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.

    14 August 2006

    Squad for Kuwait

    Australia's final squad for the Asian Cup qualifying match against Kuwait has been announced, solely comprising players from the A-League.

    Adelaide's Travis Dodd, Queensland's Matt McKay and Sydney's Iain Fyfe are the flyers, with Fyfe gaining selection over recent pre-World Cup trainee Adrian Leijer. Dodd was one of the best wide midfielders in the competition last year, while McKay had a solid season and spent some time on loan in the K-League.

    On paper, Australia looks lightest in midfield, where Steve Corica is likely to anchor a central unit featuring youngsters Kristian Sarkies and Stuart Musialik. Arnold may line up with a rear guard of four, as he did in the successful second-half against Bahrain, or, considering the home venue, opt for a more attacking lineup with wingbacks on either side of three central defenders. The former will put a lot of emphasis on the wing play of David Carney, Alex Brosque and perhaps Dodd, while the latter orientation featuring the likes of Alvin Ceccoli, Mark Milligan or Jade North on the flanks would aim to take pressure off the core midfielders. In either case, both Kevin Muscat and Michael Valkanis should start, quite an intimidating pairing.

    Up front, the Socceroos suprisingly look quite strong. Archie Thompson and Joel Griffiths provide a finishing threat under pace, with Sasho Petrovski able to handle a lone striker role if called upon.

    Clint Bolton will start between the posts, with long-term national team prospect Danny Vukovic backing up.

    Unlucky to miss out are the injured Spase Dilevski, Tom Pondeljak, Richard Johnson and Ruben Zadkovich. Also unfortunate is Nick Carle, whose silky skills and possession oriented approach to the game are out of favour with national team coaches at the moment. Paul Okon declared himself unavailable for the match, presumably a decision indicating his desire to retire from international football. New Zealand Knights first-choice goalkeeper Michael Turnbull may also count himself a touch unlucky to miss out.