybe I've seen one and just forgotten. Anyone point me to a post fitting this description?

4 November 2006

First Major Clash

Korea Republic U-20s vs Australia U-20s.

6 November, 9:30 pm (EST).

Aside from the national women's teams, who've already played for rather a lot, it's the first major (or semi-major, if you don't really believe in the value of youth tournaments) meeting of Australia and another powerhouse from Asia in a match that really counts. With the winners qualifying for the semi-finals of the AFC tournament along with the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2007, and with the losers going home, there's something pretty big at stake for both nations.

Let's hope we can get some P2P coverage of this one!

2 November 2006

Eligible U-20s Not Representing Australia

Over at The Football Tragic, Mike Salter raises the excellent point that European-based teenagers like James Troisi (Newcastle), Shane Lowry (Aston Villa) and Rostyn Griffiths (Blackburn), while eligible and probably good enough for Australia's U-20 team currently involved in the AFC Youth Championship, are practically off-limits for Australian selectors during the European season due to FIFA laws that do not oblige clubs to release players for youth internationals.

A sad state of affairs for the U-20 and U-17 coaching staff, for sure, but there are a few question marks surrounding the matter.

How, for instance, was Ange Postecoglou able to convince Benfica, Brondby and Nürnberg to release Kaz Patafta, David Williams and Matthew Spiranovic? (Also, Ryan McGowan from Hearts was selected in the stand-by squad). Have these players managed to negotiate an 'international escape' clause in their professional contracts? Were they motivated to accomplish this because they were certain they'd be picked in future Postecoglou squads? Did the AIS or state institutes of sport have anything to do with their international release, given that all are products of The System?

Another question, then. Given that those players have been on Postecoglou's back doorstep in the recent past, does their selection indicate a fairly hefty streak of nepotism and/or an utter lack of budget for Postecoglou to scout overseas-based players?

Finally, if any of this is true, does non-selection to the government-supported AIS or state bodies mean that our young players can kiss any hope goodbye of being selected for an Australian youth team? Would this factor into a young player's mind at the age of, say, 17, when he's deciding whether to accept a trial offer with an EPL team or write out yet another grant application for the AIS after being knocked back in the past for not fitting the Postecoglou profile?

Cynical questions, yes, but worth considering?

Curious about the state of overseas-based players eligible for the U-20s and arguably of a high enough standard (or fairly close), I thought I'd compile a bit of a list. Here's the result, I'm sure I've missed some:

James Troisi
Shane Lowry
Rostyn Griffiths
Scott Jamieson (Bolton)
James Meredith (Derby)
Matthew Park (Hearts)
Tim Rasmussen (Derby)
Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough)
James Wesolowski (Leicester) - at least in the frame for a full cap soon

Ex-Marseille youth Adam Hardy would have joined them, but apparently he's succumbed to a nasty injury and won't be playing football for who knows how long. Then there's also Alex Cisak (Leicester), Christopher Herd (Aston Villa), Hayden Doyle (Stoke), Gareth Musson (Dorchester), Paul Connell (Cork City), Andrew Shephard (Cheltenham Town) and Matthew Wardle (Livingston), none of whom may be superior to the currently selected squad. (To be honest, I don't know much about most ot these guys. I think that's okay, but if Ange Postecoglou doesn't know much about them either then we have a problem!) Furthermore, most observers are still scratching their heads over the exclusion from the main squad of A-Leaguers Alex Vrteski, Ben Kennedy and Oliver Bozanic as well as ex-Porto signing Cameron Watson, and we might add to them New Zealand Knights pair Sime Kovacevic and Tim Smits who both failed to make even the stand-by list.

There are possibly some excellent reasons for the non-selection of certain individuals over the Postecoglou reign. The questions that I've raised exist, however, because accountability remains a minimal concern for the youth administrators and coaches. They don't feel the need to explain their decisions. To my knowledge there has been no statement made about the eyebrow-raising selections of goalkeepers Tando Velaphi and Mitchell Langerak over Vrteski and Kennedy, for instance. This might be the media's fault to begin, if perhaps nobody has bothered to ask these kinds of questions. Given that few of us crazy fanatics with too much time on our hands know anything about the form of James Troisi aside from what we manage to read between the lines of short Internet reports, sift from fan forums or hear from mates fortunate enough to catch the odd Newcastle reserve match, I guess it's a tough call for a busy journalist to stick their neck out during a press conference and ask probing questions about obscure things happening on the other side of the world.

Still, that doesn't hold them back when it comes to celebrity gossip mongering or hawking fashion reportage. Oh well, another booby prize for utilitarianism I guess.

Stefanutto Gifted Chance

The selection of ex-Brisbane Strikers and current Lillestrøm S.K. left back Shane Stefanutto in the Australian squad to face Ghana sends a message from Graham Arnold out to all overseas based potential Socceroos - he is watching.

Arnold cites a shortage of left-sided defenders due to the retirements of Stan Lazaridis, Tony Vidmar, Tony Popovic and Danny Tiatto as the primary reason supporting 26-year-old Stefanutto's inclusion. Scott Chipperfield and the number one home-based option, Alvin Ceccoli, are no spring chickens either, while retro-fit wingbacks Ryan Griffiths and Jacob Burns have been given the once over in previous squads. More overseas-based options exist, with left-backs Eddy Bosnar, Shane Sherriff and Dean Heffernan all plying their trades in Europe, but it's nice to see a consistent serviceman like Stefanutto given the next roll of the dice.

Lillestrøm are currently in fourth place in the Norwegian Premier League, with one round to go. Australian defensive midfielder Kasey Wehrmann also plays for the team but unlike Stefanutto doesn't seem to be a regular starter at the moment.

1 November 2006

Round Ten Report

Best of Round Ten:

Player: Nick Carle, Newcastle - the fantastic game-clinching goal demonstrated his determination to succeed and capped off a solid all-round effort

U-20 Player: Alex Vrteski, Perth - back in goals following Petkovic's leg break means he's back on track for the Rising Star Award

Coach: Gary Van Egmond, Newcastle - has he fired-up the Jets or what?

Match: Newcastle Jets vs Adelaide United

Goal: Nick Carle, Newcastle - shades of Saeed Owairan's box-to-box gallop for Saudi Arabia in a 1994 World Cup match against Belgium; not quite the evasion required for that effort, but similarly done at a scintillating pace - in the 90th minute! - and with a sharp, cunning finish

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Archie Thompson - Yuning Zhang
Adrian Caceres - Nick Carle - Grant Brebner - Joel Griffiths
Matt Thompson - Andrew Durante - Alex Wilkinson - Andrew Packer
Danny Vukovic

Subs: Alex Vrteski, Wayne O'Sullivan, Fred, Reinaldo

30 October 2006

Ange Lets Us Down, Again

Pacy, tireless running, a dominating possession style, with robustness in the centre and strength in the air -- let's call it the Ange Postecoglou methodology.

A brilliant one-touch pass in the forward line, craftiness from the striker creeping behind the back of a stopper, some slack marking to expose our solitary defender without much pace, and it's 1-0 to China.

Brilliant? Why not? It's precisely the sort of slick - but relatively simple - interplay that the Australian U-20s lacked in a rather dreary performance against skilled but not innately superior opposition. With an attacking line-up featuring Dario Vidosic sitting just behind Nathan Burns and David Williams, you'd think we might have created more than a handful of dangerous situations in and around the Chinese area. Yet, we never really did. Vidosic failed to gel with the midfield dynamos behind him: Kaz Patafta in the centre and Shaun Ontong mopping up in front of the back three. Williams and Burns tried their guts out, but - and here is the Ange way - to no real benefit. Okay, the pitch was awful. But you adjust. The crowd was minimal. But you say, "Hey, it ain't no thing," and get on with winning the match.

It was the same story in Holland for the last U-20 World Championship. It seems to have undone the current crop of U-17s before they even had a chance to mount a qualification campaign, falling at the first hurdle to Laos. Going back further, we've had other early exits and not-quite-good-enough appearances at final tournaments after showing promising form and showcasing the undeniable talents of immensely gifted players. Something's not quite right, and as is customary the coach ought to shoulder some of the responsibility.

Yet, to my knowledge there has rarely - if ever - been a word from FFA headquarters regarding the instability of Postecoglou's job. Does he possess a ten-year ironclad lease on the position, or what? How many times do we have to see A+ efforts diminished (if not derailed or demolished) by D- tactics, bizarre favourtism, low player morale (when's the last time we saw an Ange player smiling and obviously enjoying their football?), and inept administration (e.g. the David Williams ineligibility fiasco at the last U-17s).

Stale. That describes our approach to these campaigns. Any coach in the world can look at our efforts over the long Postecoglou era, examine tapes from way back, and learn pretty much everything there is to know about his methods and habits in a few productive hours. The players can't be expected to win games at high levels when nothing changes tactically and every burden falls on their young, relatively inexperienced shoulders. Vidosic for one seemed to succumb to the pressure a bit tonight; Berger and Downey thoroughly. I'm giving the kids a break though. No, I'd much rather Postecoglou face the music - come on, just this once!

PS - Credit to Matthew Spiranovic for a massive performance at the back. Aside from his rather torpid lack of a second-gear (ah, it's all about good positioning anyway), the guy was a defensive Mount Kosciuszko. Huge in the air, a wizard with the ball at his feet, great vision, it's almost everything you want.

27 October 2006

AFC Youth Championship 2006

There doesn't seem to be an awful lot of local coverage for this event, but at least we can follow the progress of the Young Socceroos on the official competition website as they seek qualification for the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2007 in Canada.

With the four semi-finalists qualifying, Australia will be desperate to avoid a quarter-final clash with Group A contenders and 11-time former champions (including four of the last five competitions), Korea Republic. To do so, Ange Postegoclou's outfit will need to finish ahead of main Group B rivals China, fellow finalists with the South Koreans from 2004. Not going to be easy.

26 October 2006

Round Nine Report

Best of Round Nine:

Player: Adrian Caceres, Melbourne - tough choice this week, but Caceres, who has wrested the left flank position from season starter Alessandro, was a critical provider for Victory

U-20 Player: Nathan Burns, Adelaide - strong performances from Zadkovich and Kennedy as well, but Burns is a highlight reel at the moment

Coach: Gary Van Egmond, Newcastle - have the Jets finally turned the corner?

Match: Central Coast Mariners vs Perth Glory

Goal: Tom Pondeljak, Central Coast - cheeky backheels from crosses usually only trickle in at the far post, but somehow Tommy rapped this one with enough power to go in at Jason Petkovic's near post

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Archie Thompson - Nathan Burns
Adrian Caceres - Nick Carle - Tom Pondeljak - Spase Dilevski
Alvin Ceccoli - Andrew Durante - Paul O'Grady - Alex Wilkinson
Ben Kennedy

Subs: Tom Willis, Iain Fyfe, Jason Spagnuolo, Adam Kwasnik

21 October 2006

Round Eight Report

Best of Round Eight:

Player: Kristian Rees, Adelaide - capitalising with a brilliant display at the back after finding himself back in Kosmina's favour

U-20 Player: Nathan Burns - another excellent performance, displaying pace, strength, vision, and a great nous for mounting the counter-attack

Coach: Miron Bleiberg, Queensland - for overcoming a fired-up Glory in Perth

Match: Melbourne Victory vs Adelaide United

Goal: Greg Owens, Adelaide - one of the best counter-attacking moves of the season, Burns, Qu and Owens combining expert strength, speed and finishing

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Ante Milicic - Reinaldo
Stewart Petrie - Nick Carle - Matt McKay - Leo Bertos
Stan Lazaridis - Kristian Rees - Paul Okon - Darren Bazeley
Robert Bajic

Subs: Danny Vukovic, Josh McCloughan, John Hutchinson, Nathan Burns

11 October 2006

Round Seven Report

Best of Round Seven:

Player: Rodrigo Vargas, Melbourne - he's been large in every match this season, but against Newcastle in particular really stood up to demonstrate the strength of Victory's defensive backbone

U-20 Player: Nathan Burns, Adelaide - with Rech and Qu on the sidelines, stepping up remarkably well

Coach: Ernie Merrick, Melbourne - man of the moment after defeating all seven other teams one by one

Match: Sydney FC vs Queensland Roar

Goal: Alvin Ceccoli - a screamer, of course, but earns major kudos as a slamming response to Terry Butcher leaving him out of the squad for a couple of weeks ago

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Bobby Despotovski - Daniel Allsopp
Adrian Caceres - Matt McKay - Carl Veart - Jason Spagnuolo
Paul Kohler - Rodrigo Vargas - Neil Emblen - Alex Wilkinson
Danny Vukovic

Subs: Michael Theoklitos, David Tarka, Alvin Ceccoli, Nathan Burns

Team of the Year - Until Now:

Archie Thompson - Daniel Allsopp
Matt McKay - Simon Colosimo - Kevin Muscat - Leo Bertos
Alvin Ceccoli - Rodrigo Vargas - Sasa Ognenovski - Greg Owens
Danny Vukovic

Subs: Michael Theoklitos, David Tarka, Grant Brebner, Simon Lynch

Coach: Ernie Merrick

Vukovic comes into the starting line-up following his recent brilliant displays. Theoklitos continues to do well, but he has Vargas marshalling the troops in front of him. Somewhat surprisingly, neither Ognenovski nor Muscat -- probably the player of the year so far -- have been sent off yet. Tarka creeps onto the bench ahead of Neil Emblen, Daniel Piorkowski, Adrian Leijer, Alex Wilkinson and the perhaps somewhat over-hyped Nikolai Topor-Stanley (playing well, but it's not like he's the second coming of Tony Vidmar just yet). Ceccoli keeps his spot, with Gregory Duruz a distant challenger. On the right, it's again hard to look past Owens who deserves a spot somewhere, and Bertos, who has been brilliant with only daylight behind him until Dave Carney returns from injury and Travis Dodd rediscovers his magic hat (okay, and maybe Ruben Zadkovich). Colosimo edges out Brebner, who has missed time, while Matt McKay slips in on the left midfield again ahead of Stan Lazaridis and Malik Buari. Up front, Thompson and Allsopp have been an absolute menace, while Lynch's consistency earns him a spot on the bench ahead of Reinaldo.

Others on the cusp (not exhaustive): Robert Bajic, Clint Bolton, Josh McCloughan, Angelo Costanzo, Mark Milligan, Carl Veart, Joel Griffiths, David Zdrilic (blimey!), Milton Rodriguez.

Captain Grella

It's barely been mentioned in the media, nor discussed on forums oddly enough, yet I'd wager a heck of a lot has been spoken about it in the dressing rooms at Bulleen Veneto and along alfresco dining strips throughout the country.

I'm no statistician, so please correct me if I'm wrong -- no, really, do it! -- but it seems that Vincenzo Grella has become the first ever Australian footballer to be given the captain's armband for an Italian Serie A club on a long-term basis. I know, I know, I'm way behind the eight-ball, having only found out myself that Vinnie has been made captain of Parma this season thanks to Simon Hill's passing comment during the recent international fixture against Paraguay.

Shouldn't this be major news? I mean, it's sort of passe now for Australians to captain teams at high levels in the UK (Joe Marston, Craig Moore, Mark Viduka, Lucas Neill, Kevin Muscat, Tony Popovic, and probably a bunch of others I've forgotten) and we've had Josip Skoko win a league title in Beligum as captain of Genk, but to earn the honour in Italy, albeit for a struggling team with a new coach, is quite an achievement.

The appointment certainly seals Grella's conviction from a recent interivew with The World Game that Parma has been 'redimensionalised' this season. I guess it's safe to assume Vincenzo is one of those inspirational leaders who does his talking with his maneuvers on the pitch rather than vocally in the change rooms at half-time. Not to disparage the champ at all, we can't all be Shakespeare and nor would the world be even remotely tolerable if that were the case! Bravo Vinnie!

Davo, Fo Shizzle

Find out everything you (n)ever wanted to know about potential Socceroo and current Brondby striker David Williams as he goes all My Space-y on us.

Cheers to "Socceroo_06" on the Melbourne Victory boards for drawing attention to this obscurity. (So, don't blame me!)

Trying to imagine . . . five or six years from now, Williams blogging about the road to the World Cup, his high school chums utilising as many phrases as possible from the Urban Dictionary to describe his form, Kaz Patafta getting crazily jealous and opening a vanity home page, Guus Hiddink laying down the law: "Thou shalt not promote thy presence through online or other agencies disconnected from the FFA lest thy name be Kewell".


Reminds me that Mark Schwarzer used to maintain a personal site, as did Tranmere's Shane Sherriff when he played in Denmark, both of which, from memory, contained quite reflective, considered, and even -- gasp -- grammatically accurate writing! Tellingly, neither of these seem to be functional anymore. It does seem sort of counter productive for a reasonably well known professional sportsperson to share their thoughts via a free-for-all means, when selling over-priced, ghost-written autobiographies after retirement is very much the viable game plan, especially for those extrovert personalities with a collection of untold humorous and sordid stories ready to unleash on unsuspecting sports journalists, public librarians and ABC Shop consumers. I wonder if "Ned Zelic: Doing It Without Me" and "So Sexy, It Hurts: The Mark Bosnich Story" are on the publication horizon?

10 October 2006

Nick Theo, Jettisoned

It had to happen -- Newcastle head coach Nick Theodorakopoulos has been sacked after failing to win a single match during his thirteen-game reign, which if my memory serves is the shortest tenure of any full-time A-League coach to date. (He joins Steve McMahon, John Adshead, Richard Money and Pierre Littbarski as the league's ex-head coach appointees. Alan Vest was caretaker when replaced by Ron Smith.)

The timing is probably spot on. With the Jets facing the Knights on Saturday, they run into the middle portion of the season with arguably the league's easiest opponents first up. A win would certainly sooth tension in the dressing room and give something back to the few diehard fans that actually bother to turn up (Newcastle's home attendance last week was its lowest in the history of the A-League).

Following the departures of Richard Money last season and now Nick Theo, Gary Van Egmond finds himself caretaker coach, yet again. He might even provide the perfect remedy: he knows the squad better than anyone, he's a local lad, he has enough playing and coaching experience to get by over the next few weeks, perhaps beyond. You have to imagine that the form and softly spoken leadership of Paul Okon will be especially important during this interim phase as well.

Of course, Frank Farina's name has been raised just about everywhere as the long-term replacement in the head coaching position. Does he even need to apply for these jobs anymore, given that the media pretty much lets every CEO and his dog know that Farina is willing and available? Somehow, though, you get the feeling that Jets Chairman Con Constantine, CEO George Liolio, and Director of Football Remo Nogarotto have a different agenda. For better or worse (you be the judge), they haven't often followed conventional wisdom. I don't think it would really surprise anyone if they appointed a "high profile" head coach from Austria or El Salvador, or even someone substantially less bizarre and ultimately sort of boring, like Gary Phillips.

Each circus needs its ringmasters, I suppose.

As for Nick T, perhaps if Wollongong gain an A-League team in the future he will stand a chance of getting another job outside of the SBS television studios. Nick Theo orchestrating an attacking set-up with Scott Chipperfield running the show in central midfield . . . sounds about right to me.

3 October 2006

Round Six Report

Sorry about the absence of updates, I've been away on short vacation. Getting back to last week's stretched out fixtures between Thursday and Monday, we witnessed the Mariners claim their first victory of the season over the unfortunate Knights, Glory hammer the Jets, Victory cruise to a massive league advantage by whipping the Roar, and Sydney returning to within a glimmer of their former championship-winning selves in a major triumph over Adelaide. New A-League arrival Benito Carbone stood out in a big way, setting up two goals for Sydney and scoring another. Melbourne's Fred also had an excellent game on his return from suspension.

Best of Round Six:

Player: Benito Carbone, Sydney - a thorn in Adelaide's side throughout the encounter, if he plays like this every week Sydney can only benefit -- but will they sign him to a longer-term deal?

U-20 Player: Ruben Zadkovich, Sydney - the Kid returns

Coach: Ron Smith, Perth - they're fast and furious down the flanks, strong in the centre, playing smart up front, and able to handle difficult opposition -- perhaps the league's darkest horse?

Match: Adelaide United vs Sydney FC

Goal: Nathan Burns, Adelaide - showing awesome determination to get the ball in his own half, receive it again in the build up, then slot the ball home after a slick one-two with Veart

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Archie Thompson - Simon Lynch
Stan Lazaridis - Benito Carbone - Fred - Ruben Zadkovich
Gregory Duruz - David Tarka - Neil Emblen - Jamie Coyne
Clint Bolton

Subs: Naum Sekolovski, Simon Colosimo, Grant Brebner, Alex Brosque

30 September 2006


Adelaide United has confirmed the guest signing of Romário de Souza Faria -- the player Guus Hiddink considers the greatest he has ever coached -- who will play a series of matches in Australia between October and December. Four of these will be for Adelaide, who have lined up a trio of home games and one away match to showcase the aging superstar's abilities. Melbourne, New Zealand and Newcastle are the opposition for the home matches, while Central Coast are the fortunate away side. (Fortunate for the Gosford fans at least, maybe not so much for Tony Vidmar and his associates in the Mariners defence.) If Central Coast stadium doesn't pack out for the match on November 25, perhaps it never will.

Romário's other matches will include a couple of friendlies for his current team, first year franchise Miami FC, who are also travelling out to Australia. Miami and Adelaide will duke it out in a friendly match in October, which will give us a first indication of how the A-League stacks up against American competition, in this case the top flight of the second-tier United Soccer League. Zinho, another member of Brazil's 1994 World Cup winning squad, is also currently playing for Miami FC. Zinho still has it at 38 -- he led the just-finished domestic league in assists. Miami also has a few current internationals on their books: Jamaican forward Sean Fraser, Haitian defenders Stephane Guillaume and Jamil Jean-Jacques, and Guatemalan midfielder Mario Rodriguez. One of their young starlets seems to be US defender John Paul Rodrigues.

Interestingly enough, Miami played a friendly against John Aloisi's Deportivo Alaves in early-August. Romario scored in Miami's 2-1 defeat. Aloisi did not.

Without checking to make sure, I assume Romário's appearance will mark the first time a former FIFA World Player of the Year has played for a domestic club in Australia.

One thing is certain: Romário will not score his 1,000th goal for Adelaide. His cherished home team Vasco da Gama would absolutely blow their fuse if he achieved the feat for anyone but them. He still needs quite a few more goals in any case, seemingly having something like a mere 977 at the moment. Surely there's a countdown for this somewhere on the web?

Finally, what a great honour for Fernando Rech (as well as Melbourne's Brazilians, I guess) to play alongside such a heroic figure in Brazilian football history. Securing such a lasting reward is a nice bit of vindication for coming all the way to Australia to earn a living.

I'm off now, to figure out which match to attend! Gosford or Adelaide? Versus Victory ("Adrian Leijer injures world's second greatest goal scorer of all time!") or the Jets ("Paul Okon and Romário today compared dining notes as they lumbered around the Newcastle box in search of a touch of the ball -- oh, but what a touch!")? Decisons, decisions . . . .

27 September 2006

Bugno Walks

This has been brewing for quite some time. Walter Bugno has stepped down as Chairman of Sydney FC, citing time committments with another position. He may well have simply had enough, really, considering Frank Lowy's recent (and probably ongoing) interference in the running of the team, the executive board's position regarding marquee signings (they're too expensive), the sluggish start to the season, the negative press haunting the club the past few weeks, and so it goes on.

Replacing Bugno is Edmund Capon, director of the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Apparently Capon will "make a further statement about the club in a few weeks". I suppose this means a decision will be made about the direction of Sydney FC long after triallist Benito Carbone has left for greener pastures. Perhaps the fans would appreciate a statement from the board concerning the sudden departure of Bugno, not to mention Capon's short-term vision for the future. A few simple words about getting performances back on track, standing by the manager, and bettering success on the field would suffice. Anything to instill confidence and allay fears that this maneuver is all about a clash of personalities or balancing the accounts, which of course it probably is but anything is better than having supporters wait in anguish while the media stews over the lurid details of this affair.

(Dear readers: You may wish to substitute Lowy for Capon in all of the above.)

Update (next day): Well, perhaps things aren't all that bad -- Beni Carbone and Sydney have finally agreed terms to a guest contract.

Round Five Report

Not much of a report this week, but other places have already compiled wrap-ups far superior to my curt efforts so far this season. Belated post-World Cup hangover? Something like that.

Best of Round Five:

Player: Tie: Danny Vukovic, Central Coast, and Robert Bajic, Adelaide - unfair to separate, each had outstanding performances in goal to earn their respective sides a point

U-20 Player: Adrian Leijer, Melbourne - solid once again, having quite an eventful season as the hard man alongside the silky ball carrier from defence, Rodrigo Vargas

Coach: Miron Bleiberg, Queensland - juggling Roar's myriad of attacking options reasonably well thus far -- seems to have re-gained the confidence to really start turning up the chatter, which is great

Match: Central Coast Mariners vs Newcastle United Jets

Goal: Mark Rudan - burly stoppers don't crack left-footed half-volleys into the net particularly often

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Joel Griffiths - Reinaldo
Stewart Petrie - Matt McKay - Sasa Ognenovski - Massimo Murdocca
David Tarka - Rodrigo Vargas - Alex Wilkinson - Andrew Packer
Danny Vukovic

Subs: Robert Bajic, Mark Rudan, Adrian Caceres, Milton Rodriguez

22 September 2006

Miron Quote of the Week

Queensland coach Miron Bleiberg on playing John Kosmina's Adelaide this weekend:

"Of course I want to beat him," he said. "I'd give my left arm, not my right because that's the one I play tennis with, to beat him."

(This has just got to become a regular segment.)

21 September 2006

The Victory Dome

There's a nice ring to that name. Melbourne have announced plans to relocate the bulk of their remaining home games to the Telstra Dome. Pending confirmation and go ahead from the FFA, the change of venues would commence from October 1, when Victory host the crowd-pleasing Queensland Roar. Only home games against Perth and New Zealand would not be relocated and remain at the smaller, perhaps less comfortable Olympic Park stadium.

The report does not indicate whether the Dome seating will be re-shaped to a rectangle throughout the duration of the contract, but previous reports have suggested this might be possible. It seems that Telstra Dome management is bending over backwards to clinch the deal, offering Victory a minimum fee to offset stadium rental regardless of attendances. Maybe Victory fans purchase a staggering amount of concessions.

Update: the FFA has endorsed the move.

20 September 2006

Round Four Report

We learned an awful lot this week. Sydney, for all their off-field dramas and on-field tantrums, are still in the top four and lurking with dangerous intent. More than just top four prospects, Melbourne and Queensland are officially title contenders. New Zealand face another long and disappointing season. Central Coast's status as underdogs seems to have finally caught up with them. Newcastle are nowhere near as bad as their form so far this season indicates -- once they string together a few matches at home, a successful run mirroring Adelaide's over the past two weeks could easily follow. The arrival of Milton Rodriguez, two-goal hero on the weekend, can only help. Finally, the standard and pace of the league is measurably superior to last year.

Just look at the running of the Queensland forwards in the build up to Matt McKay's first goal against the Knights. Or Adelaide's desire to move the ball as quickly as possible, as evidenced by the one-touch lay-offs around the box and the immense speed of the Reds down the flanks. Check out Nick Carle's burst down that left that leaves the Sydney defenders grasping at thin air while Milton Rodriguez announces himself to Australian spectators. Perhaps the speed of the match caught up with Paul O'Grady, whose mind and legs couldn't react fast enough to whip an innocent cross out of the box, resulting in a woeful attempted clearance, a wild deflection and a goal. Perhaps it's just me, but I'm starting to feel tired just watching the vast amounts of energy expended on A-League pitches. The high tempo game attracts the fans, maximises the athletic ability of our most gifted players and leads to both exceptionally skillful and bizarrely horrible situations. How a 35-year-old striker who hasn't played in five years can be expected to contribute to such a league is beyond me.

Best of Round Four:

Player: Milton Rodriguez, Newcastle (pictured) - a huge impact off the bench, even more so then Dario Vidosic in Round One who didn't have to rescue his team from two goals down

U-20 Player: Alex Vrteski, Perth - starting to dominate this category, but may not hold out Jason Petkovic for much longer

Coach: Nick Theodorakopoulos, Newcastle - could have gone to winning coaches John Kosmina or Miron Bleiberg, but Nick Theo gets it for his cautious handling of Milton Rodriguez -- holding him back ala Hiddink/Kewell vs Uruguay, firing him up, before throwing him on to pounce all over an unsuspecting Sydney

Match: Adelaide United vs Perth Glory

Goal: Travis Dodd, Adelaide - a powerful, dipping, swerving, admirable strike from just outside the box, Dodd gleefully capitalising on the lack of closing down from the Perth defence

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Milton Rodriguez - Archie Thompson
Matt McKay - Fernando - Marcus Wedau - Travis Dodd
Daniel Piorkowski - Rodrigo Vargas - Angelo Costanzo - Greg Owens
Michael Theoklitos

Subs: Alex Vrteski, Josh McCloughan, Simon Colosimo, Jason Spagnuolo

Team of the Year - Until Now:

Presented every so often, a run down of the form players in the league, concentrating on regular starters and consistency rather than single-game wonderkinds. One of the big surprises: Greg Owens, whose adaptability has seen him cover acres of territory from the centre of midfield, to the left flank, to the right fullback position.

Archie Thompson - Daniel Allsopp
Matt McKay - Simon Colosimo - Kevin Muscat - Leo Bertos
Alvin Ceccoli - Rodrigo Vargas - Sasa Ognenovski - Greg Owens
Michael Theoklitos

Subs: Alex Vrteski, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Fernando, Joel Griffiths

19 September 2006

Tough Year Ahead for the Olyroos

Australia's Olypmic hopefuls face a stern test having been drawn with Iran and Saudi Arabia in Group D of the 2008 Beijing Games' second qualifying round. Only the top two teams in the group will progress to the third and final round of qualifying, which places competitors in another four-team group that -- assuming they get this far -- the Australian U-23s must top if they are to make it to Beijing. It would be highly beneficial to avoid regional powerhouses Japan and the Korea Republic during the final stage, but, as we have learned recently, teams such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, etc, can all prove tricky opponents.

Before they even get to the first really difficult stage, the Olyroos must first defeat Chinese Taipei (or, for the politically incorrect, Taiwan) in a home-and-away preliminary scheduled for early February next year. Both these encounters should be relatively easy for the Olyroos, who ought to win by several goals overall. If we concede more than a couple, or fail to score at least half-a-dozen, our expectations for making it all the way to the Olympics ought to be lowered.

In the second round, Iran and Saudi Arabia loom as big threats standing in the way of qualification. The Olyroos recently played out a 0-0 draw with Iran, so we know they are no easy beats. Both countries have comparatively strong youth systems, with Iran in particular capable of unearthing a gem talent or two every so often. I'm not sure if they'll be involved in the U-23 qualifying tournament, but age eligible players Hossein Kaebi (a pacy right-sided wing-back contracted to Al-Emarat in the UAE) and Mehrzad Madanchi (a left-sided attacking midfielder for Persepolis) are fully capped internationals with World Cup experience under their belts. Kaebi alone has earned more than 50 caps already. Either Jordan or Kyrgyzstan will round out the group, neither of whom are as weak as Chinese Taipei.

In order for the Olyroos to remain competitive throughout the year-long qualifying campaign, it will be necessary to field the strongest possible team. How A-League matches, the limited availability of overseas-based players, and other international commitments interfere with the schedule is still a bit of an unknown factor. The two matches against Chinese Taipei are due to be played just before the domestic Preliminary Final and Grand Final. If, for the sake of argument, Melbourne, Queensland and Adelaide were involved in these matches, Adrian Leijer, Spase Dilevski, Kristian Sarkies, Vince Lia and Dez Giraldi could all find themselves playing four huge matches several thousand kilometres apart in the space of two weeks. Similar clashes will arise if the Olyroos make it through to the third and final stage, which might coincide with the start of the next Hyundai A-League season.

Gaining the services of Nick Ward, Neil Kilkenny, James Wesolowski, possibly David Williams and Kaz Patafta, is another challenge confronting Olympic coach Graham Arnold. The second round of qualifying is played out from late February to early June, a pretty awful period of the year for national team managers seeking friendly acquiescence regarding international call-ups from their domestic league counterparts. Ward, especially, is already a central component of the Queens Park Rangers midfield set-up. Arnold can only hope QPR are not involved in a relegation battle (unfortunately, they probably will be).

All of this is why nobody claimed qualifying for major tournaments through Asia was going to be easy.

12 September 2006

Round Three Report

Inclement weather around the country had a dramatic affect on attendances this week, which sagged to an average of 5,888 -- a new low point in A-League history. Interestingly enough, the previous low average of 7,269 achieved in Round 14 last season featured precisely the same quartet of home fixtures: Adelaide, Central Coast, New Zealand and Perth. (Both times Adelaide had the largest crowd, and New Zealand the smallest.)

Best of Round Three:

Player: Archie Thompson, Melbourne (pictured) - a magnificent return to form that could keep Victory at the top of the league for quite some time

U-20 Player: Alex Vrteski, Perth - another performance like this might keep Jason Petkovic out of the team

Coach: John Kosmina, Adelaide - would Adelaide have been so impressive had Kossie made it to Kuwait and missed the week's training?

Match: Perth Glory vs Sydney FC

Goal: Archie Thompson, Melbourne - slick build-up featuing a nicely weighted through ball, and the finish from almost right-angle had to be perfect

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Shengqing Qu - Archie Thompson
Matt McKay - Fernando - Tom Pondeljak - Jason Spagnuolo
Alvin Ceccoli - Nikolai Topor-Stanley - Angelo Costanzo - Iain Fyfe
Alex Vrteski

Subs: Danny Vukovic, Alex Wilkinson, Grant Brebner, Mark Bridge

4 September 2006

Round Two Report

A huge crowd of almost 40,000 at the Telstra Dome witnessed easily the best match of the round, an epic duel between probably the league's most fierce rivals. Five goals, one red card, a broken collarbone, an off-the-ball incident headed for video review, poor quality refereeing, an irate coach on the sideline, feigning, diving, Brazilians tripping over the ball while executing stepovers, it was a match that wanted to bite your head off and spit it out on the pitch for use as a proxy ball. If the league can deliver three spectacles like this each year, fans everywhere will be grateful. (Something we can probably do without is the jerk who threw a lit flare off the third-tier of the stadium down onto spectators below. I have no beef with flares, but if you light one then you ought to take responsibility for its safe handling not throw it around like a piece of confetti so as not to be sighted in possession.)

Queensland visited Newcastle and returned on top of the league following a string of horrendous defensive errors. Chad Gibson and Paul Okon scored bizarre own goals -- Gibson's a classic piece of hesitation and miscommunication between himself and Liam Reddy in goals, while Okon, attempting to clear the ball for a corner, instead tucked a low shot ball beneath his diving goalkeeper into the centre of the net. Queensland look like scoring a lot of goals this year, but it remains to be seen if they can match their league best defensive record from last season. Newcastle were unlucky to lose. If they can get their act together over the coming weeks, the league is shaping up as an ultra tight affair.

That's because the Knights are the real deal. They defeated Adelaide thanks to a wonder strike from Malik Buari, but also due to the smart, rugged, highly organised type of play that characterised the Reds' superlative performances last year. Paul Nevin has brought the right tactics into play for last season's strugglers: it's not about finesse, it's about doing the graft to earn vital league points. Adelaide on the other hand seem to be in a spot of bother. If their big guns (Qu, Rech, Dodd, Veart) fail to fire, as they have on the past two occasions, they seem to find it tough to manufacture chances. The introduction of Bobby Petta on the left might make a difference, but if it doesn't some early alarm bells may start ringing for the current league champions.

Too new marquees duelled in the round's final match between Perth and Central Coast. Stan Lazaridis threw down the gauntlet with a vintage dashing performance, while Tony Vidmar did what he could to stem the tide of relentless Glory forays on the Mariners goal. It was another highly paid recent Socceroo who swung the match. Simon Colosimo has been out of form and out of favour with Glory fans ever since the commencement of the Hyundai A-League, but finally the pendulum seems to be swinging in the other direction for him. His cheeky goal, stolen with a quickly taken free kick (no Mariner stood over the ball), capped off a creative, mobile performance that immediately puts him back in the picture for future national team representation in the crux defensive midfield position. Leo Bertos also deserves mention for another zippy outing on the right flank. Perth seemed to have it a mountain ahead of them after the late mauling in Queensland last week, but the season is well and truly back on track. On the other hand, the Mariners will need to dig deep and find something to enliven their campaign, which doesn't get any easier with unbeaten pair Queensland and Melbourne up next. Last year, they always had an answer: Heffernan's goal-scoring runs from deep, Petrie's lethal poaching, Hutchinson's magical spell, Pondeljak's sublime vision, Gumprecht's hard running and eye for goal, Spencer's booming long shots. So far this year, the individual brilliance has been missing.

Best of Round Two:

Player: Kevin Muscat, Melbourne (pictured) - gave Corica too much space early on, but solid defensively thereafter and the supplier of a magnificent long ball for Allsopp to score, one that carried way too much heat for Milligan to clear

U-20 Player: Alex Vrteski, Perth - didn't have much to do, but, nevertheless, a clean sheet on home debut

Coach: Paul Nevin, New Zealand - tightened the screws in midfield to shut down Adelaide's creative nexus, pulling off the Knights' first ever home victory

Match: Melbourne Victory vs Sydney FC

Goal: Malik Buari, New Zealand - powerful shot sensationally curled into the top corner from wide outside the box

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Daniel Allsopp - Reinaldo
Stan Lazaridis - Simon Colosimo - Kevin Muscat - Leo Bertos
Alessandro - Michael Valkanis - Neil Emblen - Labinot Haliti
Robert Bajic

Subs: Danny Milosevic, Iain Fyfe, Scott Gemmill, Malik Buari

1 September 2006

So Long Dwight, That's Business

He entered with a media frenzy and has left in similar circumstances, with the press all over the underlying reasons for his transfer to Sunderland. 'Where's the dirt, there's gotta be some dirt,' they wonder, but come now, is there any?

Dwight Yorke seems happy enough after his switch, gaining the stability of a two-year contract. Sydney FC seems happy, having acquired a cool $500,000 from the deal while offloading their costliest expense in the process. The Sydney fans don't seem too perturbed either, knowing that Dwight's plans to play in midfield this season were always going to conflict with coach Terry Butcher's plan to play him up front.

Everybody seems quite happy.

Except maybe the opposition clubs, who can no longer capitalise on the drawing power of Yorke, and fans across the rest of Australia who'll have to make do with Samba action and flair from the boots of those closer to home for their entertainment diets.

Yorke will probably be best remembered for his solid performance in last year's Grand Final, when he stood up in the midfield, dictated flow and set up the solitary goal for Sydney's win. For that and his superb World Cup run, while contracted to Sydney. The bottom line: it was all worth it, Yorke served a great purpose in stimulating awareness of the A-League in Australia and abroad. He's gone now, and soon John O'Neill will follow, but it's no disaster. It's certainly not dirty. No more so than a Kevin Muscat shove behind play. Let's move on shall we?

31 August 2006

Australia Stronger Than Expected

Graham Arnold selected a much stronger Australian team for the match in Kuwait than media outlets hinted last week:

GKs: Schwarzer, Covic

DEFs: Beauchamp, Chipperfield, Kisnorbo, McKain, Milicevic

MIDs: Burns, Culina, Elrich, Skoko, Ward, Wilkshire

FWDs: Aloisi, Ryan Griffiths, Holman, McDonald, Sterjovski

Quick comments:

- Milicevic and Skoko are forgiven for their post-World Cup outbursts.

- Great to see Ward and Griffiths in the squad, and also the return of Burns.

- Does Schwarzer's inclusion suggest dissatisfaction with the major European-based backups Covic, Michael Petkovic, Brad Jones, and Paul Henderson?

- Does Zeljko Kalac's exclusion signal the end of his national team career?

- Michael Thwaite, Chris Coyne, Neil Kilkenny and Richard Garcia all miss out. Wesolowski doesn't make the cut either, but Ward is a more deserving choice.

- Joshua Kennedy would certainly have been selected if it weren't for his achilles injury.

- Who will captain the side? Skoko? Schwarzer? What if neither starts? Aloisi? Or should Arnie try to groom someone younger, like Kisnorbo?

29 August 2006

Official A-League Statistics

Glancing through the player statistics on the A-League website this morning, I noticed a couple of strange inclusions and exclusions regarding the goal assists.

Assists are sometimes a bit of a subjective grey area, but some rather glaring errors seem to populate the judgement calls made during the statistical analysis of last weekend's footage.

  • Queensland's Simon Lynch, who clearly supplied a final ball for Dario Vidosic's goal against Perth, is not credited with an assist.

  • Ante Milicic, meanwhile, is given an assist for his block of Tyler Simpson's clearance, an effort that led to Lynch's goal. I'm not sure if this was so much a clear instance of an assist to Milicic as a mistake from Simpson.

  • Sasho Petrovski gets a slightly dubious assist as well. His attempt to control a high ball into the box resulted in failure, the ball bouncing away from his poor first touch towards Iain Fyfe. Yet he gets an assist for Fyfe's subsequent goal, as if he'd made a deliberate pass.

  • In yet another problematic issue, Alessandro is not credited with an assist for earning Melbourne's penalty. He didn't take the spot kick himself, so why has he not been given an assist?

    Some consistency here would be much appreciated!
  • 28 August 2006

    Round One Report

    Here we go again. Big crowds, home-team resilience and a surprising result marked the start of the new A-League season.

    Total attendances almost reached 63,000, 10 per cent smaller than last year's inaugural opening round but larger than any other week during the regular season. Unlike last year, when teams performed better away than they did at home throughout the competition, home teams dominated Round One.

    Melbourne pulled off an upset victory, slamming Adelaide in the midfield to pull off a hard-fought 2-0 win at Olympic Park. Queensland scored three in the final ten minutes to defeat Perth in front of more than 20,600 spectators, proving that Brisbane thoroughly deserves to host the Socceroos versus Paraguay on October 7, the nation team's first game in Australia since the World Cup. New Zealand showed spirit to hold out for a 0-0 draw with Newcastle, selling a reasonable 7,000 tickets in the process, almost twice as many as last season's average. And in the Grand Final replay, the scoreline echoed a 1-0 advantage for the champions thanks largely to Clint Bolton's reflexes.

    Best of Round One:

    Player: Clint Bolton, Sydney (pictured) - two big saves proved the slim difference between Sydney and the Mariners

    U-20 Player: Dario Vidosic, Queensland - played less than thirty minutes but ignited the Roar's devastating late burst

    Coach: Miron Bleiberg, Queensland - credit for bringing on Vidosic at the expense of captain Chad Gibson

    Match: Queensland Roar vs Perth Glory

    Goal: Simon Lynch, Queensland - kept low on a tight-angle, an important goal that opened the floodgates to lead to Vidosic's one-two finish and McLaren's longer-range strike

    4-4-2 Team of the Week:

    Ante Milicic - Simon Lynch
    Dario Vidosic - Fred - Kevin Muscat - Leo Bertos
    Vuko Tomasevic - Nikolai Topor-Stanley - Paul Okon - Darren Bazeley
    Clint Bolton

    Subs: Michael Theoklitos, Sasa Ognenovski, Grant Brebner, Greg Owens

    25 August 2006

    Team for Kuwait Away Tie

    The Daily Telegraph is reporting that Graham Arnold is on the verge of selecting a squad comprised of European based fringe Socceroos for the national team's next away encounter with Kuwait.

    A fantastic idea.

    Australia's has already qualified for the Asian Cup after defeating Kuwait at home with a third-choice squad selected from the A-League. The outcome of the next match is not important, but it's a perfect occasion for players on the periphery to stand up and make a name for themselves.

    The Telegraph's David Lewis has his own opinions about who should or might be selected, including the following (these should be taken with a punch of salt):

    Jacob Burns (Wisla Krakow), Chris Coyne (Luton), Richard Garcia (Colchester), Paul Henderson (Leicester), Brett Holman (NEC Nijmegen), Neil Kilkenny (Birmingham), Patrick Kisnorbo (Leicester), Scott McDonald (Motherwell), Nick Ward (QPR), James Wesolowski (Leicester), plus five regular Socceroos based overseas.

    Elsewhere, it is reported that Ward is only a standby for the team.

    Other players who could find themselves in the mix include:

    Michael Petkovic (Sivasspor), Brad Jones (on loan to Sheffield Wednesday), Michael Beauchamp (FC Nürnberg), Michael Thwaite (Wisla Krakow), Jon McKain (FCU Politehnica Timisoara), Carl Valeri (Grosseto), Kaz Patafta (Benfica B), David Williams (Brondby).

    While, the dark horses, aside from the ones already listed, could be:

    Adrian Madaschi (Grosseto), Dean Heffernan (FC Nürnberg), Shane Sherriff (Tranmere Rovers), Eddie Bosnar (Heracles Almelo), Wayne Srhoj (FC National Bucuresti), Danny Invincible (Kilmarnock), Ryan Griffiths (Rapid Bucuresti), Dylan MacAllister (Lyn Oslo).

    Of the regular Socceroos, my money is on Scott Chipperfield (FC Basel), Luke Wilkshire (FC Twente), Mile Sterjovski (FC Basel), Ahmad Elrich (Fulham) and John Aloisi (Alaves).

    Two of the big question marks will be Ljubo Milicevic (BSC Young Boys) and Josip Skoko (Wigan), who were outspoken in their criticism of non-selection for the World Cup squad and team sheet respectively. If Arnold doesn't pick them now, they may find it hard to get back into the equation for next year's tournament.

    Kickoff Tonight

    The second season of the Hyundai A-League commences tonight at 8 pm EST with Melbourne hosting Adelaide.

    Given their hot form, the Reds must be favoured for a win even though they'll be without Bobby Petta and have both Fernando Rech and Shengqing Qu still trying to find their feet after short pre-seasons. The battle between Travis Dodd and Alessandro on the flank will be one of the highlights of the match, as will the biffo between Kevin Muscat and Ross Aloisi in the middle of the park. I can't see this being a high-scoring affair, with both sides approaching full strength at the back. Melbourne are still experimenting with personnel and shape, though, giving Adelaide the edge in terms of organisation and approach. Unless Melbourne find a way to bring Archie Thompson back into top gear, they'll find it tough to break the Reds down.

    Tomorrow Queensland host Perth in a match that will mark the return of Stan Lazaridis to domestic league action. Queensland haven't managed to fire in the pre-season build up, but you sense they are on the verge of doing so. Given that Roar are at home in the first match of the year, the crowd will be enormous. Surely they will be after a swag of goals to please the fans. If Ante Milicic has rested well during the week, he could form one of the most dangerous three-pronged attacking units in the league along with Reinaldo and Simon Lynch. I'm not sure how Perth will cope with persistent attacking football from Queensland. The absence of Bobby Despotovski, who seems to be Queensland coach Miron Bleiberg's favourite player, could be very telling. Perth will need to get something out of the midfield engine-room (will Simon Colosimo stand up and be counted this year?) and spread the ball to their speedy wingers on the counter. If they can keep Queensland from opening the scoring within the first hour, perhaps the mental pressure will tell and Perth will be able to fly home with some league points to accompany their Sasa Ognenovski-inflicted bruises.

    Two matches are played on Sunday. New Zealand start at home, with the Jets paying visit to what one hopes is a North Harbour stadium occupied by at least 10,000 fans. Solid defense has characterised New Zealand's play in the pre-season, and they'll need it against the wizardry of Nick Carle and the power of Vaughan Coveney. The Jets are starting the campaign without a backup goalkeeper, thus any incident involving Ben Kennedy leaving the pitch will result in someone like Labinot Haliti taking the gloves, which can't be a good thing. While the Jets have a goalkeeping paucity, the Knights have a surplus. They have named Mark Paston in the lineup, who could get a start if Michael Turnbull hasn't overcome his niggling injury concerns, and left Danny Milosevic on the outer. Perhaps Nick Theodorakopoulos and Paul Nevin should discuss a trade while they're matching wits on the sideline. New Zealand will be fired up to get something out of this match, but Newcastle have a superb record against them (4-0, 4-2, 3-0). Unless Nevin effectively counters Carle with someone like Richard Johnson, it's hard to imagine the small army of Knights fans leaving the stadium in high spirits.

    Last year's grand final opponents duke it out in the final match of the week, which could draw 30,000 people or more. Sydney have it all. Dwight Yorke, returning to the playing squad this week, the flair of David Carney and Alex Brosque, Mark Milligan fresh off a great match in defensive midfield for the national team, the experience of Mark Rudan, Sasho Petrovski's knack for slotting the goals home. It's one heck of a powerful and balanced outfit. The Mariners just keep taking this sort of competition in their stride. Their astonishing blend of mobility, fitness, pace, teamwork, and finishing continues to keep them near or at the top. Tony Vidmar is another returning veteran to the domestic league game this week, and he could be joined by Tom Pondeljak. If you're going to allocate the time to watch one match this weekend, it has to be this one. Sydney would hate to lose and should be able to take it out, but I'm expecting a tight, tough encounter.

    18 August 2006

    Fantasy A-League

    Fantasy boffins are rejoicing the new Fantasy A-League competition unveiled by Fox Sports.

    There's a $5,000 cash prize up for grabs, and luck is usually a big factor in these things, so even if you're a fantasy neophyte you may want to check it out. For what's it worth, here's my current lineup:

    Katsuben's Kamakazis

    GK: Vukovic
    D: Leijer, Gibson, Durante, O'Grady, Valkanis, Rudan
    M: Brosque (c), Carle, Dodd, Wedau, Brebner
    F: Qu, Griffiths, Young, Lynch

    Updated: Aug-25

    If you find the Fox Sports version a bit too simplistic or easy, tune in to the Marinators.net for a fan-created A-League Fantasy competition, which promises to be tougher. Apparently up and running soon. (It's up now.)

    17 August 2006

    Australia Do Enough

    The critics have been somewhat scathing, but to me Australia's makeshift unit delivered an adequate performance in last night's 2-0 win over Kuwait. It was never going to be an easy victory for the under-prepared team, and only when seven Sydney FC players were on the pitch for Australia did it seem like there was any sense of a Hiddink-like cohesion or shape to the play. Full credit to Kuwait, as well, who played their defensive counter-attacking system with a great sense of tactical appreciation. Goalkeeper Nawaf Al Khaldi was one of the standout performers on the night -- he certainly knows how to punch a ball.

    Yet, 2-0.

    The results haven't often been in our favour when experiments like this have been undertaken in the past, so I'd rather see the victory as a sign of the domestic game's progress. Playing in his first full international, Travis Dodd was the star, finding himeself unmarked at the top of the box to open Australia's account, and beating Kuwait's captain for guile and pace before rifling a shot on target that produced Sasho Petrovski's first international goal. Mark Milligan was a terrier in defensive midfield, ripping the ball from the feet of the Kuwaitis and distributing rather effectively. Kevin Muscat wore a furrowed brow of concentration as he managed to avoid any sort of controversy. It was when Muscat started carrying the ball out of defence rather than hoofing it long for the unimpressive Archie Thompson and Joel Griffiths that Australia started to control the match and create attacking opportunities. Michael Valkanis was another debutante who did nothing wrong. The timing of his lunging tackles was superb.

    Following his lively cameo appearance, Alex Brosque must surely press for a starting claim during the next outing. Probably the in-form attacking midfielder in the A-League, he looked dangerous and on the verge of creating something every time he touched the ball.

    Now the local action turns to the final of the Pre-Season Cup between Central Coast and Adelaide. Just a few weeks ago the pair fought out a 0-0 draw in Orange. Each possesses silverware from last season and would benefit from gaining a psychological advantage as we head into the regular season. It should be another tight low-scoring affair, with injuries to important midfielder and strikers forcing both teams to play conservatively.

    Finally, in other news that I am just catching up with, Shane Sherriff (formerly known as Shane Cansdell-Sherriff), has opened the English Championship season as the captain of Tranmere Rovers. Last seen turning out for Australia at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Sherriff has to be under consideration as the long-term solution at left-back for the natonal team.