Melbourne Cup 2019 – Preview & Review

4 November 2019

After a big win on the Caulfield Cup thanks to Mer De Glace, it’s time to blow it all on the Melbourne Cup. That’s roughly been the pattern for the last few years as I’m still chasing a big win since the double success in 2010 and 2011.

While strict adherence to some rules has been an undoing in some years (notably Fiorente in 2013), let’s not ignore that generally these rules are important. The main ones seem obvious: the horse is good enough; the horse is in good form; and, the horse can run the 3200m distance. Then there’s a subset of rules: previous Cup failures generally fail again (don’t consider a high placing, especially second, a failure!); international horses without a run in Australia first are a mystery; the Caulfield Cup confirms itself more and more as race to distrust (largely because many horses bypass it and it’s become more of a race for specialist 2400m horses); and, Japanese horses are a Melbourne Cup query (other than the quinella in 2006, all have been a disaster). A new pattern emerging is that European 3 year olds do well. They won the past two years and capitalise on extra maturity due to the opposite breeding season in the northern hemisphere while still retaining a light weight. The handicapper as tried to compensate by giving them 52.5kg this year, up 1.5kg from that of Cross Counter last year. Due to the wet weather, the track will likely be on the soft side, so that will affect many horses, both good and bad.

01 Cross Counter 57.5kg (GB)

Last year’s winner is a year older at 4, and 6.5 kgs higher in weight. There’s only ever been 5 multiple Cup winners, with one of those not in successive years, and top weights often struggle. His European form doesn’t seem as strong as last year.

02 Mer De Glace 56 (JPN)

Never run beyond 2400 metres and Caulfield Cup winners have had a poor recent record, with the last success in 2001. Likely soft ground will be a concern, as will the barrier of 2 as apparently he doesn’t like being crowded. The big positive is he has won six straight. As they say, winning form is good form.

03 Master Of Reality 55.5 (IRE)

International horse without the form of others, and the Cup will be his first run here.

04 Mirage Dancer 55.5 (GB)

Caulfield Cup run was good; might be a distance doubt.

05 Southern France 55.5 (IRE)

Form looks good compared to other Europeans – except for a huge loss over the distance to Cross Counter.

06 Hunting Horn 55 (IRE)

Won the Moonee Valley Cup, which doesn’t say much other than he’s settled in. Probably not up to the standard.

07 Latrobe 55 (IRE)

Not in great form, and hasn’t won over 2400 metres.

08 Mustajeer 55 (GB)

Won the Ebor Handicap, which hasn’t been a great guide. Caulfield Cup run was good… except for those that finished even better.

09 Rostropovich 55 (IRE)

Fifth last year in the race, and hasn’t done much since. That’s probably about his level.

10 Twilight Payment 55 (IRE)

Overseas form suggests look to others.

11 Finche 54 (GB)

Fourth last year and ran well in all his Australian runs. The only niggle is he’s a bit of a plodder so others could run past him at the end.

12 Prince Of Arran 54 (GB)

A very similar story to Finche: third last year and has been running well in Australia this year.

13 Raymond Tusk 54 (IRE)

Doesn’t seem to have the ability of others from Europe.

14 Downdraft 53.5 (IRE)

Won the Hotham on Saturday, which can be a good guide for local horses. It’s foreign for internationals to run their next race only 3 days later, and all that tried have failed spectacularly. Class could be a concern too.

15 Magic Wand 53.5 (IRE)

While fourth in the 2040m Cox Plate is good, she looks a doubt at the 3200m Melbourne Cup. European mares don’t have a great record either.

16 Neufbosc 53.5 (FRA)

Not good enough.

17 Sound 53.5 (GER)

Ran as Sound Check last year and did nothing. Done nothing since.

18 Surprise Baby 53.5 (NZ)

Will be high in the betting due to the name. He should handle the distance, is an improving type and won the Bart Cummings. That compares very well to the 2016 winner, Almandin.

19 Constantinople 52.5 (IRE)

Ran on well in the Caulfield Cup, fits the profile of a European 3yo, and has a nice low weight.

20 Il Paradiso 52.5 (USA)

Another European trained 3yo. Except, this one we haven’t seen race here. Doesn’t quite seem to have the class either.

21 Steel Prince 52.5 (IRE)

Locally trained horse that doesn’t seem good enough.

22 The Chosen One 52 (NZ)

Has been well beaten by plenty of others in the field in other races.

23 Vow And Declare 52 (AUS)

The strongest local hope in years. Lead-up form is good, distance should be fine, a nice weight, and can sprint. The only shame is that annoying Craig Williams is riding him.

24 Youngstar 52 (AUS)

Form no where near as good as last year, when she finished fifth.

SELECTIONS

Sticking with Finche and Prince Of Arran to repeat their good runs of last year and hopefully do a bit better. Both are back with comparable, if not better form, and have nice weights. Surprise Baby smells like one of those old style Melbourne Cup winners that emerge on the scene with impressive runs and ultimately win the Cup. Vow And Declare looks solid too.

Melbourne Cup 2019 Odds - Preview and Review

In a really competitive race, $8 for the favourite is ridiculously good value. Surprise Baby and Prince Of Arran are at $15 and $19 respectively, so they represent a bit better value from my selections. Even something approximating an outsider like Southern France is at $23. It’s important to note that Mer De Glace’s price is a result of the huge plunge after he won the Caulfield Cup. There’s been little support for him since.

Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!

THE RACE

It was a classic, exciting race won by Vow And Declare in a tight finish ahead of Prince Of Arran and Il Paradiso. Vow And Declare is the first Australian bred and trained horse to win the race since Shocking in 2009. Even allowing for the slightly soft track, it was a very slowly run race at 8 seconds off the race record set in 1990 by Kingston Rule on a fast track. The first four horses finished within a neck of each other, with much of the rest of the field in a big group just behind. The sit and sprint nature of the race favoured those near the lead, leaving backmarkers little chance to run them down. The only exceptions were the lightweights Il Paradiso and Surprise Baby.

Vow And Declare wins the 2019 Melbourne Cup
Vow And Declare wins the 2019 Melbourne Cup – Image: CNN

Second over the line was Master Of Reality, who led into the straight and looked the likely winner until the late rally by Vow And Declare. Master Of Reality would be relegated to fourth after causing interference on Il Paradiso (4th over the line). With the horse drifting out, jockey Frankie Dettori switched the whip to his right hand, which made the horse lay in and ultimately crunch a fast charging Il Paradiso. That promoted Il Paradiso to third and Prince of Arran to second (third over the line). With that, it meant I landed my biggest trifecta ever of just under $3000. My only other Melbourne Cup trifecta was in 2010, which paid just over $350 by memory. I also collected with a small win bet on the winner. That breaks an 8 year drought of picking a winner and collecting a big pay day. As they say, when it rains, it pours.

Master Of Reality was the biggest surprise run, with the only person I saw mentioning him in their tips was Sky Racing’s Ron Dufficy as his fourth pick. Despite his sound form lines in Europe, the 55.5kg would have caused people to look elsewhere, as lower weighted European horses have been the recent trend. Indeed, Il Paradiso had only 52.5, and Vow And Declare, a 4 year old, got into the race with just 52. Prince Of Arran, third last year, had a nice 54. Phar Lap was the last horse to finish third one year and win the next year. I guess Prince Of Arran is no Phar Lap! I wonder if there’s any history of a horse running a sequence of third, second and first? Let’s see if Francesca Cumani has that ready for us next year.

Covering the other runners, the fear with Finche (7th) was he’s a bit of a plodder and, indeed, he couldn’t sprint with them at the top of the straight. He still ran on well and was gaining ground at the end. Surprise Baby (5th) stormed from near last down the outside to be the most spectacular run, while Il Paradiso (3rd) made his run along the inside after badly missing the start. Japan’s Mer De Glace (6th) ran on well with his high weight, as did last year’s winner and the top weight Cross Counter (8th). It shows you the effect of weight, as Cross Counter easily beat Prince Of Arran and Finche with last year carrying just 51kg, and got beaten by them this year. Steel Prince (9th) ran beyond expectations, while Magic Wand (10th), Constantinople (13th), Mirage Dancer (14th), Latrobe (18th), Southern France (19th), Downdraft (22nd) and Mustajeer (23rd) didn’t seem to run the distance. The latter presented well into the straight and folded. Downdraft ran on the Saturday, so might have been tired. Rostropovich (24th) pulled up with an injury.

Sound (12th), Hunting Horn (15th), The Chosen One (17th), Youngstar (20th) and Neufbosc (21st) weren’t good enough or in the right form. Twilight Payment (11th) and Raymond Tusk (16th) couldn’t sprint when required. Note both Mustajeer and Raymond Tusk came from the Ebor Handicap – a race notoriously difficult to trust. In other trends, the poor results for Japan continued, and while the Caulfield Cup finally produced a Melbourne Cup winner (Viewed 10th in 2008 and Delta Blues 3rd in 2006 were the last two), this might have been an odd year out, plus the Melbourne Cup itself was such a strangely run race. Really, this year’s race is a difficult one to rate. The slow speed removed the stamina test and made it a sprinting test.

It’s worthwhile mentioning the two horses scratched after they were CT scanned and showed a hot spot. Marmelo was the most notable as he finished second last year. While the trainer was furious, it’s important to note that all the recent leg fractures during the race were to Europeans. Clearly they are susceptible and every precaution must be taken. In time, these preemptive scans will become an accepted practice. Channel 10 should be praised for their excellent coverage after taking the rights from Channel 7. Fears of a trashy, bogan coverage normally associated with the channel never materialised. It was a professional coverage that kept most of the focus on the racing, and extra credit for the use of Brittany Taylor doing the jockey interviews after the race. She was a great discovery out of Western Australia, and epitomised the professional approach with her well spoken demeanor and excellent interviews, and complimented the main host, Francesca Cumani, really well. Perhaps the only area in need of improvement was their pre-race horse information graphics, as they didn’t quite have all the information required.

RESULT
05/11/2019

1ST: VOW AND DECLARE Win: $11.70 Place $3.90
2ND: PRINCE OF ARRAN Place: $4.60
3RD: IL PARADISO Place: 6.80
4TH: MASTER OF REALITY

Quinella: $175.80
Trifecta: $2,953.40
First Four: $79,381.40

My Melbourne Cup 2019 trifecta
My trifecta that landed

FINISHING ORDER

01 VOW AND DECLARE
02 PRINCE OF ARRAN
03 IL PARADISO
04 MASTER OF REALITY
05 SURPRISE BABY
06 MER DE GLACE
07 FINCHE
08 CROSS COUNTER
09 STEEL PRINCE
10 MAGIC WAND
11 TWILIGHT PAYMENT
12 SOUND
13 CONSTANTINOPLE
14 MIRAGE DANCER
15 HUNTING HORN
16 RAYMOND TUSK
17 THE CHOSEN ONE
18 LATROBE
19 SOUTHERN FRANCE
20 YOUNGSTAR
21 NEUFBOSC
22 DOWNDRAFT
23 MUSTAJEER
24 ROSTROPOVICH

France 2019 – Women’s World Cup Review

Alan Stajcic sacked for no reason sees Australia predictably fail

13 July 2019

On the surface, a loss to Norway at the round of 16 stage via a penalty shootout after 1-1 draw doesn’t seem so bad. It could even be explained as simply being unlucky. In reality, the loss capped off a disastrous few months for the Matildas, as Australia’s women’s soccer team went from genuine World Cup contenders to an inept defensive unit and struggling to beat teams they ordinarily were dealing with quite easily.

The troubles started when Alan Stajcic was sacked as coach by Football Federation Australia in January for apparently overseeing a poor playing environment following a “Matildas Wellbeing Audit”. A quarter of a players in two confidential surveys – the type that are notoriously used to inflate personal grievances into systemic problems – said they felt under stress, while the FFA cited “workplace culture” and “player welfare” issues. Director Heather Reid was quoted in the media at the time saying “if people knew the actual facts about Mr Stajcic’s behaviour ‘they would be shocked’.”

This was all a lie as FFA wanted Stajcic out for reasons unclear. While CEO David Gallop maintains Stajcic was sacked to give Australia “the best chance to perform at the World Cup”, who did they hire as his replacement? No, not Jesus, who would be just about the only person who could be doing better with the Matildas at the time. They hired Ante Milicic! This was a coach getting his first serious senior gig! So you replace a proven performer, who had won the Tournament of Nations in 2017, beating USA, Japan and thrashing Brazil 6-1 along the way, and followed that in 2018 with wins over Brazil and Japan and a draw against the USA, with a newcomer.

France 2019 - Women's World Cup Review - Sam Kerr misses penalty shootout kick for Australia vs Norway
Sam Kerr despondent after missing her penalty in the shootout as Australia lose 4-1 to Norway. Image: fifa.com

It’s utterly bonkers the FFA can expect anyone to seriously believe them and, indeed, Heather Reid would later apologise and withdraw her statements “entirely and unconditionally”. She would say “I apologise unreservedly for the damage, distress and hurt that I have caused to Alen Stajcic” and “I apologise also for pain and suffering that I have caused to Mr Stajcic’s wife and two young children”, while the FFA confirmed “Stajcic’s contract was not terminated on the basis that he had breached his contract or had engaged in any misconduct”. Reid has been on indefinite leave from the FFA board due to health reasons since the crisis started, and that’s probably the reason she hasn’t been sacked yet. Gallop has announced he will leave in December – at least 12 months too late. He should have quit the moment the Matildas, and therefore he, failed.

Still we don’t know why Stajcic was really sacked. Either that survey, in this crazy “woke” era we live in, spooked the FFA into a ridiculous overreaction, or the FFA wanted him out for whatever reason and commissioned the survey hoping to get some dirt to use against Stajcic. Many high profile players were stunned at his sacking, and defended Stajcic publicly. Indeed, many didn’t even realise the survey would be used against Stajcic, and had they known, might not have been so cavalier in answering it. So if there is any legitimacy to player distress, it’s probably only a handful of younger snowflake peripheral players who think earning a spot in a national team should be easy.

No surprise it was a dreadful start for Australia in its opening game against Italy when Italy tore them apart, and were unlucky to only win 2-1. They constantly breached Australia’s high defending, while Australia lacked cohesion going forward, and wasted possession. This was a continuation of the pattern we’d already seen in preparation games against USA and Netherlands, in which Australia lost 5-2 and 3-0, with the latter result only one week before Australia’s opening World Cup match.

It must be noted that team pedigree for the women does not align with the men. Even though they were current European champions, this was Netherlands’ second ever World Cup, while Italy hadn’t qualified in 20 years. France is still developing, while Spain is a step behind. Germany is the only traditional European power to excel, when winning the World Cup in 2003 and 2007. Norway has been the traditional European power (won in 1995), with Sweden just below them, as these were the first European countries that empowered women to play. In recent years, the more traditional powers have started domestic leagues for women and are beginning to exert their force. South America is still way behind with only Brazil showing glimpses of ability to challenge the best teams. China led the way in Asian initially before Japan took over (won in 2011). Now Japan are off the boil. Of course, the best female team traditionally is the USA. Australia’s mostly hovered around the second tier of teams over the years, and only hit the top tier in recent years under Alan Stajcic. Of course, he was sacked before his true test, at this World Cup in France.

Australia’s second match was against Brazil, which they won 3-2 after falling behind 2-0 – again being caught high. A goal just before half time was able to provide confidence leading into the second half. Still, it must be tempered with the fact that Brazil had lost 9 games leading into this World Cup before beating lowly Jamaica in their opening Cup game, and only lost to Australia due to a dreadful own goal by Monica.

Jamaica would be Australia’s final game in the group, and again it proved a struggle, and they had to thank some poor Jamaican defending and a goal-keeping blunder in their 4-1 win. At 2-1, Jamaica actually looked ominous until Australia snuck a goal.

Against Norway in that round of 16 clash, Australia were caught high again when falling behind, before managing to equalise late through a fluky direct corner. Naturally the Australian media whinged about being dudded against Norway. A penalty was awarded to Australia for allegedly hand-ball in the box. Replays show the ball hit the Norwegian’s shoulder and it would have been a clear and obvious error had the penalty not been rescinded.

If Australia were dudded, it was sacking coach Alan Stajcic for no reason months before the World Cup started. The defense was diabolical ever ever since, conceding multiple goals in most matches, and were lucky to beat Brazil and survive the group. Let’s not fault the players either. This debacle was all administrative, as when you sack the coach for no reason just months before the World Cup starts, you can’t expect it to go without consequences. The Matildas were put in an unmanageable position to succeed.

So the World Cup that seemingly Australia was on the precipice of achieving their best ever result, if not winning, ended in a performance and result well below ability and expectation. Sacking Stajcic was never about giving the team the best possible chance to perform, it was an exercise in vanity and ego, and likely to distract from the FFA’s own flaws. Let’s note the men’s team is at their lowest ebb in decades and the youth teams often fail to qualify for World Cups and Olympics, and now we have the women’s team go backwards. In a way, the Matildas’ failure at France 2019 is justice for the treachery of the FFA. Such selfish and despicable actions should never be rewarded.

Finally…

Overall, it was a great World Cup. USA won for the second time in a row and the fourth time overall, and showed their class throughout and handled Netherlands quite comfortably in the final for their 2-0 win. Most notable from the tournament is the Europeans have really developed and dominated, with the quarter finals featuring seven of them: Norway, England, France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. The standard has improved too, notably with the goal-keepers. In the early days of women’s football they were an embarrassment.

It’s a shame the American success wasn’t as unifying as it could be due to Megan Rapinoe’s unsavoury antics, notably kneeling during the anthem in 2016, the general criticism of her country, and the equal pay dispute between men and women. Curiously, that kneeling event was when Rapinoe started on the bench. She’d dare not do it on the field – restricted at the World Cup to simply not singing – and no doubt was told at the time she’d be booted off the team if there’s a repeat episode. After all, this is the USA national team. It represents the country and its people. If you don’t respect that, get out. If she was really passionate about diversity, she’d not be playing soccer anyway. One look at the American team and it looks more whiter than the Republican Party and that many come from privileged backgrounds. As for equal pay, she can start with all players in her own team and domestic competition earning the same. They do the same work, the same training, so why not? No doubt she’ll respond market forces and her value dictate her higher salary. Bingo. Same goes when trying to compare a Rapinoe to a Ronaldo, or the women’s World Cup to the men’s.

The Video Assistant Referee was highly visible in this World Cup, and while there was some minor controversy about decisions, this was more due to FIFA’s stricter guidelines on handballs and trips regarding penalties, than any wrong decisions made. Overall, it worked. Probably the area to rethink is offsides let go, and often only called once the player offside eventually touches the ball. This can causes players, notably defenders, run for the ball for no reason. Personally, the line referee needs to signal of a potential offside, especially an obvious one, so the players don’t waste their energy. If it’s not obvious, you let the game go and only check if a goal is scored, as is has become practice now. Ensuring goal-keepers don’t leave their line before a penalty kick is taken is another great use of VAR. It’s been an area of cheating for decades in the game, and it should have been long stamped out. Bravo to FIFA for actually doing good things for the game, and to the women for an excellent tournament.

Results

Group

Australia 1 – Kerr 22′
Italy 2 – Bonansea 56′, 90+5′

Australia 3 – Foord 45+1′, Logarzo 58′, Monica 66′ (OG)
Brazil 2 – Marta 27′ (PK), Cristiane 38′

Jamaica 1 – Solaun 49′
Australia 4 – Kerr 11′, 42′, 69′, 83′

Round of 16

Norway 1 – Herlovsen 31′
Australia 1 – Kellond-Knight 83′
(Norway won 4-1 on penalties)

United Arab Emirates 2019 – Asian Cup Review

26 February 2019

The Asian Cup of 2019, held in the United Arab Emirates, came and went without much fanfare, as seemingly much of Socceroos in recent tournament appearances have been. An opening group game loss to Jordan 1-0, a 3-0 win over the far inferior Palestine in the second game, and a scratchy 3-2 win in the final game against Syria, didn’t inspire much hope that things would change this tournament. Indeed, it took penalties to overcome Uzbekistan after teams couldn’t score in 120 minutes, before elimination 1-0 to the UAE in the quarter finals.

Qatar win the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, beating Japan 3-1 in the final

Qatar win the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, beating Japan 3-1 in the final. Image: the-afc.com

Possession of 73% for 3 shots on goal against 4 for Jordan typified much of the Australia’s performance, both in the UAE and in recent years. While it might look nice, this “keepings off” style has always been a coward’s way of playing. Ultimately it’s about results with the ball, and Jordan showed Australia how it’s done. Although Australia was a bit unlucky, and there definitely should have been a penalty in the first half, it was a well deserved win by Jordan and we were simply out-smarted (another reoccurring theme these days). The one salvation is the Socceroos lost to Korea in 2015 and won the Asian Cup. With 24 teams in this edition, it means 4 points from Palestine and Syria would likely be enough. A reminder: Tom Rogic still can’t shoot.

The response to the 1-0 loss to Jordan as being an embarrassment was an embarrassment in itself. Facts are that Jordan are a decent side, played disciplined football, while Australia lacks quality and is too obsessed about looking good. Forget the crap about styles and play the opponent. This isn’t figure skating. Then Palestine comes along, and how quickly it changes. Australia were 2-0 up at half time and commentators were inexplicable at describing the difference between this game and Jordan. It was simple: one team was Palestine, the other was Jordan. Palestine are effectively the Jordan D-team so Australia should be dominating. While they did that to a degree, that the third and final goal came so late was a concern. Australia again seemed to lack ideas with the ball and should have scored more. Overall a good result, with hopes to improve further against Syria, where only a draw was required to feel safe.

In the final group game against Syria, it seems two wrongs do make a right when it comes to penalties. One was a penalty and not given, while the other one was clearly not a penalty and was given. You suspect the referee was told of his first half error and try atone for it in the second half. Finally Rogic actually hits a shot to secure the win. 3-2 a fair result as the Socceroos dominated chances.

The round of 16 match against Uzbekistan was only notable for the comprehensive 4-2 win in the penalty shootout after the game ended with the score 0-0. If Australia had such clinical finishing during the actual game that they did during the shootout, then life wouldn’t be so difficult for them. Overall, they performed a tad better than Uzbekistan on the night so deserved to progress.

In the quarter final against the UAE, it was a deja vu of the match against Jordan. Dominate the game, dominate possession, waste chances, give away possession, concede a goal through a mistake (a poor backpass), cannot recover. Ironically, the UAE goal originated from a successful backpass by them, which the goal-keeper launched forward. The 1-0 loss was so predictable and a sad realisation, at the completion of this tournament, the team isn’t good enough. Even worse, there’s no signs of any improvement, and it’s doubtful results would have been any better even if the team’s best player, Aaron Mooy, wasn’t out injured before the tournament. The World Cup will expand to 48 teams for 2026. Australia will want it brought forward by four years the way things are going.

Qatar won the tournament with a superb display. As hosts for the 2022 World Cup, they’ll want to perform on the pitch, and if this Asian Cup is any indication, they should be competitive. They never conceded until the final against Japan and scored some cracking goals. Against Japan, they dominated the opening half with two great goals, and then held out to win 3-1. There was a bit of controversy about their third goal, whether the handball for a penalty was intentional or not. FIFA are moving away from this spurious concept, as intent can never be known. It was a clear handball and prevented Qatar to further attack the ball after it was headed towards goal, so a definite penalty. It wasn’t a blatant foul, so the yellow card was wrong. If you want to add intent into the handball rule, then it’s only for disciplinary action, not the infringement itself.

Overall, it was an enjoyable Asian Cup, and it was pleasing to see plenty of people in attendance. The expansion to 24 teams meant group games were kept alive much longer, and we saw unfamiliar faces, not only in the tournament, through to the knockout phase too. Kyrgyzstan lost 3-2 to the UAE in extra time in their round of 16 clash, while Vietnam reached the quarter finals before narrowly losing 1-0 to Japan. India were the highlight on the first main day of group matches when demolishing Thailand, 4-1. Losses to UAE (2-0) and Bahrain (1-0) meant they finished last in their group. So much for the theory that the first game is the most important to win. It’s always about total points collected, not when you collect them.

Melbourne Cup 2018 – Preview and Review!

5 November 2018

With another Winx blitz over, this time her fourth Cox Plate in a row, the Melbourne Cup now grabs our attention, as it rightfully should. It is our biggest race, and the nation will be far more fixated over it than Winx’s record breaking feats.

Speaking of Winx’s feats, there’s much chatter about whether she’s the greatest horse of all time. While four Cox Plates is unprecedented, so is three Melbourne Cups as performed by Makybe Diva, and personally that is a superior achievement. The Melbourne Cup is a handicap, and winning it twice has proved super tough. Only 5 horse have done it since its inception in 1861 while there’s been 14 repeat Cox Plate winners since 1922.

Does that make Makybe Diva Australia’s best horse ever? No, she only had one stellar year, which culminated in her third Melbourne Cup. Winx has been unbeaten for more than 3 years, for a total of 29 race wins in a row, her most recent being that fourth Cox Plate. Still, that’s not enough. For me it’s Black Caviar. Never beaten in her career of 25 races, I rate her the best ever (in my lifetime) for her pure domination and higher quality of opposition. Time and time again I was in awe of her when watching her races. I rarely get that feeling from Winx, while the Diva only managed a bit of it in her final year.

On to the Cup…

rekindling-mcup2017.jpg

Rekindling wins the 2017 Melbourne Cup

I’m still trying to get a big win since my double hit in 2010 and 2011 after missing out yet again last year. Most people did, as Rekindling was somewhat a surprise winner. An international visitor, he epitomised the dilemma with them when they have their first Australian run in the Cup itself. One or two will run well; most will flop. Since the internationals started arriving in 1993, Rekindling was only the second such runner to win. The first being Vintage Crop in 1993. It remains an advantage to see them run in Australia beforehand before taking the plunge on them. It’s my golden rule that I’ll still keep until results prove otherwise. Other rules include look for form, look for class, look for ability to run the distance, look past previous Melbourne Cup runners that failed.

Another more recent rule, or guideline, is be suspicious of the Caulfield Cup form. It’s been a woeful predictor in recent years. Also, the Japanese horses are best to avoid. Other than the one-two with Delta Blues and Pop Rock on debut in 2006, they’ve stunk!

01 Best Solution $12

Won the Caulfield Cup. Didn’t get a penalty. It’s still the Caulfield Cup. None have completed the double since 2001. The one positive is German horses do quite well, even when they’re a distance doubt like him, and he’s won his last four races.

Result: 8th Missed the start, and was then hampered by The Cliffsofmoher breaking down. Would have been much closer otherwise, so a decent effort for the Caulfield Cup winner that was unknown over the distance.

02 The Cliffsofmoher $17

The name alone puts me off. Second in the Caulfield Cup so if want you use that race as a guide, the best solution is to stick with the horse that beat it.

Result: DNF Sad result breaking a shoulder, unfortunately these things happen. While it provokes the usual hysterical calls to ban horse-racing, if you want to really act on perceived torture, you’d end the pet industry in an instant. Some of the torture that goes on in that industry is unimaginably reprehensible.

03 Magic Circle $8

First time international runner, whose last two races were demolition wins in Europe. May was his last race, so against back to that dilemma of whether he’ll fire. The stable brought Mount Athos twice, who performed well, so that’s a guide they have a good formula in place.

Result: 16th The only excuse you could say was his last run was in May. Most of the other internationals had run in August before coming to Australia. Otherwise, it was the usual flop you expect from internationals.

04 Chestnut Coat $61

Japanese horse that didn’t do much in the Caulfield Cup. Sayonara.

Result: 14th As expected.

05 Muntahaa $12

International runner who won the Ebor in York. That race hasn’t been a great guide to the Melbourne Cup. A tricky one, as he won it impressively. Apparently there’s been a hiccup in the preparation too, which is always a concern.

Result: 9th Ran to form.

06 Sound Check $34

Shocking Caulfield Cup run. A positive is he has form around Best Solution and won at the distance in Germany.

Result: 18th A reality check. Flopped in Caulfield Cup, flopped in Melbourne Cup.

07 Who Shot Thebarman $34

Fourth attempt, and now a 10 year old. Sorry.

Result: 17th As expected.

08 Ace High $61

Victoria Derby winner of last year who seems out of form.

Result: 20th As expected.

09 Marmelo $14

International that ran in the Cup last year and failed. They’re trying it as a first run this time, as distinct from using the Caulfield Cup as preparation like last year. Pass.

Result: 2nd Super effort, and looked the winner until Cross Counter arrived. Well done to the team for trying a fresh approach after last year’s failure.

10 Avilius $12

Won the Bart Cummings, as Almandin did in 2016. Didn’t do it as impressively, and didn’t do much in the Cox Plate, and is a bit of a doubt at the distance. Won is last four before the Cox Plate, and as they say, winning form is good form.

Result: 22nd Only excuse is he was badly hampered by The Cliffsofmoher breaking down.

11 Yucatan $6

Dominant win in the Herbert Power and has been a favourite since. As they say, seeing is believing.

Result: 11th Horrible result. Simply didn’t run it out.

12 Auvray $101

Lacks form and class.

Result: 21st As expected.

13 Finche $23

An international that plodded into third in a weak Geelong Cup.

Result: 4th Super effort considering the average preparation race.

14 Red Cardinal $34

Ran last year and failed. Will fail again.

Result: 23rd & last Failed again.

15 Vengeur Masque $81

Not good enough.

Result: 15th As expected.

16 Ventura Storm $34

Not to the required standard and flopped last year. Won the Moonee Valley Cup in his last run if that helps.

Result: 10th OK result; didn’t run the distance.

17 Prince Of Arran $18

Qualified by winning the Lexus Stakes on Saturday. Internationals don’t do race so quickly in succession, Lexus winners don’t often do well unless they have dominant wins (think Shocking in 2009), and he was smashed by Yucatan in the Herbert Power.

Result: 3rd Led into the straight and looked the winner until the two late runners. A surprise result considering he had to run on Saturday to qualify and often this quick back-up destroys the chances of internationals. Without that run he might have gone even better.

18 Nakeeta $101

Ran fourth last year. In poorer form this year so it’s a no.

Result: 12th As expected.

19 Sir Charles Road $81

No chance.

Result: 7th Capitalised with a good result due to so many other favoured horses not firing.

20 Zacada $81

Lack of form and class.

Result: 13th As expected.

21 Runaway $41

Won the Geelong Cup. It’s not a good guide other than to verify a quality international has acclimatised, as per Americain and Dunaden in 2010 and 2011.

Result: 19th As expected.

22 Youngstar $15

Caulfield Cup flop. The only mare in the race, and their general poor record is against her too.

Result: 6th Didn’t quite run it out.

23 Cross Counter $9

Nice wins in England before arriving, and a delicious light weight. Again, it’s that dilemma of whether he’s settled.

Result: 1st In hindsight, as expected! Good form and a low weight. Distance was the only issue as he hadn’t won beyond 2800 metres. Do that, and be able to reproduce the form in Australia, you win.

24 Rostropovich $23

Didn’t do much in the Cox Plate, and other than for the major weight drop, he’d be a total write off, not a partial one.

Result: 5th Looked a possible chance to win before others overtook him. A decent result for a horse that didn’t seem to do quite enough in the Cox Plate. 

SELECTIONS

No surprises here if you note any of the “experts” giving their tips. I’m all over Yucatan like a giant meteor smashing into the planet. It’s my major bet while my smaller bet will be on Magic Circle. Interesting story is that when I was first taken to races as a youngster, a horse called Magic Tower was always so successful for me. I remember winning $6 on a 50c place bet, and that was so much money back then! So Magic Circle provides a bit of nostalgia. To complete my box trifecta and first-four I’ll add Cross Counter, Best Solution and possibly Avilius.

Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!


THE RACE

A bit of an upside-down race, with the lesser favoured of the internationals and some mild outsiders doing well. Cross Counter was my third pick, and was a spectacular winner with a late charge down the outside to overhaul Marmelo. Marmelo flopped last year, so that broke one of the guidelines to ignore previous failures. Although, as mentioned in the preview above, a different strategy was tried this year by running him fresh in the Melbourne Cup rather than using the Caulfield Cup as preparation. Facts are many horses, particularly Europeans, do perform well fresh, which, at a minimum, is 3 weeks between runs. The Caulfield Cup is 17 days prior.

Cross Counter wins the 2018 Melbourne Cup from Marmelo and Prince Of Arran - Review

Cross Counter wins the 2018 Melbourne Cup from Marmelo and Prince Of Arran

Other guidelines remained true, like the new one to ignore the Japanese. The Caulfield Cup again proved an unreliable form gauge, even though Best Solution had excuses. The distance rule is an interesting one. The big favourite, Yucatan, didn’t run it out. Many horses are untried over the distance of 3200 metres, including the winner, so it can be hit or miss. Cross Counter at least had won over 2800 metres, so that was close enough. Yucatan and Best Solution had only won over 2400, with Yucatan’s other two wins being over 2012 and 1609 metres. He really was a distance doubt so much so that he warranted some sort of skepticism. I guess that awesome Herbert Power win clouded the minds of many. Finally, horses running in the Cup without a preparation run in Australia, while Cross Counter and Marmelo excelled, Magic Circle (the other big favourite), Muntahaa and Nakeeta, failed.

A new rule is to look to European 3 year olds. They are actually 3 and a half year olds by Australian time so have that extra bit of maturity while benefitting from a lighter weight allocation that 3 year olds get. They need to be progressive and in good form too. Last year one won in Rekindling, while this year they were first and fifth.

The big trifecta I’ve been trying to land for years now was another wipeout. I had six horses going in it – Yucatan, Magic Circle, Cross Counter, Best Solution, Avilius and Muntahaa – and only Cross Counter did anything. Best Solution was next best in eighth. There’s always next year!

RESULTS

23 Cross Counter $10
9 Marmelo $12
17 Prince Of Arran $23
13 Finche $13
24 Rostropovich $18

 

Russia 2018 – World Cup Retrospective: The Final, VAR, Australia & Ange Postecoglou

02 September 2018

It’s been seven weeks since the final of Russia 2018, where France beat Croatia 4-2, and with that came the confirmation that the world just witnessed the best World Cup ever. In my lifetime, it certainly was. The closest competition was USA 94, which unfortunately fell down with dull semi finals and a really dull 0-0 final. Brazil 2014 was on track to be a great one until the knockout stages mostly disappointed. The rest going back to Mexico 86 were all good, while Germany 2006 will always be memorable due to Australia’s return and three dramatic matches. So Russia 2018 is it.

France wins the 2018 World Cup in Russia

France wins the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Image: fifa.com

It wasn’t so much that Russia 2018 was full of goals (at 2.64 per match), or even full of great goals. The dead rubber of France vs Denmark was the only 0-0 too. It was mostly that it was full of drama. That drama was epitomised with the final itself, where own-goals, video assistant referees, penalties, a smaller nation excelling, and touches of class, all made it a microcosm for the tournament itself. With many Russian cities quite easterly, it meant a reasonably friendly timezone, so more of a football feast for us in Australia.

The six goals in the final of Russia 2018 was the same total as all the goals in normal time of the last four World Cup finals, and one less than the seven goals of the 1958 final. Croatia, though benefitting from one of the softest draws imaginable and requiring penalty shootouts and England to choke to progress, were unlucky to be 2-1 behind to France at half time. France had only one shot on goal for the half compared to 7 for Croatia. Classy goals on 59 and 65 minutes effectively sealed it for France, before a crazy goalkeeping error on 69 minutes gifted Croatia one back. It proved insufficient as France comfortably held on to win.

FIFA Match Details

France were the best team all tournament and deserved 4-2 winners. In contrast to Croatia’s opponents along the way of Denmark, Russia and England, France had to contend with Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium – with the latter two arguably the third and second best teams in the tournament. Both likely would have breezed to the final on Croatia’s side of the draw. In fact, Belgium’s most important match was their final group game against England. Had they surrendered the game with a draw or a loss, they’d have been on the weaker side. Instead they won 1-0 – and then beat England again in the third placed game, 2-0.

Russia 2018 will also be remembered for the dominance of the European teams, and the poor performance outside of Europe and South America. All semi-finalists were European, while only Mexico and Japan could make the knockout phase, with both only scraping in. Despite two wins in their first two games, the 3-0 loss to Sweden in their final game meant Mexico required Korea to beat Germany. That happened only in the dying minutes, reversing the heartbreak Mexico had at the final whistle when it seemed that match would be a draw.

Japan only progressed through “fair play” rules after being in a deadlock with Senegal on all other tiebreak methods. From there, at least they put on a good show and seemed on course for a shock win over Belgium in their last 16 match when scoring two early second half goals, only to be run over and lose 3-2, with Belgium’s third goal coming with the last play of the game. Mexico looked good when beating Germany in the opening group game before later matches revealed Germany were a team on the slide. Only just scraping past Sweden and then losing to Korea to be sent home early. In fact, that win by Korea made it quite a successful tournament in the group phase for Asians teams. Four of the 5 won a match, with only Australia missing out.

Australia

It’s a mixed bag. Struggling through the qualifying campaign, expectations were low for Australia’s chances in Russia, with a feeling they would be on the path to humiliation. That short-term coach Bert van Marjwilk was able to mould a competitive and resilient unit was of great credit to him. Unfortunately, defence, something that has plagued Australia since they returned to the World Cup in 2006, was again weakness, with Australia 0-0 against Chile in 1974 remaining their only clean sheet. Quite simply, you won’t win many games at a World Cup while consistently conceding goals.

At Russia 2018, with the lack of firepower upfront, goals conceded, notably France’s second goal and Denmark’s goal, proved fatal. Both should have been prevented, and if so, a loss and a draw becomes a draw and a win, and progress to the knockout phase. By the time of the final match against Peru, there was little to play for, and for a Peruvian team unlucky in their first two matches, they were too good for Australia. So bottom of the group with 1 draw and two goals by penalty, it’s not good reading, and not the progress expected after 3 losses in 2014. One positive is, that after Belgium, Australia probably gave the eventual world champions their greatest test.

World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C final standings

World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C final standings

While debate turned to van Marwijk’s lack of use of Tim Cahill until the second half against Peru, the reality is the coach was left little time to prepare the team so stuck to a fixed plan. It was based on a settled team and improving them as a unit. With Cahill barely playing any minutes for the latter half of the season at Millwall, and already being phased out under Ange Postecoglou, it was always questionable to promote him ahead of players with solid time and form with their clubs. The second half against Denmark, when the game was there for the taking and Cahill remaining on the bench, that was probably the only questionable decision. While, in retrospect, Cahill should have got a run, too much focus there detracts from the overall good job done. As van Marwijk said, he’s not a magician. Australia’s issue all along was lack of quality players, especially gamebreakers and scorers in the final third.

Ange Postecoglou

Also questionable was former coach, Ange Postecoglou’s article on the Player’s Voice website, suggesting Australia still likes being an underdog, and his quest to change that attitude was actually a personal crusade, not a tidal wave of change he was about to ride. While that underdog sentiment still lingers (“brave” was a common word heard after the close loss to France), Postecoglou’s proposition to play aggressive, attacking football, to show the world Australia are not battlers, is very much another way to dodge accountability for poor results. As much as saying “we were underdogs” tries to justify a loss, so is saying “at least we had a go”. Neither are great mentalities, as the key measure of success at a World Cup is always results. If you look at a comparable team like Sweden, the question of whether you’d prefer their grafting style that sees consistently reach the quarter finals when they qualify or a “have a go” strategy that really only achieves praise from armchair neutrals, I know which way I’d go.

This World Cup was a counter-attacking World Cup, where the possession game was demolished, so to think Australia could bustle in and take on these crack international teams with such a strategy would have been a guaranteed mission of suicide. The “competitiveness and defensive stability” that van Marwijk brought was actually a positive because Australia lost it under Postecoglou. Being aggressive and attacking is all well and good as long as you don’t sacrifice other key aspects of the game. It’s quite galling for Postecoglou to be so critical of the playing style at this World Cup when he had abandoned the team with mission incomplete. For someone so full of the “have a go” mentality, he showed incredible weakness when crunch time came. Not just on the field either. Off the field and facing accountability, that was not something palatable for him. It seems as though Postecoglou felt he had carte blanche to do anything he pleased with the team, even if it jeopardised World Cup qualification itself. Apparently we were meant to look at the big picture. No, the big picture is the World Cup, and that’s where success and failure is defined.

TV Coverage

It’s hard not feel some sort of sympathy for Ange Postecoglou’s ethos anyway, as much of the media and fans are obsessed with “performance” over results – a phenomena normally most appreciated only in the bedroom. Chief choir boy was again, Craig Foster on SBS, who typically within 5 seconds of being asked a question he’d begin prattling on about the same old stuff, while Lucy Zelic would look gushingly on. It became unlistenable that I would mute the telecast. Zelic had her faults too, notably her obsession with correct pronunciation of foreign names while doing nothing about her appalling English diction. It’s one of the worst Australian accents on TV. If she can sort that out, she’s a winner.

This was the first SBS football telecast since the death of Les Murray and it had a sense of watching kids on work experience kids. Really amateurish at times, with the two main hosts lacking direction. Guest panelists would lift it, as did the increased use of David Zdrilic. In retrospect, SBS might have been caught short as they were meant to only show one match per day after selling off most of the rights to Optus Sport. The debacle with their streaming service meant SBS would simulcast the games anyway. It’s a shame, because Optus had the far superior presentation, with the likes of John Aloisi and Mark Schwarzer providing great insight into the actual games, while their use of default English language commentators meant we were liberated from the tiresome Martin Tyler.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR)

This tournament was full of so many penalties, which be attributed to VAR. It was great in finding penalties that would often happen happen too fast, or not 100% certain, for the referee to see. It also created confusion about when it should be used, that whether it’s for overturning a “clear and obvious error”. First thing to realise, denying a rightful penalty would be a clear and obvious error. It’s not so much blatancy of a foul, it’s the impact, and obviously not awarding a penalty is a great impact on the match.

VAR guidelines on penalty decisions

VAR guidelines on penalty decisions

The final itself had a great example (along with Antoine Greizmann in France vs Australia) when Ivan Perisic was adjudged to have fouled. Whether deliberate or not is now irrelevant, and that’s been the trend for many years now, way before VAR. Bottom line is Perisic moved his hand downward to the ball, and palmed it onto his leg to knock it out of play. Intentional or not, the use of the hand clearly blocked the corner from entering the goal area. The only issue is that the referee took so long to confirm it.

Suggestions by ESPN commentators that the referee initially decided no when checking the replay, and then returned to look again, possibly prompted by VAR, is likely nonsense. He could have already confirmed a penalty and decided to double check. Remember also that with VAR about, referees are now less inclined to make tight calls, so rather than VAR there to intervene on clear and obvious errors, it’s really to intervene on clear and obvious incidents, especially relating to penalty kick decisions, and also if the referee never saw the incident in the first place.

Also the rule about “deliberate” means subjectivity is always involved. While the referees have been moving towards zero tolerance over the years, VAR almost makes it zero tolerance. With that knowledge, then “deliberate” needs to be removed from the equation, and any handball in the box that affects the offensive team’s chance of scoring should be a penalty. Note, such incidents outside the box are nearly always a foul, so just because the repercussions might be harsher on the offending team, it shouldn’t mean the enforcement of the rule is less strict. In fact, when the stakes are higher, so should be the enforcement. Remember that players are so adept these days at making anything intentional look like an accident, and while Perisic may have known nothing about the penalty, there’s every possibility he did know about it, and in the natural action of dropping his arms after jump, he deliberately made sure to contact the ball.

Own Goals

Another curiosity of this World Cup was the plethora of own goals. A new interpretation seemed in effect whereby any deflection was classed as an own goal. Previously the shooter would get the goal as long as the shot looked like it was heading towards goal, so typically meant glancing deflections were always goals and huge ones less likely so. I’ve never liked that interpretation and always believed it should be about intent. Any deliberate shot towards should be a goal regardless of deflection because the shot caused the deflection, whereas an own goal is a deflection from a non-attempt on goal, like a cross. Obviously goals directly from the defending team are always own goals.

Best Matches

QF Brazil vs Belgium 1-2
A quality display by Belgium to snuff out Brazil’s chance for immediate World Cup redemption after the semi-final 7-1 debacle against Germany in 2014.

R16 Belgium vs Japan 3-2
A stunning second half where Japan scored a double early before Belgium over-ran them, scoring the third goal only the last play of the match via a classic counter attack.

R16 France vs Argentina 4-3
France showed their potential to put Argentina away. A flattering result for Argentina, while Lionel Messi leaves another World Cup with both he and his country unfulfilled.

R16 Uruguay vs Portugal 2-1
Uruguay provided a classy display to sweep past the pretentious Portugal and Ronaldo, especially notable for two superb goals by Edinson Cavani.

QF Russia vs Croatia 2-2 (3-4)
The most dramatic match of the tournament with Croatia coming from 1-0 down to go 2-1 up in extra time, only for Russia to equalise late to sent it to penalties. A shame the Russians had to go, especially after knocking out Spain in the previous round.

Qatar 2022

With a winter World Cup confirmed, set for 21 November to 18 December, talk now is about the other big possible change: increasing teams to 48. In terms of games played, there’s only 16 more, so the real issue is whether a small country like Qatar can accommodate 48 teams plus all the supporters. Typically these sorts of suggestions that would be well embraced by national associations are implemented quickly, so it’s likely a 48 team World Cup will arrive 4 years earlier than planned. The smaller confederations benefit the most with Asia getting 8 places (currently 4.5), Africa 9 places (5), CONCACAF 6 places (3.5) and Oceania 1 place (0.5). Europe get 16 places (13) and South America 6 (4.5). There’ll be 16 groups of 3, with the top 2 progressing to the knockout stage, meaning 32 teams will play 3 matches like now. It sounds ideal, so get it done.

One foible will be that with 3 teams to a group there’s no simultaneous final match like presently. Personally, these simultaneously matches have always been an overreaction to a controversy in 1982 when Austria and Germany seemed to conspire in their final group match to ensure they both progressed instead of Algeria, who played the day before. Such a situation can be avoided by a floating schedule for the final round whereby, in the 1982 case, Austria and Germany would have played first. Facts are, these days the final round equations are obvious anyway (eg: this year France and Denmark knew a draw would be enough to progress ahead of Australia), while a small thing called the telephone and internet keep teams updated about the concurrent match anyway (note when Japan learnt Senegal went behind to Colombia they suddenly settled for their 0-1 score against Poland and simply kept possession for the last 10 minutes). Also, in a 3 group team, a conspiracy situation is less likely to arise.

FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 Logo

That was Russia 2018 – The 21st World Championship of Football

Russia 2018 – Australia vs Peru Review, What Went Wrong, Tournament Player Ratings

Russia 2018 – Australia vs Peru Review, What Went Wrong, Tournament Player Ratings

28 June 2018

This World Cup was always more about hope than expectation, and that hope was only ever a tentative one. A solid performance in the 2-1 loss to France provided a small spark of hope that Australia could beat Denmark in their next match and set a strong course for the next phase. That spark quickly extinguished when Denmark scored early, only for it to reignite when the Socceroos equalised not long after. Alas, no. Despite dominating much of the game, Australia were unable to get a winner, so were faced with the double jeopardy of beating Peru and hoping France beat Denmark.

Entering the final game against Peru in Sochi, it was almost a continuation of the Denmark game. Australia dominated early, failed to convert opportunities, and then went behind on 17 minutes. Four minutes into the second half, it was another goal for Peru, and any flickering hope we had now changed to putting us out of our misery and ending this campaign that always seemed forlorn. A late Peruvian shot hit the post to avoid a more embarrassing 3-0 loss. Not that an Australian win would have mattered, as France and Denmark only needed a draw to qualify first and second, and 0-0 was the not so unexpected final score.

Aaron Mooy sums up Australia's disappointing campaign after 2-0 loss to Peru - World Cup Russia 2018

Aaron Mooy sums up Australia’s disappointing World Cup campaign after their 2-0 loss to Peru in their final game at Russia 2018. Image: fifa.com/Getty

In fairness, Peru were the second best team of the group and should have progressed. They dominated much of the action against Denmark and France with 27 shots on goal, and shot a penalty over the bar against Denmark. They lost that game that they should have won, meaning their match against Australia was only for pride. In victory, they looked as despondent as Australia did. Not only were Peru more deserving to progress, and more lethal when required, they also out-played Australia strategically. In contrast to their two frenetic opening games, knowing Australia had to win, Peru let Australia do all the running, and picked them off the break.

Peru’s opening goal was simply a lob over the top that was passed across the box for a running Andre Carrillo to hit first time into goal. Calls of offside were dismissed as Trent Sainsbury got a foot to the ball to annul the possible offside. It was Peru’s first real chance of the game, whereas Australia and several opportunities, and continued to create them. The best being a low cross by Robbie Kruse that saw Mathew Leckie just fail to connect while under pressure by two defenders, Tom Rogic shooting meekly at the goal-keeper after skipping past four Peruvian players, and an Aziz Behich volleyed cross that failed to find an open Tim Cahill.

World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C final standings

World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C final standings

A disappointing end to a totally disappointing campaign. Even the qualifying campaign was disappointing, with the team constantly conceding goals and having trouble to score goals. It came down to an intercontinental playoff against Honduras, in which, after 0-0 in Honduras, Australia won 3-1 in Sydney, thanks to a free kick and two penalties by Mile Jedinak. In Russia, it was all too familiar. Conceding goals, and the only two goals scored were penalties to Jedinak. While the lack of a killer edge up front was clearly obvious, facts are the perennially leaky defence could never be fixed. Ignoring the less relevant fact Australia hadn’t kept a clean sheet at a World Cup since the 0-0 against Chile in 1974, the more relevant fact is through the entire World Cup cycle for Russia 2018, defence has been a problem. The glaring reality is if Australia could have denied France one of their goals and Denmark their goal, they’d have made the next round.

In hindsight, there doesn’t seem much more Australia could have done. The most glaring situation was when Tim Cahill not brought on against Denmark when they were ripe for the picking. When Andrew Nabbout was injured, it’s fair to say most people were surprised that Tomi Juric came on instead. This was at a stage when Denmark, with France as their final game, were clearly happy with the 1-1 score, and were playing tentatively. Australia was in desperate need of a big moment and Tim Cahill is our big moment player. It wasn’t until Peru that he got a run – not long after Peru went 2-0 ahead – and it was all too late by then. To his credit, in that limited amount of time, he had a shot blocked after a corner, and would have had a goal at his fourth World Cup had Behich crossed better.

It would be unfair to criticise Bert van Marwijk too harshly as he arrived with only a limited amount of time with the squad, and would have judged his playing selections by his own measure. Cahill played barely any club football in 6 months so it’s not right to compare the Cahill we’ve known all these years, or even a year ago, with the Cahill of now. Remember, Ange Postecoglou had been phasing Cahill out of his starting teams long ago, and indeed, it was Postecoglou deserting Australia with mission incomplete that compromised the team’s preparation. Van Marwijk’s first match was a 4-1 loss in Norway in late March, and fears coming to Russia were a smashing by France. That the team produced three creditable and competitive performances, and put themselves in a positions to win, is a huge tick for van Marwijk, and easily offsets the non use of Cahill against Denmark, especially since we can never know if he’d have made a difference.

PLAYER RATINGS FOR THE TOURNAMENT

GOALKEEPER

Matt Ryan 6

Not at fault for any of the goals, nor made any miraculous saves or penalty saves. So it’s a “good” rating for doing his basic job.

DEFENDERS

Trent Sainsbury 7

Did little wrong at the back, other than almost conceding a penalty against Denmark, and not being quite able to intercept the pass that led to Peru’s first goal.

Mark Milligan 7

Solid in an unnatural position as a stopper next to Sainsbury. Had some good attacking flair too. Good to see him rewarded with three match starts after only playing one match in the past 3 World Cup campaigns.

Josh Risdon 6

Showed some good pace and got into good positions; unfortunately never resulted in much.

Aziz Behich 4

Not good enough at this level.

MIDFIELDERS

Mile Jedinak 6

Reasonably solid in a defensive midfield position, and reliable with penalties. General forward passing was uninspiring, or went sideways.

Aaron Mooy 8

Best player of the campaign. Let down by very few decent corner kicks, and he plenty of them to try.

Tom Rogic 7

Always looks neat and skilful on the ball, and played the two passes versus Peru that set up Kruse’s and Behich’s crosses. Otherwise, his work often results in very little, and he can’t shoot either. The World Cup is not like playing Motherwell in Scotland. Was substituted in all 3 games.

Robbie Kruse 5

Another player that looks neat, or tries to look neat. He’s lost pace, and often when he gets into good positions his crosses are rubbish or are blocked. Was substituted in all 3 games.

Mathew Leckie 8

Really stepped up when the situation demanded it. Fast and always looked dangerous. Unfortunately never quite had the support to capitalise on his work, and missed a great shooting chance late in the game against Peru by taking an extra touch.

Daniel Arzani 7

Came on all all 3 games, always looked dangerous, and twice against Denmark nearly set up a goal. Unfortunately, no actual result for his effort so it keeps his score down.

Jackson Irvine 6

Serviceable as the second midfield substitute in all three games.

FORWARDS

Tomi Juric 5

An old fashioned target man, he was neither a great target or could create much himself. A substitute for Nabbout in the first two games; started the third before being substituted for Cahill.

Andrew Nabbout 6

Looked dangerous at times, especially with his speed. Never quite got the service. Missed the final game through injury. Was substituted for Juric in the first two.

Tim Cahill 6

Only appearance was as a substitute against Peru. Did as much as he could with his 35 minutes. Would have had a goal if Behich’s cross on 71 minutes vs Peru was better.

As much as we can pick at coaches, preparation, tactics, selections and even bad luck, ultimately, the players of this generation are not good enough. During the qualifying campaign it was noted that none of this 2018 team would get a start in 2006. Perhaps the possible exception is either Mile Jedinak or Aaron Mooy for Jason Culina. Not even Tim Cahill was in the starting eleven then, and now, at 38 years old, he is still Australia’s most dependable goal scoring option. Comparing to the other teams at Russia 2018, the differences are clear. One less touch, a bit more urgent, a bit more ruthless, a bit more tricky, even a bit more cunning. We need to be resigned to the fact that World Cup success below the top echelon of nations is about generations. All teams go through it. The likes of the Netherlands can go from almost a World Cup winner in 2010 to a non-qualifier in 2018, while Italy missed out too. It’s not about grand visions, technical direction, permanent playing styles, changing landscapes and other hocus pocus ideas. It’s about youth development and growing the game domestically to ensure the best talent is attracted to the game and a pathway is provided for them to reach their full potential. Then the final polish is made with coaching, tactics, strategy and general support. The hope now is the wait for that next generation of great players is not too far away.

FIFA Match Details

ABC News Report

Russia 2018 – Denmark vs Australia Review as VAR Succeeds Again

Russia 2018 – France vs Australia Review & VAR Controversy

Russia 2018 – World Cup Preview, Predictions & Australia’s chances

Russia 2018 – Denmark vs Australia Review as VAR Succeeds Again

23 June 2018

The 1-1 draw against Denmark in Samara on Thursday has left Australia in a precarious position. Fail to beat Peru on Tuesday night, Australia are out. If France fails to beat Denmark on Tuesday night, Australia are out. A 1-0 win over Peru will be sufficient as long as France’s win is also a low scoring match. If it’s 3-2 or higher, Australia must beat Peru by 2 goals.

World Cup Russia 2018 - Group C standings after 2 games

World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C standings after 2 games

It’s disappointing that Australia is in this predicament after they were the better team against Denmark and blew too many good opportunities to score. The match started poorly for Australia when Denmark scored after just 7 minutes. The ball wasn’t properly cleared well after a Danish throw-in, and Denmark was able to pop the ball through an unsettled Australian defence for a relatively simple running volley by Christian Eriksen. The ashen look on coach Bert van Marwijk’s face said it all. It was a sickening opening to a match Australia entered with high hopes of winning.

Thankfully it was only 20 minutes later that Australia equalised, thanks to a penalty by Mile Jedinak. It came after the intervention of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) when the referee was notified to check the replay for a possible handball. The Australians had protested immediately when Matthew Leckie’s header towards goal was blocked and, indeed, replays showed Yussuf Poulsen had blocked the header and possibly prevented a goal. It even looked deliberate too, with Poulsen’s arm flailing in the air, so lucky to avoid a yellow card. It’s the second game in a row where Australia’s goal came from a penalty after a handball infringement and no yellow card was given.

Once into the second half, Australia began to exert its dominance as Denmark became tentative. A loss to Australia would mean Denmark would need to beat France in their final game and obviously wanted to avoid that. Sadly, Australia could not make the breakthrough, with substitute Daniel Arzani providing the best two opportunities: one a cross that slipped through the penalty box untouched, and later a shot himself from a tight angle after a burst down the wing. Another cross might have been beneficial there. Then there were other lost opportunities through the recurring problem of errant passing and poor decision making. For Denmark, a tangle between Trent Sainsbury and Andreas Cornelius could have been a possible VAR intervention for another penalty. Cornelius managed to stay on his feet, and pass to Pione Sisto for a shot just wide.

Van Marwijk fielded the same starting line-up again, and made similar substitutions, notably leaving Tim Cahill on the bench. When Australia really was needing a moment of magic, it seemed strange that Tomi Juric was used instead of Cahill. While the team has played well in both games, clearly up front isn’t potent enough. Tom Rogic can’t shoot while Robbie Kruse is too slow. Leckie has been dangerous out wide only to be let down by a lack of support for his creativity. That’s where a Cahill just pops up to nod one in. Even his presence alone benefits the team, as he’ll draw defenders and inspire more confidence. The only issue against Peru should be whether Cahill, with barely any club time in the last few months, starts the game or comes on in the second half. The chorus among fans and many commentators is at least make sure he gets a run. Instead of Kruse, it’s worthwhile to give Arzani a go from the start too. He’s trickier, and faster.

As noted, the VAR was active again, and successful again. Of course, in the bizarro world of SBS’s World Cup coverage, VAR was another misuse and wrong use. Despite Poulsen clearly blocking a goal-bound header with his arm, for Craig Foster, it wasn’t a penalty, with his primary reasoning is if it was Australia infringed, would we be happy? Yes! Just like with the Griezmann penalty against France. Rational Australians want the rules applied fairly and consistently, not on potential feelings of indignation. Then in the Brazil vs Costa Rica match, Neymar reacted to a touch, threw himself to the ground, and somehow Foster deems Neymar was impeded so it’s a penalty. Meanwhile, Griezmann was clearly impeded and he says no penalty? VAR doesn’t decide or overturn anything either. It advises the referee to check the replay, then he decides. The only issue with VAR is that perhaps it doesn’t intervene enough. No doubt it will be reviewed after the tournament, and possibly one idea is the referee asks for a review, rather than rely on VAR itself to intervene.

– Australia plays Peru on Tuesday night 26 June at midnight (00:00 27 June). France vs Denmark is at the same time.

FIFA Match Details

ABC News Report

Russia 2018 – France vs Australia Review & VAR Controversy