Monday, 26 November 2007
And in the last two weeks, Australian football has been hit with a triple onset of gloomy weather. First was the desultory spurning of the national team coaching position by the experienced Dutch manager Dick Advocaat. With many Aussies hoping that with Dick at least matching Guus Hiddink's nationality, that might put him at least part way to matching Hiddink's magic. But we weren't given the chance to find out, as Dick cocked his leg at the FFA and merely used the offer to extract some more roubles out of Zenit St Petersberg.
And in the last week, we have learned that several of the Asian qualifying ties don't fall on FIFA sanctioned international dates, meaning we will likely be denied the services of the bulk of our Europe based stars.
Finally, in last night's World Cup draw from Durban, Australia learned it had earned a spot in the Asian "Group of Death", alongside China, Qatar and its Asian cup nemesis Iraq.
Frank Lowy, godfather of Australian football, had nicked some pretty impressive chinks in the armour of the political juggernaut that is FIFA. Yet the happenings of the past two weeks just serve again to remind Australia how much progress it hasn't made in world football terms.
Not only can't we hold an experienced manager at his word, it is now any one's guess who we can recruit to steer the Socceroo ship through the qualifying campaign. Next, from the crazy match dates, Australia suffers the most of any of the Asian countries, with so many of its players in Europe. Don't expect any favours from Tim Cahill's gaffer at Everton, the anti-international terrorist David Moyes. And to cap it all off, Australia (and China) become the victim of the weird notion not to seed current Asian champions Iraq.
Australia found it tough enough to come to grips with the Asian challenge at this year's tournament in Malaysia and Thailand. The next lesson in its Asian football education looks like it just got a whole heap harder.
Australia made giant, joyous strides in its football journey heading to WC'06. It now faces a perilous path and will be desperate to avoid a slippery slide back down the hill.
Monday, 5 November 2007
Victory manager Ernie Merrick is wise enough to understand that to attempt to stand still is in fact a recipe for being carried backwards in the current. So his 2006-07 squad has faced several changes. A number of fringe players out - Lia and Ferrante to Wellington, Sarkies to Adelaide. And, as stated before in these pages, the enforced loss of Fred to DC United.
All eyes, therefore, on the newer-looking combination as they kicked off the season. And stupefyingly, a run of five straight draws. And since then there's been a range of ups and downs. Until yesterday, when there was an almighty down, albeit in the context of a dramatic, traumatic contest.
One of the stand-out games of last season was the 3-3 draw when Central Coast came to Melbourne. And in yesterday's fixture at the deliciously named Blue Tongue stadium in Gosford, the same combatants fought out 90 minutes of similar ingredients to the Telstra Dome blockbuster 12 months back.
The sending off of Victory wing-back Keenan in the 21st minute proved a defining moment for this fixture. For the next hour of play, the visitors, in the same manner as when two players down a year ago at the Dome, played out of their skin. While the Mariners had their moments, hitting the woodwork twice, it was the disadvantaged Victory which produced its best football of the season. Muscat and new boy Pace holding firm at the back, ring-in Vasilevski proving to be a revelation, and the forward trio of Hernandez, Allsopp and Thompson looking as menacing as at any time this year. And the controlled way Victory brought the ball out of defence and into attack was exacting and admirable.
Reward was due, and finally arrived on 77 minutes when Hernandez finished off a concise move. Surely that would be that.
But several of the travelling party were just exhausted by that stage. And that, combined with the mental relaxation and attack-into-defence transition, meant that roles were suddenly reversed, with the Mariners pushing concertedly for an equaliser. It arrived only minutes later through the persistent Petrovski. On a day when new boy John Aloisi seemed plainly ineffective, it was always Petrovski most likely to be incisive.
Worse, much worse, followed for Victory, with Pondeljack finishing off a smart move in the 88th minute to leave Melbourne 2-1 down. And their misery was completed on 90 minutes with Vargas sent off for retaliating on the pesky Petrovski.
So in the space of 13 minutes, the champions forsook the chance to go equal top, instead find themselves sixth, and now with their defensive options decimated face the immediate prospect of a surging Sydney FC . Their backs are now truly against the wall, and require a turnaround of truly championship quality.
Friday, 7 September 2007
If the A-league was in
And so it’s the unlikely
In Lawrie McKinna the out-of-towners have a canny coach and they certainly make the most of their resources. They have every opportunity of matching their first season effort in reaching the final before the Lowy-propped up slickers from
But of course, it’s too early to rule out the balance of the challengers. While Melbourne Victory has been decidedly unimpressive to date, and Allsopp and Thompson are missing Fred terribly, the champions deserve to be considered strong contenders. Adelaide United has cast aside the traumatic end to its fine season 2 with Aurelio Vidmar assembling a fine squad behind the brilliant Nathan Burns. Queensland Roar will be nothing if not interesting with the two returning stalwarts Craig Moore and Danny Tiatto in their mix, albeit clothed in one of the football world’s most garish colour combinations. Tiatto announced his arrival with a hideous two footed tackle which was the most vile piece of thuggery I’d seen since, er, Tiatto the last time I saw him playing for Australia. Newcastle looks as though it’s going to be highly competitive again this year despite the absence of Nick Carle, while Perth Glory is showing some signs of an overdue return to the, er, glory days. Wellington Phoenix, hopefully, will be able to maintain its hopeful start to the season by shedding the forgettable memory of the Knights. I think it was a wise step to maintain a franchise in the shaky isles ahead of the frankly uninspiring Townsville bid. Surely there has to be more potential in a much bigger market, and
Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Rothmans Football Yearbook has been a significant part of my footballing life for thirty years. Over all those years I've not really tired of the annual digest of over 900 pages of English-flavoured football statistics.
And just recently, via eBay and some online second-hand booksellers I completed my collection by backfilling with the first four editions, 1970-71 through 1973-74. And thumbing through those early editions brought home – lo and behold(!) – how much the game has changed in that time.
Back then, the Football League cocooned a comfortable collegiate of 92 football league clubs, where the Fourth Division teams boasted a legitimacy that meant they could be referred to in categories analogous with top flight clubs. The closest you got to “Johnny foreigner” in either playing or managerial ranks were Scottish, Welsh and Irish folk. Two points for a win, competitive and highly credentialed cup competitions. Stadia or “football grounds” bore the name of the location, not the sponsors of the day. Plain playing strips, which barely carried the manufacturer’s badge, let alone that of the league or principal sponsor.
The Rothmans also had a much stronger domestic flavour. Internationals carried heavy coverage of the now long-defunct Home Internationals, which carried as much weight as European Championship qualifying. The European Cup sat nicely alongside the UEFA and Cup-winners Cups. World Cups were covered well, even in 1974 when
These days of course, companies such as Rothmans are on the nose, or more pointedly the lungs, and it’s been a few years now since Sky Sports took over the mantle of sponsoring this fact-fest. “Sky Sports" somehow typifies 21st century football rather than Rothmans of Pall Mall.
Sunday, 3 June 2007
Football followers in
The game was originally set down for June 6th, which was well placed since it post-dated nearly all significant European league action but pre-dated
A reality check therefore for those of us Aussies who thought that a great ten minutes against Japan, a sterling draw against Croatia and a narrow loss to the world champions may have caused a swing shift in the level of respect for our football credentials. I suppose casting my mind back to the Charlie Yankos-inspired 4-1 Bicentennial Gold Cup win over the Argies in 1988, that didn’t cause much of a ripple either. Our entry into
Once the FFA had meekly copped
And so we ended up with the all-too-gushing announcement yesterday of the rescheduled date, plonked at the MCG right in the middle of the AFL finals series. Mid-September also being one month into the new English Premier League season and around the time that a new Serie A season – and domestic A-league - will have kicked off. The FFA press release, including a hyperbolic Victorian tourism minister Tim Holding’s blather containing words such as “terrific”, “world’s number one team”, “boost the sport at a grassroots level”, “inspired”, claimed that this “unique international major event” would have the “players … looking forward to another huge crowd in
I can just imagine the conversations in managers’ offices at Anfield and
So the chance of any of Cahill, Kewell, Viduka, Schwarzer, Emerton, Culina, Bresciano or Grella darkening the dressing room doorway at the ‘G must be remote. Similarly, one wonders where the incentive will be for the Argentineans for whom the distraction isn’t even conditioned by the bonus of a return to home comforts.
The likelihood then of a meeting of B team against B team will merely be the latest chapter of a book that stretches back some distance for
A bitter pill for
Sunday, 20 May 2007
Many Australians holidaying in the northern hemisphere contrast the respective culinary experiences of
We’re in the middle of the cup finals season in Europe. And over the past four days, we’ve had the opportunity to sample fare of two distinctly different flavours. The UEFA Cup final last Wednesday featured the Spanish adversaries Sevilla and Espanyol, while Saturday’s English FA Cup final featured leading clubs Chelsea and Manchester United.
The UEFA Cup is a damaged brand these days, largely inflicted by UEFA itself. It’s true to say that ever since it was born out of the curious Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in the 1960’s, it’s been by definition the poor cousin of the European Cup, now Champions League. The competition for those not quite good enough for the other comp. And yet it’s produced its fair share of brilliant football memories over the past 40+ years. But in most recent times, it’s become another plaything of the top clubs, the so-called G14, which wraps UEFA around its bloc-style little finger. And now it’s set up so that any of the big boys prematurely knocked out of the Champions League can get a “lucky loser” go in the UEFA Cup.
Yet, despite its lower status, it still throws out memorable finals.
Contrast this with the English final, with the much awaited new Wembley on display for a global audience to take in for the first time. And the opponents couldn’t have boasted a higher pedigree. Chelsea and Man United, at each others throats all season in the league and Champions League, now fighting for the last piece of domestic silverware.
And what a sad bore-fest in turned out to be. Or, in my case, snore-fest as I struggled desperately to keep awake. With the opponents having clocked up an aggregate of over 120 competitive fixtures this season, this unfortunately played out as one of the worst of them. The all-star cast, primed for a chefs-hat feast, served up cold porridge. Defensive formations, scared to make a mistake, no way through crowded defences. On a night where many Australians are staying up late to watch the “spectacle”, this was a terrible advertisement for the world game.
The cup final has served up many substantial dishes in the past and over my lifetime it’s been a delight to savour such tasty morsels as 1973 Leeds-Sunderland, 1979 Man Utd-Arsenal, 1987 Coventry-Spurs, 1990 Palace-Man Utd and 2006 Liverpool-West Ham. In the greater European scheme of things, the FA cup has lost its lustre in recent years, with the inevitable domination by the same clubs that dominate the EPL. But there's still the chance of a great game to justify the great occasion. But not this year.
The English like to occasionally bang on in Gordon Ramsey style about their league being