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?