8 September 2007

Socceroos Training in Melbourne

Scenes from the national team afternoon training session at Scotch College on Saturday 8 September as they prepare for Argentina. I just happened to be riding past on my bike . . .

31 August 2007

Season 3: Wellington


Goalkeepers: Mark Paston, Glen Moss, Jacob Spoonley

Defenders: Karl Dodd, Tony Lochhead, Cleberson Souza Santos Gois, Steven Old, Steven O'Dor

Midfielders: Ahmad Elrich, Daniel Lins Cortes, Tim Brown, Ross Aloisi, Felipe De Souza Campos, George dos Santos Paladini, Richard Johnson, Michael Ferrante, Jeremy Christie

Forwards: Shane Smeltz, Vaughan Coveny, Royce Brownlie, Costa Barbarouses, Greg Draper

Vacancies: Squad complete


Key Man: Smeltz - looks to be pretty much in the form of his career with goals pouring down in pre-season and for the New Zealand national team.

High Expectations: Daniel - another attacking midfielder from Brazil who looks like a brilliant pick-up - here's hoping he can eeep his composure and execute his natural flair judiciously and lethally throughout the duration of the season, rather than in patches.

'X' Factor: Felipe & Paladini - who knows?

Young Gun: Barbarouses - based on reputation, could be the best prospect in New Zealand football for quite some time. Brings good vibes for the club too, as a local lad.

Consistent Performer: Dodd - arguably Queensland's best stopper before giving it a bash in Romania and Scotland - ought to have an excellent year if he's in similar or superior form to season one.

Problem Child: Aloisi - we'll see how the team responds to (a) his captaincy and (b) hysterical antics on the pitch when things start to get pear-shaped. On the plus side: no Ange Costanzo to rile-up his (lost) brotherly affectations. Bombing free kicks help too.



Yes, they're going to surprise teams and they may go close to making the final four in a tight finish - but Phoenix is probably not going to win the league. The odds just don't stack up: new team needing time to gel, several unknown quantities, a handful of discards that might do something positive at their new club, an audience and media that will be satisfied with a solid run, a midfield that looks a bit long in the tooth and short on a productive passing game. I'd love to be proved wrong, and like I intimate - the league may be so close that the whole season could come down to one or two big moments or tests of character and skill. Only time will tell.

Season 3: Perth


Goalkeepers: Tommi Tomich, Tando Velaphi, Jason Petkovic

Defenders: Hayden Foxe, David Tarka, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Dino Djulbic, Jamie Coyne

Midfielders: Simon Colosimo, Leo Bertos, Stan Lazaridis, Nick Rizzo, Blagoja Celeski, Naum Sekulovski, Mitchell Prentice, Anthony Danze, David Micevski, James Downey

Forwards: Mate Dragičević, Nikita Rukavytsya, Jamie Harnwell, James Robinson

Vacancies: 1

Player Movement

In: Foxe, Dragicevic, Topor-Stanley, Rizzo, Velaphi, Celeski, Djulbic, Rukavytsya, Prentice, Danze, Robinson, Downey

Out: Bobby Despotovski, Ante Kovacevic, Stuart Young, Adrian Webster, Jeremy Christie, Alex Vrteski, Luka Glavas, Mark Robertson, Mislav Saric


Key Man: Colosimo - had a fantastic rebound last year after a lacklustre season one affected by his disappointment at failing to break back into the national team, but with Glory struggling to surround him with talent could find the going tough again.

High Expectations: Dragicevic - hmm . . . not really a prolific goal-scorer during his career in Croatia and Russia, but a quality threat and obviously a far superior acquisition than Brian Deane.

'X' Factor: Rizzo - everyone who's heard his sob story (signed by Liverpool, moved to Crystal Palace at Terry Vanables' advice, broke his leg, never quite the same player since) wants to see Nick succeed in the A-League.

Young Gun: Celeski - back in the A-League after strangely finding himself out of favour at the end of Perth's inaugural season; seem to have found his feet again quick smart.

Consistent Performer: Bertos - one of the surprise packets of last season will have to do it all again and more from his right flank, but will be all the more dangerous if Rizzo manages to turn it on.

Problem Child: Harnwell - does he still want to be with this team?



It's sad to see the national league champions of not so long ago struggling to keep up with the likes of Melbourne and Adelaide, yet last season Glory found themselves having to stave-off a challenge from an improving New Zealand Knights outfit just to hang on to 7th place - the worst-finishing team in Australia. Internal squabbling bubbling over onto the pitch just indicated the frustration being felt in the change rooms. So, the big question: has enough changed? Early signs are actually looking quite promising, but it's still very difficult to see this team - on paper - convert recent successes over the long-term. I hope I'm wrong - for the sake of the league, a strong team is needed in the west.

30 August 2007

Season 3: Central Coast


Goalkeepers: Danny Vukovic, Matthew Trott, Andrew Redmayne

Defenders: Dean Heffernan, Alex Wilkinson, Tony Vidmar, Nigel Boogaard, Paul O'Grady, Andrew Clark

Midfielders: Andre Gumprecht, Tom Pondeljak, Greg Owens, Mile Jedinak, John Hutchinson, Matthew Osman, Damien Brown, Brad Porter, Ian McAndrew

Forwards: Sasho Petrovski, Nick Mrdja, Adam Kwasnik, Matthew Simon

Vacancies: 1

Player Movement

In: Heffernan, Petrovski, Owens, Redmayne, McAndrew

Out: Stewart Petrie, Noel Spencer, Wayne O'Sullivan, John Crawley, Jamie McMaster, Vuko Tomasevic


Key Man: Petrovski - suddenly, with the acquisition of Sasho and the re-emergence of Mrdja, the Mariners are scoring goals again. Petrovski was clearly disgruntled so at Sydney that he seemingly allowed his form to dip. We know better: he's a proven goal-scorer, something the Mariners have lacked since Petrie's was successful in their inaugural season.

High Expectations: Mrdja - it's been so long, but we haven't been prompted to forget about Mrdja, who has always managed to remain conspicuously absent with his long-term injuries - now all that's behind him, it's time to bang-in some goals and see if Andrew Durante has forgiven him for breaking his leg.

'X' Factor: Heffernan - can he get close to the goal-scoring heroics of yesteryear? Probably not, but his blazing pace will still cause problems for sluggish right-sided fullbacks in the league (Alagich? Coyne?)

Young Gun: Boogaard - after only just managing to clinch to a new contract, has recently turned in some excellent performances to cement his position in the starting line-up.

Consistent Performer: Wilkinson - a manager's dream stopper: week-in, week-out, he's there for you because he's rarely caught out, hardly ever gets cautioned (just 4 yellows in over 4,000 minutes) and remains healthy. (Of course, as I write this he's just been listed as out injured.) Over-shadowed amid the rise of Michael Beauchamp, but could be a better long-term prospect.

Problem Child: Nobody - okay Petrovski is a tad smug, Heffernan has already pulled a few wild man antics, but really there's no conflict or bizarre behaviour worth reporting on (yet).



Now this is a balanced squad, and what remarkable depth in midfield. Easily the most under-rated team heading into this season, which is quite amazing considering the extent of their success in season one and at consecutive off-season Hong Kong 7s tournaments, the Mariners will have every chance to make a championship tilt. They've improved up front with the signing of Petrovski and the belated return of Mrdja. They've brought back Heffernan from Germany, immediately giving them a most dangerous attacking fullback to keep up with Adelaide's (Cassio) and Melbourne's (Keenan) new signings in the same position. Fit-again Pondeljak, Hutchinson, Vidmar and Boogaard are all big boosts. The only question mark is probably in defence, which like any other team in the competition will be tested by the big striker partnerships of other squads. Vukovic anchoring the backline helps an awful lot. Can go all the way.

Season 3: Queensland


Goalkeepers: Liam Reddy, Matt Ham (inj.), Griffin McMaster (inj. replacement)

Defenders: Craig Moore, Sasa Ognenovski, Seo Hyuk-soo, Andrew Packer, Stuart McLaren, Ben Griffin, Josh McCloughan

Midfielders: Matt McKay, Marcinho, Danny Tiatto, Massimo Murdocca, Chris Grossman, Michael Zullo

Forwards: Reinaldo Elias da Costa, Ante Milicic, Simon Lynch, Robbie Kruse, Tahj Minniecon, Mitch Nichols

Vacancies: 2

Player Movement

In: Moore, Marcinho, Tiatto, Grossman, Kruse, Minniecon, Nichols, Ham, Zullo, McMaster

Out: Dario Vidosic, Spase Dilevski, Chad Gibson, Remo Buess, Marcus Wedau, Tom Willis, Yuning Xhang


Key Man: McKay - super fit and fast, he's the heartbeat of the team. Continues to improve and will benefit enormously from the sudden emergence of Marcinho. Is a regular call-up to the home-based national squad on the horizon?

High Expectations: Marcinho - injured at the start of the season after scintillating pre-season form; looks to be the show time player the Roar require to bump themselves into the top four.

'X' Factor: Reinaldo - now that he's had a couple of seasons to settle in and adjust to conditions in Australia, the league's least spoken of Brazilian could emerge as a bonafide scoring threat . . . or he could have another frustratingly inconsistent season.

Young Gun: Ben Griffin - showed he's capable of stepping up when given a taste last year, but may be asked to continue to provide a utility service off the bench

Consistent Performer: Murdocca - alongside (now) Juninho Paulista, an inspiration to slightly built midfielders across the country.

Problem Child: Tiatto - with sparks already flying, what's it going to be like when Roar take on Victory?



With the arrival of Moore, Tiatto and Marcinho, Queensland ought to have what it takes to finally push for a spot in the top four. The loss of Vidosic was a bit tragic, considering his outstanding rise, but they rolled on after the loss of Brosque the previous year, almost making the finals without their star forward from season one. The only element missing is a gun striker, but you get the feeling that if one of Reinaldo, Milicic or Lynch goes on a spree, Roar'll run all over an opposition that exhibits a defensive frailty. Reddy as well will need to keep himself out of mischief, since the departure of Willis and season-ending injury to Ham has alarmingly reduced the goalkeeping stock.

29 August 2007

Season 3: Sydney


Goalkeepers: Clint Bolton, Ivan Necevski

Defenders: Tony Popovic, Mark Rudan, Iain Fyfe, Jacob Timpano, Nick Tsattalios

Midfielders: Juninho Paulista, Steve Corica, Mark Milligan, Ufuk Talay, Robbie Middleby, Terry McFlynn, Ruben Zadkovich, Michael Enfield, Adam Biddle

Forwards: Alex Brosque, Brendon Santalab, David Zdrilic, Patrick Roberto Daniel Da Silva, Adam Casey, Ben Vidaic

Vacancies: 1

Player Movement

In: Juninho Paulista, Popovic, Santalab, Patrick, Casey, Enfield, Necevski, Tsattalios, Biddle, Vidaic

Out: David Carney, Alvin Ceccoli, Sasho Petrovski, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Jeremy Brockie, Justin Pasfield


Key Man: Brosque - so much potential and yet so much waste - he was just about the biggest disappointment in the league last year, yet showed glimpses at times of his brilliance. Seems to respond best to being sat on the left wing, but needs to be freed mentally from the challenge of having to score often. If someone rises to the occasion and tucks some of his quality crosses and through balls away, then maybe we can talk about a top four finish.

High Expectations: Juninho Paulista - what can you say, the guy's a champion; if he fires, Sydney will create a lot of chances, but can they finish them?

'X' Factor: Santalab - returning home from Europe where he enjoyed some quality pitch-time in Belgium before a lay off in Hungary. Nobody's seen him for a while; perhaps he's learned something; clutching at straws.

Young Gun: Casey - given the weakness of the striker talent ahead of him, possibly has a chance to make an impact up front this season.

Consistent Performer: Corica - how he adjusts to a new role in support of Juninho will be most interesting - he ought to remain the incisive key supplier from last season and profit from the extra attention being given to the Brazilian, but is he gets pushed too wide his effectiveness might diminish.

Problem Child: Zdrilic - it's the bane of so many teams slumped in mediocrity: a highly paid striker who can't score. With talk of shunting Zdrilic to stopper, his confidence must be at an all-time low. His quite reasonable performances for the national team now seem hazy memories. A shame.



Maybe this is too low, considering the fact that Sydney did rather well in the Asian Champions League and has plenty of star attractions to keep them in with a chance for most matches. But over-reliance on those stars could prove a major issue, with quality a massive problem in attack, depth an issue at fullback and the effects of age likely to take their toll on a midfield orchestrated by two guys in their mid-30s. In fact, there doesn't appear to be very good balance in the team at all, with players already being featured out of position in the first round. If a goal-feasting striker doesn't materialise soon or if Bolton has a bad patch, things could get very bleak real fast.

22 August 2007

Season 3: Newcastle


Goalkeepers: Ante Covic, Ben Kennedy

Defenders: Jade North, Stephen Laybutt (inj. replacement), Matt Thompson, Andrew Durante, Adam Griffiths, Steve Eagleton, Craig Deans

Midfielders: Stuart Musialik, Jorge Drovandi, Noel Spencer, Denni Rocha Dos Santos, Paul Kohler, Adam D'Apuzzo, Tarek Elrich, Jobe Wheelhouse

Forwards: Mark Bridge, Joel Griffiths, Mario Jardel, Scott Tunbridge, Troy Hearfield, Jason Hoffman

Vacancies: 1

Player Movement

In: Jardel, Drovandi, A. Griffiths, Spencer, Denni, Tunbridge, Hoffman

Out: Nick Carle, Milton Rodriguez, Paul Okon, Ivan Necevski, Labinot Haliti, Tolgay Ozbey, Tony Faria


Key Man: Bridge - primed for a fantastic year after setting a high standard for himself on Olyroos duty, Bridge could benefit enormously from Jardel's tutelage.

High Expectations: Jardel - he may be somewhat overweight and pretty much unfit, but Jardel comes to the league with a long history of scoring bags of goals - if he can harness only half his quality from yesteryear, he'll be a star.

'X' Factor: Prieto - can he fill the massive playmaker gap vacated by Carle? (Update: Obviously written before Prieto did a runner. Probably Denni now to fill Carle's boots.)

Young Gun: Musialik - this will probably need to be a break-out season for the rudder man if the Jets are to improve on last year's third place.

Consistent Performer: Thompson - something of a workaholic on the pitch, who can always cause disruption with his commitment and range.

Problem Child: Deans - simply because he doesn't really belong in this squad.



The Jets might have brought some outstanding quality into the club and the league, but it's still too early to tell. One can imagine them having another slow start and late burst like last season, but without Carle pulling the strings and pulling off the miraculous (e.g. that goal versus Adelaide), it might not - after a very close call - be enough.

21 August 2007

Fantasy A-League 2007-2008

*bump* - now with details of another league (yes, another)...

21 August

FourFourTwo is also offering a Fantasy A-League competition this year. The two systems are not substantially different, but they do offer yet more action for the fantasy addicts (I think this includes me, but honestly I can't imagine keeping up - we'll see).

I have created a mini-league for anyone who wishes to join.

Simply join and create and name a team (yeah, it does take a while to tweak) and join the league. For convenience here is the link to join a custom league (it can take a while to find).

League name: Redimensionalised

Password: vincenzo

15 August

I know I've hardly made a peep since the Asian Cup disappointment, but with the A-League starting shortly I'm hoping to find the strength, time and mental conditioning to get back in business. First up will be a series of reports evaluating the off-season activity of each team.

At the moment, though, my attention has turned to the Fox Sports Fantasy A-League offer for 2007-08.

If you would like to join a private league but have few friends who follow football in Australia let alone who would wish to join an online fantasy game about said subject, then please feel free to come join the little party being established in the "Redimensionalised" league, named in honour of Vincenzo Grella's flair for the English language.

Just enter the following code to enter: 9491-1355

See you all there, or back here within a few days, promise.

18 August 2007

Season 3: Adelaide


Goalkeepers: Robert Bajic, Daniel Beltrame

Defenders: Angelo Costanzo, Michael Valkanis, Cássio José de Abreu Oliveira, Richie Alagich, Robert Cornthwaite, Isyan Erdogan, Milan Susak

Midfielders: Travis Dodd, Jonas Salley, Bobby Petta, Jason Spagnuolo, Diego Walsh, Kristian Sarkies, Lucas Pantelis, Shaun Ontong, Matthew Mullen

Forwards: Paul Agostino, Nathan Burns, Bruce Djite, Dez Giraldi

Vacancies: 1

Player Movement

In: Agostino, Salley, Cássio, Sarkies, Erdogan, Susak, Ontong, Mullen

Out: Fernando, Carl Veart, Matthew Kemp, Greg Owens, Ross Aloisi, Shengqing Qu, Kristian Rees, Aaron Goulding, Adam vanDommele


Key Man: Dodd - runs a bit hot and cold, but if he can get on fire on a more consistent basis Adelaide is going to bring serious intensity through to the final whistle with their speed, strength, fitness and depth in midfield.

High Expectations: Agostino - with the Reds mobile service platform looking incredibly strong there's a clear and patent need for an experienced big man up front; nobody expects Agostino to create 15 goals for himself, but his presence and running could be huge.

'X' Factor: Cassio - perhaps opposition teams will learn to deal with his dangerous free kicks and long-range bombs, but the crossing game and natural adventure of the fullback will still have to be dealt with; he could be instrumental for the Reds.

Young Gun: Djite - it's take your pick really, with Burns, Sarkies, Cornthwaite, Giraldi and, at 24, the somewhat mature Spagnuolo all hoping to make major impacts this season, but Djite may be the greatest beneficiary of the half-eyes being kept on strike partner Agostino.

Consistent Performer: Salley - an awesome pick-up, probably the best of the intra-league off-season acquisitions; brings gravity to the holding position rather than the pent-up aggressive mayhem of Aloisi.

Problem Child: Bajic - still hard to fathom why he thought he could get away with lashing out at Fred last season, a bizarre How Do You Do side-kick that effectively ended his productive stint as the No. 1.



They have been the quiet achievers of the A-League, which all too often - and I realise I'm a culprit of this myself - is focused on the east coast and particularly on Sydney and Melbourne. There're a few reasons why I think Adelaide will do very well again. They were slammed in the final last year, but will be the better for it mentally. They have excellent depth and competition for places all over the park, even in goals and especially in midfield. The Asian Champions League experience has kept the players in touch during the off-season, as have the Olyroos excursions - both competitions have fast-tracked the development of the younger lads in relation to the other A-League teams with a bit of a youth focus. Finally, the recent pre-season victory indicated all of the above.

Season 3: Melbourne


Goalkeepers: Michael Theoklitos, Eugene Galekovic, Mitchell Langerak

Defenders: Ljubo Milicevic, Rodrigo Vargas, Joseph Keenan, Matthew Kemp, Daniel Piorkowski, Steven Pantelidis, Sebastian Ryall

Kevin Muscat, Grant Brebner, Carlos Hernandez, Kaz Patafta, Leigh Broxham, Evan Berger, Daniel Vasilevski

Archie Thompson, Daniel Allsopp, Adrian Caceres, Leandro Love

Vacancies: 2

Player Movement

In: Milicevic, Hernandez, Keenan, Patafta, Kemp, Love, Vasilevski, Berger, Langerak

Out: Fred, Adrian Leijer, Kristian Sarkies, Alessandro, Mark Byrnes, Simon Storey, James Robinson, Claudinho, Michael Ferrante, Vince Lia, Geoffrey Claeys


Key Man: Brebner - it's Muscat, of course, who dictates the mental and emotional approach of the team on the pitch, but Brebner increasingly seems to be the guy setting the tempo and marshaling the play.

High Expectations: Hernandez - the current Costa Rican international is largely regarded as a one-for-one replacement for Fred and he will be expected to perform accordingly.

'X' Factor: Keenan - has looked one of Victory's best in warm-up matches and could provided much needed delivery from the flank for Allsopp.

Young Gun: Patafta - will hopefully see healthy time on the pitch eventually, but for now may have to warm the bench for Muscat, Brebner and Hernandez.

Consistent Performer: Vargas - considering the departure of Leijer and the loss of depth players like Byrnes, another superb season like is probably required from Vargas if Victory are to repeat.

Problem Child: Milicevic - who knows what Melbourne is going to get from Milicevic, who has to prove on the field - not in the press or the locker rooms - that, to rejoin the national team, he has the mental fortitude to complement his natural ability; a little work on his ponderous acceleration might help as well.



While it's hard to see Melbourne not making the final four, I'm not convinced they are well-placed in terms of depth to take out the Minor Premiership again, especially given their enormous player turnover (although I do see the argument that maybe it's a tremendously positive thing to have replaced players like Lia, Ferrante and Storey). All the key elements from last season remain in place, however, including one would assume the massive home crowds. There's also the question of if not Melbourne, then who? That, I'm still mulling over.

7 July 2007

Pre-tournament Jitters

If form is any indication, Australia will almost certainly play Iran in the semi-final of the Asian Cup.

I no longer hold any bad feelings towards Team Melli for promoting Australia's exit from the 1998 World Cup at the final qualification hurdle. A certain match in November 2005 and the reform of the local game in the wake of arguably our grandest and most tragic failure has changed all that. It's hard as well to forget the fantastic movie, Offside, which depicts the tribulations of female football supporters in Iran as they try without much luck to enter the national stadium for an important match. The fact that Iranian players tend to embrace flair and celebrate a football of attractions also steers them very much into favour. Hopefully, they will remain respected opponents of Australia for years to come. However, the next meeting of the two teams will be the first at senior level since that fateful evening in 1997 when a 2-2 draw was enough to see Iran through to the World Cup finals on away goals. If it so happens, then, that the two teams meet in a fixture as important as an Asian Cup semi-final (or a final should one of the two finish second, rather than top, their group), so much the better for Australian football - which finally will have the chance to put a final and extremely delayed nail into the coffin our darkest modern era day.

Here's to expectations being fulfilled and a spectacular game on the 25 July between Asia's two highest ranked teams.

But first things first. The Socceroos have some work to do to adapt to the conditions and top their group, then either Japan or the United Arab Emirates will probably be up next. Japan's preparation hasn't been good at all, but their matches with Australia are usually always unpredicatble affairs. And with the way the United Arab Emirates are playing at the moment, experienced coach Bruno Metsu and wonder striker Ismail Matar leading the way, we can pretty much rest assured that Australia will not be waltzing into the final four. Major tournaments have a habit of going very sour and totally pear-shaped for at least one pre-tournament favourite. I don't think it's going to be Australia, with South Korea a far more likely victim, but hey you'd think by now that we've suffered enough heartbreak to start learning from our perhaps slight over-confidence going into these events.

Of course, what I really just want to say is the hell with it - let's take out the cup!

18 June 2007

Fantasy Football

Sad, depressed, lonely . . .? Looking for some fantasy action that doesn't come attached with an '000' telephone suffix?

The good fellows over at FourFourTwo have set up an Asian Cup Fantasy Football game that, while seemingly a tad buggy at the moment, promises some fine points-hoarding and transfer-wheeling action.

Sign-up for free here: http://fourfourtwo.fantasyasiancup.com.

Once you're set-up with a cool as Harry team name and you've selected a line-up (good luck getting Kewell, Viduko and Bresciano on the field in your chosen formation), you may feel a bit lost in the wilderness if you don't have a private league in which to compete. (Maybe your friends just don't get it, most of mine certainly don't - no, Mike, my brother in forgotten transfer deadlines and retrospective line-up re-engineering, not you.) So, feel free to join the league I have arranged for just such a possibility. Here's the info you'll need to join:

League name: A-League Junkies
Password: australia

Happy punting, whether you join or not!

9 June 2007

The Squad

Can this team win the AFC Asian Cup 2007?


Mark Schwarzer (Middlesborough, England)
Brad Jones (Middlesborough, England)
Michael Petkovic (Sivasspor, Turkey)


Lucas Neill (West Ham, England)
Patrick Kisnorbo (Leicester City, England)
Michael Beauchamp (FC Nürnberg, Germany)
Michael Thwaite (Wisla Krakow, Poland)
Mark Milligan (Sydney FC, Australia)


Harry Kewell (Liverpool, England)
Mark Bresciano (Palermo, Italy)
Tim Cahill (Everton, England)
Vince Grella (Parma, Italy)
Brett Emerton (Blackburn, England)
Jason Culina (PSV, Holland)
Mile Sterjovski (FC Basel, Switzerland)
Luke Wilkshire (FC Twente, Holland)
Carl Valeri (Grosetto, Italy)
David Carney (Sydney FC, Australia)
Nick Carle (Newcastle United Jets, Australia)


Mark Viduka (Mewcastle United, England)
John Aloisi (Alaves, Spain)
Archie Thompson (Melbourne Victory, Australia)
Brett Holman (NEC Nijmegen, Holland)

Hell, yes it can.

While the absence of Moore and Skoko will be felt to some extent, there's really quite decent cover in the squad for both those veterans (Neill is such a giant these days, and, with the possible exception of Japan, we must have the deepest quality midfield in the competition).

The loss of Chipperfield's versatility will be more keenly felt. The big question is who will start on the left side of a back four or as the left wingback in a back three? Just about half the squad are potential options: Thwaite (at fault against Uruguay), Milligan (in what would be only his fourth-best position), Sterjovski, Carney, Carle, Culina or Kewell (all would be positioned much deeper than usual) or Wilkshire (about the most versatile player in the team after Chippers)? The warm-up match should give us some clues, but it seems that more than one player will be rotated through the role in order to impress before the latter stages of the tournament.

Some other questions:

Who will partner Neill, Kisnorbo or Beauchamp? Or both in a back three?

Who will be the backup 'keeper, Jones or Petkovic?

Unlike during the recent World Cup, will we find a way to get Kewell, Bresciano, Cahill, Grella, Emerton, Culina all on the park at the same time?

Will Cahill and perhaps even Kewell be ready in time or risked early on? (If not Sterjovski looks absolutely primed and good to go.)

Who, like Skoko in the World Cup, will be disappointed not to make it on the park?

Will someone like Sterjovski, Holman, Kisnorbo, or dare I say Nicky Carle emerge as a bonafide, match-winning top-drawer national team player for the next World Cup cycle? Or are those players still not even regular fixtures in the set-up at the moment (e.g. Spiranovic, McDonald, Vukovic, Bridge, Leijer, and the like)? (Or are those next generation stars even less visible for contention at the moment, like young whipper-snappers such as Bouzanis, Patafta, Burns, Troisi, Williams and so on?)

And some off-the-cuff tips:

  • Viduka to score four goals for the tournament.

  • Kewell to take penalties if Aloisi is off the pitch.

  • One of Neill, Bresciano or Sterjovski to earn player of the tournament honours.

  • Grella to miss a latter-stage match due to accrued yellow cards.

  • Cahill to escape worse offences than Grella, as usual. (How does he do it?)

  • Australia to be the most penalised team by at least a factor of two.

  • Kewell to play within himself until the semi-final, then have to contend with a double-teaming job in the final, which will free-up Bresciano, Cahill or Culina for a blinder and/or the winner. (Although it'd be nice to see Dukes score the goal to get us the Cup . . . yet that might make him consider stupid premature thoughts, like retirement. Don't do it Mark!)

  • Schwarzer to do enough to seal his position for the World Cup qualifiers and beyond.

  • Post-tournament, Carle to get what he wants and deserves: a contract in Europe.

28 May 2007

Cup Quiz

Sigh. No free trip to Thailand for me.

I bombed out of the 'Expert' trivia category in Telstra's Be Involved campaign to take five people to Thailand for the Asian Cup finals, scoring only 17 out of 20. (Embarrassing, but there you have my startling, pathetic admission in black on yellow.) Checking back through my browser I noticed I'd somehow managed to incorrectly select North Korea instead of Lebanon for the second question regarding the team that withdrew from Australia's qualifying group for the tournament - damn lack of mouse control!

No idea what else I got wrong, though. I thought I was geek enough.

27 May 2007

Revenge? Pointless.

Australia's friendly international versus Uruguay next week is not a rematch, at least not a fair one. With Uruguay bringing over Recoba, Forlan, Lugano, Garcia, Canobbio, Diogo, Estoyanoff, Sanchez, and so on, La Celeste are close to full strength. (I say close mainly because Sebastian Abreu has again been selected. I admit to only having seem Abreu play a couple of times, but that seems evidence enough to me: any squad that needs him around has to have a bit of a problem with depth up front. Perhaps Regueiro, Pouso and Varela are the other notable absentees.)

Australia on the other hand are nowhere near full strength. No Kewell, Viduka, Bresciano, Grella, Cahill, Schwarzer, Aloisi, Moore, Chipperfield or Skoko for starters.

The veterans on the ground are pretty thin. Only Neill, Emerton, Culina, Wilkshire, Sterjovski and Thompson will be there to guide the emerging younger guns, e.g. the likes of Brett Holman, Patrick Kisnorbo, Scott McDonald and Matthew Spiranovic. The rest of the squad is a bit touch and go . . . and I think that's fantastic. With so many major tournament matches and friendlies crucial to the countinued reign of Graham Arnold, it's been a long time since we've seen such a squad. Finally, we've embraced a chance to evaluate some of the fringe performers against world class opposition. Uruguay is coming here to whip our asses, and unless some of these lads on the periphery step up that's exactly what will happen. It's going to be an interesting evening.

With the non-selection of Michael Petkovic, Ante Covic or Clint Bolton we're certain to start with a debutante in goals, and it's not Paul Henderson or Danny Vukovic. Brad Jones will start, with Adam Federici, another first-timer, backing him up. It's great news for Jones and I'm sure many in the community who've been scratching their heads about our second and third goalkeeper selection strategies of the national team ever since Covic went to the World Cup. Federici seems more of a longer-term prospect to me, with circumstances rather than consistent form edging him into the frame earlier than expected. If Reading were not flying so high in the Premiership, perhaps someone like Henderson would have been picked, if only to balance the experience somewhat. After years of selecting keepers in or past their prime, we've now turned 180 degrees and picked a pair of kids with zero international exposure. No real complaints from me, but others may wonder why a balance couldn't have been struck.

At the back, it Neill and Kisnorbo ought to start, with Beauchamp in contention if we start with a back three. Jade North and Michael Thwaite are pretty much on the outer rim, with Matthew Spiranovic far more likely to come on as a late substitute (as he did in the German DFB Pokal final overnight) to earn his first cap and spurn forever the whispering advances of Croatia. Personally, I'd like to see Spiranpovic make the Asian Cup squad. He was far and away our best performer for the U-20s and he's proven himself at least the equal of Beauchamp in Germany. He's one of the few bonafide long-term prospects we have at the moment, so why not?

Unless North or Thwaite occupy a wide defensive role, Emerton and Shane Stefanutto will probably start in the wingback positions. It'll be good for the local audience to see Stefanutto on home soil again and gauge what the impact of losing Scott Chipperfield will be for the forthcoming Cup. Chippers is pretty much irreplaceable, but if he decides to take a thoroughly well-deserved break then we'll need someone like Stefanutto or Ryan Griffiths or Wilkshire to take over that versatile man-of-action down the left.

The situation is similar in midfield. Carl Valeri will try to impress on the home crowd that he's a suitable backup for Vinny Grella in the holding position, at least, that is, until Mark Milligan returns from U-23 duty. From memory of the Athens Olympics, Valeria is a technical player with pretty good vision and who likes to roam. In this way he's probably more similar to Grella than is Milligan - an analog who doesn't upset the team balance quite so much. Regarding this speculation, Simon Colosimo may other other ideas of course. If he's in the sort of form (after playing in Turkey) that somehow kept the dire Perth Glory above the fast-finishing New Zealand Knights in the second season of the A-League, he may find himself thrown into what will arguably be the most important position on the park against Uruguay (somebody has to stifle the service to the super dangerous forwards; maybe we could do with a Rafa Bentizesque 4-5-1 for this match, with two defensive midfielders protecting the backline).

Culina and Wilkshire (or Emerton - those two are pretty interchangeable) will probably patrol the central midfield. What odds Wilkshire is sent off for a late lunge on Garcia? While Holman will definitely get a run, with Nick Carle and David Carney possibilites, Bresciano and Sterjovski will probably start as the supporting players for the striker, which I guess will have to be Thompson or McDonald. Archie might get the nod, but some might feel he's already been given a chance at this level and is yet to really fire. However, promoting new Celtic signing McDonald to such a lofty height will no doubt impel many a punter to wonder if they are dreaming. It seems that for years now people have been screaming for the introduction of a younger forward, be it McDonald, Joshua Kennedy or David Williams (thankfully we can still rely on Viduka and Aloisi to turn up when it really counts). Everyone in the stadium, I think, would love to see McDonald play, but we'll then be forced to play a new style of football. In such a scenario, how, why and how successfully Arnold tinkers with the system that's been in place since the last time we played Uruguay is possibly the biggest question of the night.

There could be one 'out' for Arnold that allows him to adopt the same tactics and plow on with the Hiddink method: playing Danny Allsopp up front as the target man. It would be a massively controversial decision to start Allsopp over McDonald, a kid who's been screwed or just been plain unlucky with the national team on several occasions already. Yet, Allsopp provides all the intangibles of the big lug Viduka - he's a solid presence, he can hold the ball, he can turn and run at defenders, he can shoot with power from outside the box, he has a good sense of the runners around him (running ahead of Allsopp is all Archie seems to do at Victory sometimes). We know that when you play Uruguay you need to have a certain sense of street thuggery about your game, or guile at the least. A large, tall striker becomes a sort of figurehead for the team, a crushing yet agile bastard up front that you can poke or smash the ball at whenever you're in trouble or simply pissed off at all the legs flying in around your ankles.

Possibly the biggest surprise of among Arnold's squad selection is in fact one of the most sensible: Allsopp is just the type of guy you want around when facing off against Uruguay, a national opponent we've come to love to hate (and certainly respect) more than any other (proviso: until we again play Iran again at the top level).

24 March 2007

Beijing Breaks

Yep, it's been a while.

The site's been on hiatus for a number of reasons. Other work has taken priority, the off-season has restricted content a bit, and I haven't felt that burning desire for a while that urged me to start this thing in the first place. Really, the original mission of bringing of this site - to contribute to fan-oriented promotion of the league - has already been accomplished. Now that we're two years into the A-League, there are thankfully numerous places to find out the latest info, canvass a wide section of opinions, and flame away at whatever topic takes one's fancy. A content dearth two years ago has become a content overload in some respects, with site's like this one fast becoming redundant against the surging tide or bandwagoning of the mass media outlets.

In order to feel compelled to return to regular updates, I'll probably need to give the blog an overhaul, or at least a change of emphasis and direction.

The mission of the national team to become Asian Cup champions is certainly an interest worth studying in finer detail. Tonight the Socceroos play away against China in a friendly that is shaping up as a fascinating test of the team's depth. The Australian midfield - such a strength over the past few years - will tonight include only three players (Bresciano, Sterjovski, Wilkshire) with World Cup experience. Kewell, Cahill, Grella, Culina, Emerton, Chipperfield and Skoko are all missing. In their place we have Holman, Stefanutto, Valeri, Ryan Griffiths, Jacob Burns, Colosimo and Carle. Had he been fit, Elrich would surely have been a cinch for a start tonight; ditto Milligan were he not on U-23 duty.

Such drastic change represents a significant challenge for the lads as they try to bounce back from the recent loss to Denmark. It also gives the recently introduced players a chance to prove something on the pitch, not just at training. Yet for all the long term value of those opportunities, we have a match to win, and the answer I think lies in the contributiuons of the more senior midfielders, especially Wilkshire and Sterjovski. The match tonight is ready-built for those two to step up and really emphasise their senior position in the international pecking order. Sterjovski needs to start scoring and improving his communication with Viduka. Wilkshire needs to keep a level head and demonstrate confidence. Good performances from both ought to fill the alarming void in midfield left by the departed superstars. Poor displays will put far too much pressure on Bresciano, who like any great player lives and breathes off the movement, fast-thinking, and return balls from those surrounding him.

Beauchamp is of course the other senior player who is hopefully aiming to cement his status tonight. I think it's fair to suggest that Kisnorbo has already staked a claim as the best of our centre-half options after Neill and Moore. With Thwaite waiting in the wings, Spiranovic pushing Beauchamp at club level (witness his start over Beauchamp in Nurnberg's last encounter with Bayern Munich), and doubts still lingering over Beauchamp's ability to adjust to the national team set-up, what's required is a convincing display tonight as Neill's shield.

Let's hope as well that Arnie, in his eternal wisdom, sees fit to cap Jones in the second half. It's amazing how the retirement of Kalac has suddenly made our goalkeeping ranks seems extraordinarily slim. There's really nobody behind Schwarzer who oozes confidence and has the experience to slot straight into the team without inducing a comedy of errors at the back. Not Petkovic, Covic or Bolton. Leicester's Paul Henderson is yet to be given a shot. Vukovic and Federici are still coming on, while Coe and van Strattan remain bereft of opportunity. Jones needs to start getting his chances. Maybe over the next 18 months he'll start to push a lot harder for Schwarzer's role. Maybe in the mean time we need to think seriously about getting John Filan into the equation, as a worst case scenario Plan B. Maybe we need Dean Bouzanis to be a freakish prodigy.

Cheers to Arnie as well if he throws McDonald into the fray for an extended period. His introduction will necessarily instigate a reshuffle - it's not like he can replace Viduka as a target man - but given the shot in the heart to our midfield we're likely to have some trouble breaking the Chinese defense down and thus need some fresh input.

26 January 2007

Round Twenty One Report

Best of Round Twenty One:

Player: Ufuk Talay, Sydney - sent off late in the match, but instrumental in controlling the middle of the park to just get Sydney over the line against Queensland

U-20 Player: Nathan Burns, Adelaide - claiming a neat hat-trick after great build-up work from the likes of Bruce Djite and Bobby Petta; Ruben Zadkovich also had a strong game, again as a right-sided wing back

Coach: Gary Van Egmond, Newcastle - following a 4-0 demolition of the runaway competition leaders, who isn't scared of the Jets heading into the finals? GVE has turned it all around

Match: Queensland Roar vs Sydney FC

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Malik Buari - Mark Bridge
Bobby Petta - Ufuk Talay - Jonas Salley - Noah Hickey
Matt Thompson - Paul Okon - Iain Fyfe - Andrew Packer
Clint Bolton

Subs: Ante Covic, Dean Gordon, Ross Aloisi, Reinaldo

Shown the Door

The following off-contract players who have been told their services are no longer required. All will be looking for new clubs during the off season.

Central Coast Mariners:

Wayne O'Sullivan
Noel Spencer
Vuko Tomasevic

Perth Glory:

Luka Glavas
Mark Robertson
Mimi Saric
Adrian Webster
Stuart Young

Queensland Roar:

Remo Buess
Chad Gibson

20 January 2007

Round Twenty Report

Sorry this is so late - having started a new job things are little busy! I write this knowing that Newcastle have secured a spot in the finals, and that Queensland and Sydney will duke it out for the final position, joining Melbourne and Adelaide.

The biggest loss of Round Twenty wasn't a match, but rather a player. Bobby Despotovski finally called it quits on a remarkable national league career. It was a pity the A-League never really saw him at the top of his game, even if he still managed to win the inaugural Johnny Warren medal for best player last season as voted by his peers. It's hard to imagine another veteran, Kevin Muscat, not winning the same award this time around. (Edit: Except, of course, he has been given a red card, and so is inelligible for the award. In which case, maybe the likes of Simon Colosimo, Daniel Allsopp and Matt McKay will stand the best chance.)

Best of Round Twenty:

Player: Joel Griffiths, Newcastle - two very late goals to pull the Jets back into finals contention

U-20 Player: Tando Velaphi, Queensland - the round's other match-winning, season-saving performance

Coach: John Kosmina, Adelaide - continues to play the psychological game - especially with Sydney - with some degree of success, seems to have pulled Ross Aloisi back into some semblance of form, and made excellent work of his bench this week

Match: Perth Glory vs Newcastle United Jets

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Damian Mori - Joel Griffiths
Matt McKay - Nick Carle - Simon Colosimo - Leo Bertos
Matt Thompson - Michael Valkanis - Che Bunce - Steve Eagleton
Tando Velaphi

Subs: Daniel Beltrame, Richie Alagich, Richard Johnson, Reinaldo

8 January 2007

Round Nineteen Report

Best of Round Nineteen:

Player: Ante Covic, Newcastle - rose to the occasion in a crucial derby contest, made even more interesting with Danny Vukovic - probably Covic's major future contender for the number one home-based national team jersey - patrolling the opposite nets

U-20 Player: Kristian Sarkies, Melbourne - finally proves he can score from dead ball situations; surely bound for a spark-plug role off the bench during the finals

Coach: Ricky Herbert, New Zealand - two wins on the trot, this one away to Sydney, with the team looking more like a cohesive football than ever before

Match: Newcastle United Jets vs Central Coast Mariners

Goal: Kristian Sarkies, Melbourne

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Lelei Gao - Damian Mori
Jason Spagnuolo - Kristian Sarkies - Jonas Salley - Reinaldo
Andrew Packer - Josh McCloughan - Che Bunce - Matt Thompson
Ante Covic

Subs: Clint Bolton, Andrew Durante, Mile Jedinak, Damian Mori Alen Marcina

2 January 2007

Round Eighteen Report

Great to see Central Coast and Newcastle pull enormous crowds over the New Year's break. Just a shame both teams lost. Injuries hurt the Mariners, who only managed to field 3 fit players on the bench, while the Jets seemed undone by the woeful state of their pitch.

Sydney's three points means that the FFA's 3-points suspension for salary cap breahces is now practically irrelevant, at least in terms of making the final four. With an appeal deadline imminent, will SFC try to clear its name or simply accept the FFA's decision and move on?

Ernie Merrick promised player rotation going into the last few rounds, starting in goals. Eugene Galekovic was handed the gloves and played well in the Victory's win over the Mariners. Michael Ferrante and Vince Lia were also offered rare appearances, neither greatly impressing which isn't surprising given the lack of match practice. Faring better was midfielder Brad Porter, given the difficult task of filling in at stopper alongside Alex Wilkinson. Both dealed about as well as can be expected with Archie Thompson and Daniel Allsopp - now one of the deadliest striker partnerships in Australian domestic football history.

Nothing prepared us for the rout in Auckland, where the Knights stunned the Roar with a marvellous three goal barrage. It was the first time New Zealand had scored more than twice, and the win puts the cellar dwellers within reach of 7th placed Perth. Enormous kudos to Ricky Herbert, Neil Emblen (awesome performance up front), Darren Bazeley (back to an acceptable standard), John Tambouras (his return a bit of a talisman for the Knights), Che Bunce, Richard Johnson, Jonas Salley, Lelei Gao, Alen Marcina and the rest of the tightrope-treading organisation for getting out there and playing some football.

Things might have been worse for Glory had Adelaide managed to snatch a win from the round's earliest match. The Reds continue their erratic season - we know they're good enough to beat Melbourne and Sydney, but they continue to play in patches (some breathtaking, others unbelievably inept) and make hard work of every game they play. Adrian Webster and Jamie Harnwell weren't paying much attention, however, preferring to exchange pleasantries with each other after the 0-0 draw was brought to a conclusion. The Perth captain left the sticks and stones on the ground, but seemed to aim a few choice words at the fiery Webster, who in appreciation for the wit planted a hand on Jamie's face. Fortunately neither of the subsequent flying fists made contact.

And now we head into 2007, the year of Australia's first major step into Asia with stints in the Asian Champions League and Asian Cup awaiting.

Best of Round Eighteen:

Player: Neil Emblen, New Zealand - hard to look past someone from the Knights, the hardest of whom to ignore was Emblen - the big man promoted to the front line, where he displayed excellent control, distribution and leadership

U-20 Player: Ruben Zadkovich, Sydney - briefly shifted to right-back

Coach: Terry Butcher, Sydney - forced to re-shuffle the backline, with Zadkovich effective at right fullback and Fyfe tucked inside. Thanks especially to Milligan, Talay, McFlynn and Corica neutralised Nick Carle and the massively in form Mark Bridge.

Match: Melbourne Victory vs Central Coast Mariners

Goal: Sasho Petrovski, Sydney

4-4-2 Team of the Week:

Archie Thompson - Neil Emblen
Dario Vidosic - Steve Corica - Terry McFlynn - David Carney
Damien Brown - Che Bunce - Alex Wilkinson - Ruben Zadkovich
Tommi Tomich

Subs: Ante Covic, David Tarka, Richard Johnson, Adam Kwasnik