24 February 2006

Quiet Around Here...

Due to intensive work commitments I haven't been able to update the site during the first few weeks of the finals.

Three teams remain, and each already has a piece of silverware from this season. In fact, they share the only three cups to of been won so far. Sydney won the World Club Championship OFC Playoff tournament. The Mariners took out the Pre-Season Cup. And the Reds won the shield for the minor premiership. Arguably, they've been the best three teams in the competition. After the Grand Final, only one club will possess two trophies, a small fact but one that should definitively settle who has been Number One overall in 2005-2006.

Haven't the crowds been amazing? I'm not much of a fan of the finals format, believing that the 'first past the post' system is the fairest way of determining the overall champion for the season. But with capacity crowds in Gosford and Adelaide, and a massive audience in Sydney exceeding 30,000, I'm more than happy to concede that the FFA has got it absolutely right: Australian sports fans love knockout finals football.

Now that the offseason has begun for five of the teams, with one more to be decided on Sunday, numerous staff and roster changes are afoot. The ramifications of less than sterling seasons have been felt quite dramatically already in New Zealand, with half the team consigned to the fact that the coach doesn't want them back next season. Perth is also on the ropes, with question marks over the sale of the club and the future of the coaching staff still very much present. Fortunately, the Glory has managed to re-sign their brightest starlet, recent Socceroo call-up Nick Ward. Melbourne seems to be in a bit of a state of denial, with few structural changes to date. A few fringe players have left the club (Recchia, Diaco, Tadrosse), but a steady as she goes philosophy is currently the favoured approach. Queensland have decided to stick with Miron Bleiberg, which I think is fair enough considering the form he had the side in near the end of the regular season. Unfortunately, the Roar have lost Alex Brosque to Sydney. Given Bleiberg's penchant for imports, I'm expecting abundant changes to the current squad. The team is currently competing in the K-League's pre-season tournament, the Tongyeong Cup, which doubles as a scouting and recruiting mission. Reports are that Matt McKay has already signed a loan contract with Incheon United for 3 months, the Korean team that Roar face in their opening game of the cup. Finally, Newcastle have stepped out of the finals with their heads held as high as they can muster. Richard Money still believes his team are the best side in the league and hopes local fans will come to realise that simple fact and turn up for the games. The small crowd of 10,000 attracted to the home leg of Newcastle's semi-final with the Mariners stood testament to another fact: that something isn't quite right in the team's relationship with the city.

Sunday's game should be an absolute stormer, with the Mariners on a streak and Adelaide desperate to get through and gain revenge over Sydney. Centre-backs Michael Beauchamp and Michael Valkanis both featured in the Socceroos squad that flew to Bahrain midweek, with Beauchamp playing a full game while Valkanis looked on from the bench. It'll be very interesting to see how both players respond after the long flight home. But the matchup to die for is Travis Dodd versus Dean Heffernan, with both players possessing explosive pace and an eye for goal. Each is probably quite capable of making the leap to the national team too. No predictions from me, though. Place pathetically a long way down the ladder, I gave up on the A-League's tipping system about half way through the regular season!

15 February 2006

Something to Say?

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10 February 2006

Squad for Asian Cup Qualifier

After much speculation, eight A-League players have been selected for the Australian squad to face Bahrain in the country's historic first Asian Cup qualifying match.

Simon Colosimo, Nick Carle, Ante Milicic, Ross Aloisi, Tom Pondeljak, Clint Bolton, Iain Fyfe, Mark Milligan and Sasho Petrovski all missed out, destroying any realistic hopes they might attend the World Cup. Ten overseas-based players were picked, with several others missing out due to non-release from their clubs. Few big names are in the team, with Tony Vidmar and Josip Skoko the most experienced players picked. Skoko is almost certain to captain the side.

Here's who Graham Arnold and Johan Neesken's believe are the eight players in the local competition most worthy of representing the national team in Bahrain (Hiddink calls them the "strongest contenders from the Hyundai A-League"):

Defenders Michael Beauchamp (Central Coast), Alvin Ceccoli (Sydney), Spase Dilevski (Queensland), Jade North (Newcastle) and Michael Valkanis (Adelaide). Midfielders David Carney (Sydney) and Nick Ward (Perth). Winger Alex Brosque (Queensland).

It's a bunch dominated by defenders, which is interesting in the context of selection headaches closer to the World Cup. Dilevski is probably the surprise selection, with his ability to cover the length of either flank obviously highly valued by the coaching staff. Alvin Ceccoli has well deserved his call and may duel with Thwaite for spot on the left. Since only five midfielders and three forwards were selected in the squad, Carney and Brosque are very likely to play, with Ward a strong possibility.

Among other selections, Brett Holman gets another chance to show off his fiery talent, with Guus Hiddink no doubt closely monitoring his progress in the Dutch second division. Michael Petkovic has earned a reprieve after his less than spectacular final performance for the Socceroos, and given his experience he may well push Ante Covic for the opportunity to start in goals. Petkovic's selection tells us that John Filan, Clint Bolton and Brad Jones have only very slim chances of making the World Cup squad.

Thankfully, Scott McDonald has finally received the nod. We can breathe again.

Despite much hooplah from the Daily Telegraph, tall German-based forward Joshua Kennedy was not selected.

Have Arnie and Johan got it right? Can this squad defeat a near full strength Bahrain team? Are any of these eight bolters for World Cup selection?

James Brown, U-17 Striker

Warning: this is probably of no interest to you!

When the Joey's squad for the Asian U-17 Championships qualifiying campaign was announced recently it was interesting to see Queensland's James Brown (pictured) selected. You probably have to be a James Brown to understand the significance of having that name. Suffice to say that everyone smart ass in the world knows who the Godfather of Soul is and they're not backwards in coming up with a "Oww! I Feel Good!!" upon presentation of one's identification. It's humorous, but you start to wonder if people can't be a little more original. ("You must cop a bit of stick for your name, there, huh?" Best 'get stuffed' response: "Hmm, why's that? I'm not sure I follow you." "James Brown, you know, the black singer..." "Hmm? Oh! Why yes, you're absolutely right! Well, well, it never occurred to me before.... My *grit teeth* how clever you are.") Such are the makings of invisible bonds between strangers sharing the same name.

Anyhow, Brown appears to be a solid starter in the team. Last night he scored one of the three goals in our win over Indonesia. Hopefully the confidence boosting victory should just see us safely through to the final sixteen of the competition. Here's to a bigger and brighter future to the lad. I doubt anyone will ever top the Godfather, but it'd be nice for once if I heard a "James Brown ... oh, you mean like the Australian football player?"

Incidentally, another James Brown plays for Hartlepool in England's Football League One. He doesn't seem to be anything special.

7 February 2006

Adelaide Minor Premiers

Adelaide captain Ross Aloisi and coach John Kosmina show off the Premiership Shield.

At least it doesn't look like a frisbee.

Round Twenty One Report

The final round saw Sydney gain the psychological advantage over Adelaide and Newcastle lose its second game in a row before next week's finals series. Perth wrested fifth place away from the Roar with an excellent 3-1 away win over the Jets, who didn't look like a top four team at all. They'll have to develop something special at training this week if they're going to beat Central Coast over two legs. Queensland Roar again demonstrated that their good form is the league's loss, producing another good attacking display against the Mariners at home. If not for Spase Dilevski's tiny little elbow nudge on Wayne O'Sullivan and the latter's acting abilities, they wouldn't have lost a man in the first half due to a red card. Even with ten on the pitch, the Roar comfortably held the Mariners and were unlucky to finish with a draw that knocked them down to sixth place overall. The battle of the worst two teams in the league, Melbourne and New Zealand, was a staid affair with forthcoming off field anxieties subordinating on field performances. John Adshead and Ernie Merrick have long off seasons ahead of them, with both expected to elevate their teams to a decent spot on the ladder before next Xmas.

For now, it's time to soak up the finals atmosphere as the top four teams tussle in home-and-away matches over the next fortnight. The Sydney versus Adelaide matchup promises to be a Titanic duel, while the Mariners are probably now hot favourites against a dismally performing Newcastle. Having just watched the most poorly officiated Superbowl in living memory, let's hope for next-to-perfect decisions from the referrees or at least competent whistle blowing that doesn't effect the final outcome of the matches!

Best of Round Twenty One:

Player: Nick Ward (pictured) - doing his national team aspirations no harm at all in the build-up to the Asian Cup qualifiers

U-20 Player: Nick Ward

Coach: Alan Vest - demonstrating that public scorn for a group players can be a terrific motivational trick

Match: Sydney FC vs Adelaide United

Referee: Matthew Breeze

Goal: Alvin Ceccoli - finally a free kick worth cheering about, a scorching straight drive into the top corner following a simple touch-and-stop to get around the wall

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Alex Brosque - Damian Mori
Nick Ward - Carl Veart - Dwight Yorke - David Micevski
Alvin Ceccoli - Mark Byrnes - Josh McCloughan - Alex Wilkinson
Clint Bolton

Subs: John Tambouras, Noel Spencer, Daniel Allsopp, Daniel Beltrame

5 February 2006

Milestone Within Reach

If 10,230 people attend this evening's match at Energy Australia Stadium between Newcastle and Perth, overall attendances for the A-League's inaugural season will reach an average of 11,000 per game.

This target is some 1,354 tickets more than the current crowd average for the Jets.

UPDATE: They didn't make it - 9,232 witnessed Newcastle lose its final regular season encounter 3-1.

2 February 2006

First Taste of Asia Goes Too...

According to the Daily Telegraph, as many as eight A-League players may be called into Graham Arnold and Johan Neesken's squad for Australia's forthcoming Asian Cup qualifier away to Bahrain.

A squad of 18 will be picked on Monday (February 6), with the Telegraph insisting that Sydney FC trio David Carney, Mark Milligan and Clint Bolton are in the running. Based on form and previous reports, other A-Leaguers could include Michael Valkanis, Michael Beauchamp, Jade North, Dean Heffernan, Ross Aloisi, Travis Dodd, Nick Carle, Nick Ward, Tom Pondeljak and Alex Brosque. From Sydney, Alvin Ceccoli and Sasho Petrovski might stand better chances than Milligan, while Mark Rudan has probably returned to good form too late to warrant inclusion. I wonder also if Zenon Caravella warrants consideration, though admittedly it is unlikely that a dark horse will be picked for such an important match.

The other positive news for Australia is that Motherwell striker Scott McDonald may finally take the field in the green and gold, forever ending the presumptive speculation concerning his national allegiance. Hooray!