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.