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