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