It’s an unusual Melbourne Cup in modern times due to the low numbers of international horses in the field. Compared to the highs of 11 in recent years, there’s officially just two this year (Twilight Payment and Spanish Mission), while a couple of others were recently transferred to Australian trainers. In that sense, it’s an old school Melbourne Cup with plenty of locals making up the 24-horse field, many of whom are just making up the numbers. The positive is that there’s very few mystery international horses that can be hit and miss.
I’m keeping it simple next year, looking for horses in form, are likely to run the distance and have a nice weight. In fairness, in this modern era, weights are compressed, so very few horses are weighted out of it and nearly all actually race below their weight-for-age weight. I’ll also remain skeptical of the international horses, especially if the Cup is their debut race in Australia. It should be a stamina test with Twilight Payment in the field, who led all the way last year to win.
Incentivise won the Caulfield Cup in impressive style and is currently on a 9-race winning streak from his 12-race career. He looks like he’ll get the distance as he’s really strong to, and past, the line in his recent races. While the Caulfield Cup stunk as a form reference for over a decade, it has began to return to its historically good reference. Forgetting that anyway, Incentivise’s win was a key form reference in itself and he’ll run as the shortest priced favourite since Phar Lap (1930).
Last year’s winner Twilight Payment goes up 2.5kg and is now 9 years old on the Australian calendar (8 on European). Only 4 horses have won the Cup two years running, and no 9yo has won it at all. He looks to be going as well as last year, he’ll love the warm day and firm track, and this is a weaker field. His main competition is only just behind him in the weights too.
Spanish Mission has quality form and likes it dry. The big knock is, as an international, he’s as likely to flop as he is excel. It’s a 50/50 scenario with these visitors, especially on warm days, and he’s had injury concerns too. Verry Elleegant didn’t quite see it out last year and carries more weight. The Chosen One finished fourth last year and has conditions to suit again this year. Ignore the Caulfield Cup run on a wet track. Possibly do so for Delphi too. Persan was fifth in last year’s Melbourne Cup, ran an excellent third in the Caulfield Cup, so looks to be plotting similarly this year.
If you like Pondus, you’re better off with Floating Artist, who beat him in the Moonee Valley Cup, has a lower weight and is is good recent form. Grand Promenade won The Bart Cummings (the same race as Almandin in 2016) and his recent form is similarly good. Tralee Rose is the Geelong Cup winner, which has been used as a preparation for international winners in 2010 and 2011, and has had little guide since. Being a mare is a concern (many don’t like the big fields) and she has flopped over the distance before. In good recent form otherwise. Great House won the Hotham Handicap on Saturday to guarantee his place and was solid in the Caulfield Cup, while Sir Lucan has the good profile of being a European 3yo, albeit without the form of recent successful horses in that category.
Of the outsiders, the main one to note is Johnny Get Angry. He’s trained by former Australian Rules premiership coach, Denis Pagan, and won the Victoria Derby last year. Has done nothing since, so it’s really only the football interest.
02 Incentivise 01 Twilight Payment 16 Grand Promenade 22 Floating Artist
No surprises here. I’m sticking to the hot favourite, Incentivise, and believe Twilight Payment is on the right path to repeat his 2020 performance. Whenever I look at horses at longer odds, the common thread is Grand Promenade has beaten them all. Similarly with Floating Artist, he’s beaten most of those in the same lead-up races to him. They’ve run in different races leading up to the Melbourne Cup, so I split them based on Grand Promenade looking like the stronger stayer. I worry about Spanish Mission so will throw it into a 5-horse boxed trifecta. I’ll do my favoured multi-trifecta (which scored in 2019) of Incentivise, Twilight Payment and Spanish Mission first or second, with about 10 horses in third.
Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!
It was a weird Melbourne Cup of 2021. A bit slow in that they didn’t go as hard as expected and Verry Elleegant unleashed a surprisingly devastating sprint to win easily by 4 lengths. She only ran on late last year for 7th, was up in weight and prefers a wet track. All racing experts I saw discarded her for others, and one couldn’t even find her a spot in a wide trifecta covering about 10 horses. That’s horse racing! It’s not a precise science and Verry Elleegant proved that and showed to never discount a champion horse. The Melbourne Cup was her 10th Group 1 win, which includes the 2020 Caulfield Cup. Her winning time of 3:17.43 was just over a second outside the race record 3:16:30 set in 1990, so it was a reasonably fast race, attributed to a long wind up in the second half and Verry Elleegant’s super sprint. The Chosen One in fifth was the only horse to make up any major ground from the back, albeit finishing over 10 lengths from the winner.
At $18 in the market, Verry Elleegant wasn’t an outsider anyway, and she led home a group of horses all well in the market. Except for perhaps the order of the top 6, especially with Verry Elleegant winning, it was a fairly predictable result. Indeed, remove the winner, and I would have landed the trifecta twice with Incentivise, Spanish Mission and Floating Artist. Even Verry Elleegant in third behind Incentivise and Spanish Mission would have meant a trifecta landed.
Incentivise anchored the hopes of many punters and ran a gallant race to almost deliver the fairytale win of a bush horse from Toowomba on a 9-race winning streak taking Australia’s biggest race. He sat just outside the leader the whole way, and it makes you think if he could have taken a sit behind a strong leader that he might have prevailed. Last year’s winner, Twilight Payment, who led all the way then, didn’t get a fast enough start from his inside draw and got buried in midfield. Even then, a tad disappointing to not run on and only finish 11th. Spanish Mission, the other international, was a hit in third place. He couldn’t sprint with Verry Elleegant and that was it. Floating Artist performed as hoped to finish fourth. He just couldn’t match the sprint of Verry Elleegant. No horse could. For the rest, it’s mostly as per the preview: either not good enough, not in form or couldn’t run the distance. Persan probably the only surprise, capitulating early from the lead to finish 20th.
1st – Verry Elleegant ($16.50 W, $4.50 P) 2nd – Incentivise ($2.00 P) 3rd – Spanish Mission ($3.00 P) 4th – Floating Artist 5th – The Chosen One 6th – Grand Promenade 7th – Delphi 8th – Selino 9th – Tralee Rose 10th – She’s Ideel 11th – Twilight Payment 12th – Miami Bound 13th – Great House 14th – Sir Lucan 15th – Explosive Jack 16th – Master of Wine 17th – Pondus 18th – Carif 19th – Knights Order 20th – Persan 21st – Port Guillaume 22nd – Johnny Get Angry 23rd – Ocean Billy
Quinella: $21.80 Exacta: $72.70 Trifecta: $436.20 First Four: $5,413.50
A year late, no fans attending, and pressure to cancel the entire event, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games surpassed all expectations and provided the world with a wonderful fillip as it still manages the COVID-19 pandemic. These were the pressure Games, with the pressure to finally allow the athletes to compete, the pressure to prevent COVID-19 wreaking havoc, and the pressure simply to succeed. They did so easily, while also reminding us the Olympics are about sport itself. Without the glitz and hype, it was allowed to shine through in its purest form, with many memorable performances and achievements.
Tokyo 2020 were also the pressure Games for Australia. After two C-grade performances at recent Olympics, the pressure was on Australian athletes to deliver on the millions of dollars invested in them and return the country to its previous status of an A-grade Olympic nation and delivering at least 10 gold medals, if not a few more. While the performances were spotty among the individual sports, overall the country succeeded.
Swimming: 9 gold, 3 silver, 8 bronze
This was a redemption Olympics when Australia’s high profile and much vaunted swimming team finally hit its potential. Despite the media adulation for the gold medals it has returned over the years, reality is those overall returns were often well below expectation. In true Australian style, these failures were buried by the media and Australian culture in general, preferring only ever to focus on winners and not dwell on the failures, especially those that under performed. Internal reviews might note it much later on, and well beyond any great media scrutiny, and it seems many of the lessons were learnt. It’s just a shame it took so long.
The rot started at Barcelona 1992 when Kieren Perkins was hoped to win two, if not three gold medals. He won one – the lone gold for the swimmers. Remember Samantha Riley and Daniel Kowalski in 1996? Both flopped. Riley famously was one of only three women to stop a complete Chinese sweep of the gold medals at the 1994 world championships when winning the 100 and 200 breaststroke (the former in world record time), only to fold two years later in Atlanta with a solitary bronze in her two individual events. She explained it as “it’s a racing meet; times don’t matter”. Mitch Larkin would echo a similar phrase in Rio, 24 years later. No, ignore your opponents, swim your own race, and win the gold. It’s a simple formula.
This poisonous mentality permeated the entire swimming team and endured for many Olympics, with the sources likely the coaches and sports psychologists. Even culturally, there’s something about Australians that can’t accept losses, preferring to spin it into a positive like “it’s still a great achievement to make an Olympic final”. It’s usually favourites that capitulate, believing their existing dominance entitles them to bully the opposition when should remain respectful and composed. The famed “Aussie fighting spirit” is only seen in situations of adversity or an underdog situation when the pressure is off. With the pressure on, they crumble.
Susie O’Neill (200BF) and the men’s 1500F (Perkins upset Kowalski) came through for the only two gold in Atlanta. At Sydney 2000, Ian Thorpe lost the 200 freestyle final after going out too hard and laughably explained his silver as “happy with the result, not the performance”. No, it should be the other way around, or unhappy with both. While O’Neill failed in her pet 200 fly (beaten by American Misty Hyman) and Michael Klim and Geoff Huegill both failed in the 100 fly (upset by Sweden’s Lars Frolander), O’Neill did get the gold in the 200 free – her weaker event. Still, for all her dominance in 200 butterfly over the years, 1 gold was an under achievement, and that Sydney 200BF flop typified Australia’s inability to produce swimmers dominant enough to win multiple gold medals at a single Olympics. For all the swimmers it took for Australia to win 5 gold medals in Sydney (3 individuals and 2 relay teams), Netherlands did it with just two: Inge de Bruijn (3) and Pieter van den Hoogenband (2, including the win over Thorpe in the 200F).
At Athens 2004, more was expected from the men’s 4x200F relay (dominant for 8 years; returned only 1 Olympic gold), Grant Hackett in the 400F and Liesel Jones in breaststroke. Then the mother of all chokes, Beijing 2008. Sports Illustrated slotted Australia for 12 gold medals, perhaps 15, not the 6 ultimately won. While the men failed to produce any gold (100F and 1500F notable misses), more was expected from the likes of Jessicah Schipper and Libby Trickett. Liesel Jones finally got an individual gold medal from a total of 5 individual swims in 3 Olympics.
London 2012 and Rio 2016 were noted flops. Even though much wasn’t expected from London (1 gold), the men’s 4x100F relay, led by James Magnussen, Cameron McEvoy and Eamon Sullivan, were hot favourites, only to implode for a bronze medal. Magnussen and Emily Seebohm then disappointed in their finals for silver, especially Seebohm. Repeating her heat time would have won gold – a tale of woe for many failures. Swim well in heats or semis, only to go slower in the final. Magnussen was unlucky when losing gold by 1/100th of a second in the 100F.
Three gold in Rio was about anticipated for a team in transition and a country running their qualifying trials several weeks before the Olympics like the Americans do. Previously, they were months earlier, meaning swimmers had to peak twice in the year. Even with the low anticipation for gold, Kyle Chalmers swam a big personal best to save Australia’s blushes in the 100F when Cameron McEvoy fell apart and finished 7th. Madeline Groves went within a whisker of gold in the 200BF. The most notorious choke of all was Cate Campbell in the 100F. Held the world record, was faster qualifier by miles, yet got spooked, went out too hard and flopped to fifth.
For the big gold medal haul in Tokyo, the difference was most swimmers swimming their best, and dominant swimmers being dominant. Australia typically relies on an individual gold here and there, and a relay or two, for its gold medals. In Tokyo, the likes of Emma McKeon, Kaylee McKeown and Ariarne Titmus all bagged two gold each (although, it should have been three for McKeown). McKeon and Titmus were two of the new swimmers on the scene and managed to swim wonderfully controlled races, while the veteran McKeon transformed herself from a 200 freestyle swimmer to a sprint specialists and won both the 50F and 100F. Add two in the relays, and that’s 8 gold medals for the women.
Zac Stubblety-Cook stepped up to deliver somewhat a surprise gold medal in the 200BR – the only one for the men. Although, two golds did get away. Elijah Winnington flopped in the 400F (7th) while Brendon Smith (3rd) would have won gold in the 400IM had he repeated his heat time. It was 1.1 seconds slower in the final. Kyle Chalmers was just .06 from gold in the 100F, so can count himself unlucky.
The women missed two themselves, which included McKeown becoming a triple gold medalist had she not withdrawn from the 200IM. Apparently it was to rest from that evening’s 200IM heats for the next day’s 200B semis, even though she could have swum backwards in both of those events and qualified for the next stage. Then there was the 4x200F relay falling to bronze. Even though China won gold in a world record time and Australia was under the old world record, the narrow 0.96 second difference to bronze was easily manageable had the team performed at their best (both Titmus and McKeon 1 second off their best) and if not for the inexplicable decision to leave out Mollie O’Callaghan. Her heat time was second fastest of all the 8 swimmers that swum (4 in the heats, 4 in the final) yet she couldn’t be elevated to the final because Australia nominated 8 competitors for the event so they all had to swim at some point. Normally, 6 get nominated and you promote the two fastest from the heats to the final. Accusations were cast that Swimming Australia were trying to get a gold medal for 8 swimmers, so confident (or arrogant) that Australia would win.
While 9 gold medals could easily have been 14, it could easily have been 5 if not for Stubblety-Cook’s performance and the women’s 4×100 medley relay narrowly winning and McKeon’s evolution and even Titmus beating USA’s Katie Ledecky in the 400F. We’ll take this as a resounding success and it be officially Australia’s best ever swimming performance at the Olympics. The previous best was 8 gold medals at the home Olympics of Melbourne 1956.
Rowing: 2, 0, 2
Australia hopes to win two gold medals and achieved it in the men’s and women’s fours. Two Oarsome Foursomes.
Cycling: 0, 0, 2
One of Australia’s strongest sports returned just two bronze medals – the second horror Olympics in a row. Rohan Dennis was a heavy favourite (and a double world champion) in the road time trial while the men’s 4000 metre team pursuit suffered equipment failure and consequentially a fall in qualifying, meaning bronze was the best they could do. No one has stepped up in the women’s sprint events, the men flopped in their events, while in women’s track endurance both the omnium and team pursuit faltered. The road was even worse. At Athens 2004, Australia won 6 gold medals. To not even win one gold at an Olympics is simply unacceptable, while 2 should be the minimum standard.
Athletics: 0, 1, 2
Zero gold is not a success despite the spin from commentators about minor medals and top 8 finishes. Silver came in women’s high jump, and the bronze in women’s javelin and men’s decathlon.
Basketball: 0, 0, 1
Women were a disaster, winning only one match and losing to USA in the quarter finals. Men finally won a medal after many attempts, including four losses in bronze medal games. Both teams have aspiration for gold, and both losing heavily to USA show there’s still much more work to be done. The men lost in the semi finals before beating Slovenia for bronze.
Canoe Slalom: 1, 0, 1
Jessica Fox will still rue missing the gold in the K1 after hitting an early gate and then narrowly clipping the final upstream gate. One less penalty (worth 2 seconds in time) and she wins gold, and based on her comments, she went out too hard after previous competitors made good runs. The first penalty was careless while the second one was trying extra hard to compensate for the first. She recovered and blasted a composed run in her more dominant (and new for women) C1 event for that elusive gold. Given her dominance in both disciplines in the sport over the years, especially as a multiple world champion, and now with three minor medals in K1, it can’t be complete satisfaction for her, nor a complete success for these Olympics.
Canoe Sprint: 1, 0, 0
Would have hoped for a minor medal or two to add to the gold. Snagging a gold in this sport, especially in a minor upset as it was in the men’s K2 1000, is usually seen as a bonus.
Equestrian: 0, 1, 1
Australia likes to win at least one gold, notably in eventing. Silver in the team and bronze in the individual is an adequate return.
Field Hockey: 0, 1, 0
Again, Australia hopes to win at least one gold. The women eliminated early by India in an upset and Belgium just too good for the men in the final. A lot of money gets pumped into hockey, and with no medals in Rio, questions might be asked whether it’s worth it. It’s probably more to encourage widespread participation.
Football: 0, 0, 0
The women lost four games (two each to Sweden and USA) and the two wins were not convincing (2-1 vs New Zealand in the group and 4-3 in extra time over a superior Great Britain in the quarter final) to show they’re not up to standard. The Matildas only qualified from the group phase as a best third placed team as there were only 12 teams in Japan, with two of the three best third placed teams progressing. Australia lost to Sweden and USA in the group phase, and then again to Sweden the semis and USA in the bronze medal match.
The men were eliminated in the group stage after losing to Egypt in the final match after only needing a draw to progress. The Olyroos beat Argentina in the first group match, narrowly lost to Spain in the second match, so not to progress was disappointing.
Overall, football has no place in the Olympics anymore. The World Cup has by far surpassed it as the sport’s main event, and with the men’s competition an age-restricted one and the women’s with such few teams, it’s a redundant event and only ever gains any interest if your country is playing for a medal. Football continues to be in the Games because it earns so much revenue by being hosted in various cities and in large stadiums around the host country.
Sailing: 2, 0, 0
Two gold medals (in men’s laser and men’s 470) are optimal for a team that’s delivered plenty of success in recent Olympics. Perhaps an extra medal or two for a better grade.
Tennis: 0, 0, 1
Much was expected from Ashleigh Barty in women’s singles yet she was dumped in the early rounds. Another choke when representing Australia, just like when losing the deciding Fed Cup match to Kristina Mladenovic of France at home, in Perth, in 2019. Stealing a bronze in mixed doubles after Novak Djokovic and Serbia withdrew from the bronze medal match was some salvation in an otherwise dismal showing for Australia. Tennis, like football, baseball/softball, and especially golf, should not be in the Olympics. Their pinnacles in achievement are elsewhere and no one really cares about them.
New Events: 2, 0, 1
Snagging gold in men’s BMX Freestlye and Stakeboarding Park was a nice bonus. A bronze in men’s surfing probably below expectations. Sport Climbing was exciting and a great addition, as was surfing. The surfers really embraced it, were so passionate, and the competition was good. Carissa Moore, who represents Hawaii on the professional tour, was full of tears and joy when winning for the USA. Can’t see the point of 3×3 basketball except it allowed Latvia, in the men’s event, to win their only gold medal. USA won the women’s.
Overall: 17 gold, 7 silver, 22 bronze
A total wipeout in triathlon was disappointing while silver in women’s beach volleyball was nice. The most compelling statistic of the medal haul is the strike rate. With 17 gold from 46 medals, it shows Australia won many close events. In contrast, Sydney 2000’s strike rate was 16 from 58 medals, including 25 silver. Athens 2004 was 17 from 50 and Melbourne 1956 was 13 from 35 (including 8 silver).
More illustrative is some of the other host nations. Japan won 27 from 58 medals in Tokyo. So the same total as Australia in Sydney, just with a far superior strike rate. In Sydney Japan won just 5 gold, and 3 each at Atlanta 1996 and Barcelona 1992, so they also showed a remarkable improvement. Spain was just as remarkable with 13 gold from 22 medals in Barcelona (7 silver) after only single gold medals at the previous 3 Olympics. China went 48 from 100 in Beijing and Great Britain 29 from 65 in London. So all are around a 50% strike rate, which confirms Australia’s poor display in Sydney and their excellent achievement in Tokyo where they performed similar to that of a host nation.
Undoubtedly, Ariarne Titmus beating Katie Ledecky in the 400 freestyle. It was the event they were mostly evenly matched in, it was the race most hyped, and had the most exciting conclusion when Titmus overhauled Ledecky on the last lap. It also set the tone for the rest of the swimming team. Jessica Fox winning gold in the C1 Canoe Slalom was obviously up there for so many reasons (mostly emotional), and the bronze in men’s basketball is also there for similar reasons.
The most special gold medal should be one awarded to Japan itself. They defied mounting pressure to cancel the Games, and delivered an Olympics that ran smoothly and, in terms of pure sporting excellence and excitement, was as good as any. Arigato to this wonderful country and their beautiful people. They can be proud.
After landing the trifecta and a small bet on the winner, Vow And Declare, last year, let’s twice make it two in a row. As usual, I’ll run my process of elimination by looking at class, form, ability to run the distance, previous Melbourne Cup runs, the poor guide of the Caulfield Cup in recent years, international horses on their first run, mares (female horses) and weight. Top weights and mares rarely do well unless they are superstars and Vow And Declare is the only spark for Caulfield Cup placings (2nd last year) in recent times.
The past three years has seen European 3 year olds perform well, finishing third last year and winning the previous two. Due to the separate breeding season in the northern hemisphere, these horses are closer to 4 year olds on Australian time, so immaturity is much less of a factor while they are still nicely weighted. In contrast, a northern 4 year old is more seasoned and has plenty of exposed form, so ends up quite high in the weights. Weight, more specifically weight difference (weights are reduced in handicaps to even the field), makes a huge difference.
With the temperature forecast for 30 degrees, that might present a problem for some of the Europeans. Not only are they out of season, the track will likely be firm.
01 Anthony Van Dyck (IRE) 58.5kg $9
The class horse of the field and second in the Caulfield Cup. Never been over the distance and the weather would be a worry. Probably one to risk.
02 Avilius (GB) 57kg $51
Not in form.
03 Vow And Declare (AUS) 57kg $51
Last year’s winner hasn’t looked like winning since.
04 Master Of Reality (IRE) 56kg $20
Second over the line last year before relegated to fourth after a protest. Hasn’t done much since so go on last year.
05 Sir Dragonet (IRE) 55.5kg $11
Cox Plate winner probably a distance doubt and prefers a wet track.
06 Twilight Payment (IRE) 55.5kg $21
Flopped last year.
07 Verry Elleegant (NZ) 55.5kg $11
Caulfield Cup winner will need to be a superstar to win. Not sure she is. Also a doubt at the distance and prefers it wet.
08 Mustajeer (GB) 55kg $71
Flopped last year.
09 Stratum Albion (GB) 55kg $51
A bit of a plodder. Melbourne Cup winners need a sprint.
10 Dashing Willoughby (GB) 54.5kg $81
Flopped in the Caulfield Cup
11 Finche (GB) 54.5kg $19
Third try at it and always runs on without threatening. Likely a repeat.
12 Prince of Arran (GB) 54.5kg $10
Second last year (after a protest) and third the year before. Ran OK in the Caulfield Cup, which proves he’s at least settled in. The omen bet of the year as he starts from barrier 1 and has a female jockey (Jamie Kah). Just like Prince of Penzance in 2015 with Michelle Payne.
13 Suprise Baby (NZ) 54.5kg $8.50
Need to go on his good run last year when finishing a close 5th. In his few runs since, hasn’t done too much since so go on trust.
14 King of Leogrance (FR) 53.5kg $51
Not good enough.
15 Russian Camelot (IRE) 53.5kg $12
Best of the locally trained horses. Second in a Cox Plate after a hard run, and is a classy horse. Has champion jockey Damien Oliver on board.
16 Steel Prince (IRE) 53.5kg $41
Doesn’t seem quite up to standard and only 9th last year.
17 The Chosen One (NZ) 53.5kg $41
Third in the Caulfield Cup and a flop in last year’s Melbourne Cup. That sort of says two things: he’s average and so was this year’s Caulfield Cup.
18 Ashrun (FR) 53kg $23
I’ll have something on it just for the name. They wanted him to qualify by winning the Geelong Cup (4th) the Wednesday before last so had to win the Hotham Handicap on Saturday to get in. Has good form in Europe and down in the weights. The same trainer won in 2014 with Protectionist so he knows how to get a horse here. It’s whether running three times in such a short period will harm him – something unusual for European horses.
19 Warning (AUS) 53kg $51
Victoria Derby winner last year, and the only two horses to win that then the Melbourne Cup the following year were Efficient in 2007 and Phar Lap in 1930. Ran OK in the Caulfield Cup and was a close up in the Turnbull Stakes. The best of the long shots.
20 Etah James (NZ) 52.5kg $81
21 Tiger Moth (IRE) 52.5kg $7.50
Only his fifth start hence the very low weight for a horse that fits the classic profile of those northern hemisphere 3 year olds. His European form is good (in small fields) so will need to go on that and ignore any concerns with inexperience. With no crowds due to the mishandling of COVID-19 in Victoria, it’s only the big field of 24 horses that could frazzle him.
22 Oceanex (NZ) 51.5kg $71
Form not good enough.
23 Miami Bound (NZ) 51kg $35
24 Persan (AUS) 51kg $34
Progressive horse in super form in lower grades. If he can step up, who knows! When I was kid, all I ever did when selecting horses was look at their form, and Persan’s last six runs are 112121.
I’m launching for Prince of Arran due to his excellent previous runs and the omen factor with Prince of Penzance in 2015. Tiger Moth is clearly the horse to fear. They’ll be my main two best. I’ll also have a nibble on Ashrun and Persan at longer odds.
For the trifecta I’ll add Russian Camelot as the third horse. For my big trifecta, I include three horses first or second and a bunch in third. That’s how I landed it last year. My other trifecta is a simple 5-horse box (any 5 in any order in the first three) and will add Surprise Baby and Anthony Van Dyck in that mix.
Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!
In an exciting race, Twilight Payment superbly led all the way to win from a fast closing Tiger Moth and Prince of Arran. Despite the winning dividend of $23 (so he was hardly an outsider), it was a win that no one predicted. Across the news and the horse racing channels, the only mention was that he was in better form than last year. Even then, his lack of a sprint wiped him as a chance, as the feeling was other horses would run past him like last year. The difference in 2020 was that he set a solid tempo, which took the sprint out of many horses and it was only the final stages as he tired that horses began to close.
Tiger Moth in second was sensational. He was second past the post the first time, was forced to do the chasing when Twilight Payment and then Finche put the pressure on, and then closed late, falling by about a half a length. Arguably Prince of Arran should have won to improve on his previous results of third and second. Jockey Jamie Kah was too impatient heading into the straight, weaving about trying to find a path through. Had she stuck behind The Chosen One (who finished fourth), she could have peeled off in plenty of time and likely caught the winner. By the time she got out for a run, it was too late. Kah said the horse was “super unlucky”. That’s an understatement. Clearly it’s a race that got away.
In fifth was Persan, who was behind Prince of Arran leading into the straight, and got through on the inside, to emphasise the chance missed by Prince of Arran. Many jockeys said their horses got too far back. In truth, in a solidly run race just 1 second off the race record, they weren’t quite good enough. Only Russian Camelot you could say failed to run the trip after looming as the winner. Of the favourites, Surprise Baby (13th) was the main failure. I always felt this horse was a bit of a hype machine. It had been specifically set for the race this year and the few runs it had in the past year were moderate. It’s like everyone believed the trainer was a secret magician. Sadly, Anthony Van Dyck had to be put down after a fracturing a leg upon entering the straight.
Even though I picked second and third, it was a wipeout for me as I don’t do place bets unless the horse is at big odds. It might also be time not to be so rigid to rules. Other than last year’s big success landing the trifecta, I have to go back to 2011 and 2010 to have picked the winner. Not since Brew in 2000 has a horse returned from a poor Cup result to win the following year. There’s often exceptions to rules, and in the case of Brew and Twilight Payment it was form. As a kid, that was the only thing I’d ever look at, and Twilight Payment’s last four runs were 2113. While I had him in my wide trifecta for third, he was definitely worth a nibble for the win. Always easy in hindsight.
1st Twilight Payment – Win $23, Place $6.50 2nd Tiger Moth – Place $2.40 3rd Prince of Arran – $3.30 4th The Chosen One
Quinella: $97.20 Exacta: $211.60 Trifecta: $1806.90 First Four: $38939.50
01 Twilight Payment 02 Tiger Moth 03 Prince Of Arran 04 The Chosen One 05 Persan 06 Sir Dragonet 07 Verry Elleegant 08 Russian Camelot 09 Finche 10 Ashrun 11 Oceanex 12 Warning 13 Surprise Baby 14 Miami Bound 15 Master Of Reality 16 Steel Prince 17 Etah James 18 Vow And Declare 19 Mustajeer 20 Stratum Albion 21 Dashing Willoughby 22 Avilius DNF Anthony Van Dyck SCR King of Leogrance
Playing in England in England was a match Australian football fans dreamed about for eons. Finally, for the first time ever, it occurred, just over 17 years ago – on the 12th of February 2003 at Upton Park in London. Tonight, at 1930 AET, the match will be premiered live online. Here is the preview and match report posted on the Socceroo Realm at the time.
An email exchange between a reader, Sean Gordon, and the Socceroo Realm about the proposed England/Australia game
If and when we do play the Poms, how do you think we’d go?
Depends on how seriously England take it. Hopefully it’s serious, unlike their last friendly against Portugal when seven substitutions were made at half time. Because it’s a friendly, it’s up to the two countries to dictate the terms of the match. Already Farina has said he wants it to be serious, meaning only 3 subs like you’d get with official games. I’d say they’ll compromise with 5 subs, but in the end, Australia and Farina will probably take the match however England dictates.
So, to answer, if it’s non-serious, it’s anybody’s. If serious, England are obvious favourites. I’d think England would do everything in their power not to lose to Australia, and Australia will find it very difficult to score. In that case, don’t be surprised at a 0-0 draw.
In my opinion, we can match it with anyone on our day, we’ve beaten France and Brazil and Uruguay in the past, so we can match it with England I’m sure. Also been reading that Okon will probably not play due to his lack of time at Leeds. I reckon we need to play a few young kids, like Bresciano and Neill and Grella, so come 2005 when we embark on qualifying, hopefully we will have more potent midfielders.
I’ve already said on the website that Okon’s time is up. Facts are, he disappointed against Uruguay, and other players in his position have surpassed him. It’s not realistic to pick him at this stage. Provided Farina sticks with his usual formation (it could time for a change back to a sweeper system), I’d try Grella in his spot against England, whilst also trying to incorporate Bresciano in midfield. Those two, along with Emerton, Skoko, Tiatto and Kewell, should form the basis of the midfield. I can’t see a way for Okon to come back.
Also read that Lazaridis may not play, at least in the starting 11, cos people want Kewell on the left. Kewell is brilliant on the left, but Lazaridis is also valuable. He’s great with corners.
Lazaridis is unfortunately getting on and beginning to taper and will have trouble getting a spot ahead of previously mentioned players, and Neill at wingback. He’s in a purple patch at present and yes, cornering is vital, but you need more from players than just that, and he just can’t be placed ahead of Kewell at wide-left.
With the Kewell/left-midfield debate that preceded the Uruguay games, people basically forgot the implication on Lazaridis. Farina played Kewell up front so Lazar could play. He wanted his best players on the pitch period, rather than the best players in the best positions scenario that could dilute the overall quality of player on the pitch. That’s a quandary he still has today. So to say Kewell must play left, also says that Lazar does not play. There’s no where to put him. It’s a tough decision. As they say, a champion team beats a team of champions. The team of champions failed against Uruguay.
If Kewell and Viduka don’t play in this one, I will be livid. The match is scheduled for a international break, so there is no excuses. I was furious when Kewell didn’t come down for the Olympics, and his general lack of game time for Oz has really annoyed me. He’s a great player, and from what I’ve seen a pretty decent bloke, but he’s got to play more. There have been times in the past where I have doubted Kewell’s true commitment and desire to play for Australia. What do you think?
Kewell was injured before the Olympics – he would have appeared otherwise. I get your point at his reluctance to play. I once felt he was being selfish and should play more for Australia, and now think that the travelling to Australia for insignificant matches (friendlies and qualifiers against island nations) is not only a burden, it’s not worth the risk at losing your spot at your club. In fact, few overseas player are now called up for home matches during the club season for, not only Australia, for most other non-European countries.
Kewell would be first to admit that at the start of his club career he did forsake the team to cement his club position. That’s fair enough because that’s his entire career. Other players have done the same, including Okon and Bosnich, who both famously “retired” from international football just prior to the Canadian games in the 1993 World Cup qualifiers. In Europe, there’s only been Hungary, Scotland and the Confederations Cup that Australia has played in during the past few years. Kewell played against Hungary, was injured for Scotland and too tired for the CC. Viduka was the same. In fact, quite a few players missed the CC, on the back of a tough club season, last year.
Viduka’s attitude has always been inspirational to me, I can tell he wants to play. But his form for Australia has been a worry to me, particularly in the Uruguay/ France matches. But its on England soil, against many players he actually scores against for Leeds, so i’m thinking things will change.
Viduka’s always had the luxury of being established at club level (he played in the lowly Croatian league originally, and then Scotland) so could come back. Plus, he’s a tougher character and prepared to stand up to his clubs for what is actually his right to play for his country. Kewell’s profile is now high enough that he can now do the same. A good sign is that after the Uruguay debacle, I think all the players now feel that they need to play more, and Kewell has been vocal in this respect. Because, with almost certain direct qualification to the World Cup via Oceania, Australia won’t need to play any matches until 2005, the players will commit to playing the qualifiers against even the minor island nations. Really, they have to, because Farina has stated he won’t pick players for the World Cup that have bypassed the qualifying rounds.
Club versus country is an increasing problem and I now have all sympathy for the players and the clubs. They pay their wages and invest in their future, so should not be so inconvenienced with players trapesing off around the world during the season. The root of the problem is due to Fifa’s crazy calendar of mid-week international matches upsetting the club season. As I discussed in the recent Big Problems, Simple Solutions editorial, the only solution is to segregate the club and internationals seasons so there can be no clash.
You’re right, Viduka is an inspiration. He’s probably my favourite player. Not only because of his skill, also his attitude both on and off the pitch. While there’s talk that Kewell could be the next captain, I’d like it to go to Dukes. He’s already captained the Young Socceroos and the Olyroos, and seemed to do it well. Most of all, the players respect him.
Yes, his form for Australia is statistically poor. He’s only scored twice in about 15 games (against Tunisia in a friendly just prior to the 1997 World Cup qualifiers and then against Mexico in the 1997 Confederations Cup). However, it must be remembered that most of his appearances have been against countries superior to Australia or the tougher World Cup qualifiers. At youth and Olympic level, he scored freely. He’s also been used as more of a holding striker than an out and out scorer in many appearances. Plus, he’s been a tad unlucky. Still don’t know how he missed that close range header off Okon’s throw-in against Uruguay in Montevideo that would have put Australia at 1-1 and in the box seat to qualify.
Well, that’s it. I’m happy, but I just don’t want to be pissed off in a couple of months time because SA announce they have had to scrap the match due to financial reasons. And I reckon we can beat England.
Don’t worry, the match against England will go ahead. Financial problems will certainly not bring it undone. It’s all been signed-up. It’s only 3 months away, so just look forward to it and hope England take it as seriously as Australia desires.
31 January 2003: Australia’s team to face England
Coach Frank Farina released a predictable squad for the glamour friendly against England next month. The only player missing from Australia’s last match will a full strength team, the ill-fated World Cup qualifying against Uruguay over a year ago, is defender Shaun Murphy. Some media supports mentioned he was blamed for conceding the first goal in Montevideo, and by inference, that was a possible reason for his omission. Truth is, while he could have been cynical and shoved Dario Silva over, the cause of the goal was tactical and he should never have been left one on one. More likely, he’s simply been squeezed out. Blackburn Rovers’ Lucas Neill has been in outstanding form this season and simply had to be picked in the 18 man squad. Striker Paul Agostino can count himself unlucky for similar reasons. Danny Tiatto, out through injury, is the only other notable frequent first choice to be missing.
In to the team comes outstanding Italian based midfielders Vince Grella, who’s the only uncapped player, and Marco Bresciano. At least one should get a run during the game, even if there seems no obvious room in the incumbent midfield of Okon, Skoko, Emerton and Lazaridis. While Harry Kewell has been picked as one of only three strikers, he’s more of a midfielder/forward, same with French-based Mile Sterjovski. Viduka and Aloisi are the only two out and out strikers selected so it seems likely that Kewell’ll play off-striker with Mark Viduka as the out and out.
Really, considering that this will be the team’s first match in almost 14 months, and there’ll be only two days’ preparation, Farina’s playing safe with the team. There’s no doubt that he’s out to win the match, which given the fact that World Cup qualifiers are at least 18 months away, is how it should be.
The more pertinent issue now is of how England will treat the match. The English FA has hit back at reports suggesting their coach Sven-Goran Eriksson will treat this game in accordance with recent history – making up to nine substitutions at half time, which is a farcical attitude to a game that Australia’s treating as serious. Given that Australia’s restricted itself to 18 players, that would suggest England would have to do the same meaning huge substitutions would therefore be impossible. That should be in accordance with the contracts signed governing the conditions of the friendly. Despite such contracts, Farina was still unsure of England’s intentions regarding the match at his press conference. If he had to guess, he felt that Eriksson would more likely go down the mass-substitution road rather than treat it as a serious match. That’s not good, and suggests England’s obligations, at least player number-wise and substitution limits, might be unrestricted. For the integrity of the match, hopefully that’s not the case.
Goalkeepers: Mark Schwarzer, Zeljko Kalac. Defenders: Stan Lazaridis, Craig Moore, Kevin Muscat, Lucas Neill, Tony Popovic, Tony Vidmar. Midfielders: Marco Bresciano, Scott Chipperfield, Brett Emerton, Vince Grella, Paul Okon, Josip Skoko, Mile Sterjovski. Strikers: John Aloisi, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka.
11 February 2003: England Friendly to become an Angry.
It’s amazing what some clout can do. A few years ago, Harry Kewell may have relented and heeded his club’s wishes to not join the Australian team after missing two club games, including last weekend, through a hamstring strain. Despite it being club policy of Leeds that any player that misses a club match on the weekend prior must miss any mid-week international game, Kewell simply hopped in his car and drove to London. As he correctly stated at the press conference, he has no choice, under FIFA regulations, anyway. Whilst the hamstring strain is a concern, latest reports suggest he will be ok for the game.
Kewell’s attitude has been indicative of that of all of the Australians – fired up and ready to go. That’s in contrast to England’s approach, whereby its coach, Sven Goran-Eriksson, has suggested he might make 11 substitutions at half time. That seems farcical for a supposed serious international match, and he’s done it before, most recently against Portugal. For this game, Eriksson has picked a squad of 27 players, compared to Australia’s 18, so it seems huge changes are on the cards, and rendering the match as nothing more than a training session for England as it prepares for Euro 2004 qualifying matches.
That’s disappointing, though, understandable given the heavy workload of players during the club season. In order to appease the Premier League clubs that have applied enormous pressure on him not to even bother selecting them, Eriksson’s compromised by selecting a large squad to spread the workload. Such pressure from clubs is becoming just as significant a problem as travel has traditionally been for countries like Australia. While Australia’s looking to set up a home base in London to circumvent the travel problems, that won’t ease the problem of clubs not wanting to release their players for international matches in the midst of a hectic schedule.
Now this has all been said before in these pages, notably in the “Big Problems, Simple Solutions” editorial, the only solution is to create a designated international season by compressing the club season. Do this by removing the crazy designated mid-week and weekend international dates and simply play club games at these times instead. All tournaments, qualifiers and friendlies would be played during this international season. There’d be no club versus country problems because the club season would be over. It would also provide continuity to both club and international games. I personally hate the way international matches are buried during the club season, almost rendering them as nuisances to the club games. I also hate that the club season is disrupted with frivolous international matches. Other sports, like the rugby codes in this country, have designated seasons for club, state of origin and international matches, and it really is time football did the common sense thing and followed suit.
Anyway, whatever the circumstances of this match, England versus Australia will be big, especially this being the first instance ever of the teams meeting in England. Australia, for their part, will disregard the “friendly” status of the match, and approach it with full force. England, for their part, seem likely to at least start the match at full strength, and duly reciprocate. Australia really have nothing to lose regardless anyway. They’re at long odds (around 8/1) with both Australian and English betting agencies, and most English people would think their youth team would whip Australia’s butt. So it’s a time for respect, and maybe even time to go for a double win. If Eriksson does replace his team at half time, look at it like this: why beat one team, when you can beat two?
13 February 2003: The Ultimate Humiliation?
With chants of “just like the cricket” and “we want four” emanating from the Australian fans at Upton Park this morning, England’s nightmare of a horror loss in the sport they felt Australia could never beat them at, soon became reality. A more hungry and dedicated Australian team rightfully punished England for their haphazard approach to this controversial international friendly. As intimated before the match, England’s coach, Sven Goran-Eriksson did change his entire team at half to a predominantly under-26 B team, but by that stage, Australia had already established a lead of 2-0 over Eriksson’s “A” team. For Australia, they had the hindrance of absolute inactivity for almost 15 months and only one proper day of preparation to combat anyway. Regardless of circumstances of the match, England 1 – Australia 3, is a staggering result which ever way you look at it.
Australia started with four positional changes from the Uruguay series. Murphy was replaced by Popovic, Neill came in for Muscat, Lazaridis moved to left-back whilst Chipperfield played left-midfield. A very attacking line-up, which, with Lazaridis not noted for his defensive skills, would be a sound test for Australia’s overall defensive stability. While Australia were occasionally caught out with Lazaridis’ raids up-field, thankfully, England never made the most of their breaks. The most pleasing aspect of the game was that two goals came from quick mid-field breaks. That’s the hallmark of all crack international teams, and is something Australia’s traditionally been unable to manage. What a time to start perfecting it.
Harry Kewell and his much-talked about hamstring injury, did start the game. He had his usual free role up front, and spent it mostly on the right flank, seemingly to terrorise his former Leeds teammate, Rio Ferdinand. Farina’s tactics worked, as Kewell was clearly the most dangerous player on the pitch, and created many chances with his speed and skill. On the right, cutting inside gave Kewell an extra dimension by opening up his dangerous left-footed shots. You don’t get that on the left, meaning he’s more likely to stick to the line and is easier to cover. In support, Lazaridis’s and Chipperfield’s speed proved lethal. Laza just kept on running all match. At the other end, the defence held up superbly and were impenetrable through the air, with Popovic particularly excelling. Schwarzer never had to make a save. For England, Beckham proved dangerous at times with several lobs and free kicks landing dangerously in the penalty box, whilst Scholes’ passing was a constant menace. Their defence never looked settled, with Neville often out-paced by Lazaridis and Campbell out of synch with his opponents’ runs. Ferdinand simply failed to control Kewell, completing a defensive shambles. Owen’s badly out of form, while new-boy Beattie received no worthwile service.
However, England settled quicker, as a clearly nervous Australian team under-hit many passes. Beckham soon lobbed in one of his dangerous free kicks, while at the other end, Kewell created a huge chance when he skipped past England’s defence and crossed dangerously towards Chipperfield. England’s Neville just managed to keep ahead of Chippers and head the ball away.
The first shot on either goal came from an Australian error, when Emerton lost control near the by-line and conceded a corner. Sol Campbell’s header, however, was blocked by Neill in a crowded box. Immediately after that, Kewell broke forward, cut inside on his left boot, and launched a 30-metre shot that was well saved by James.
If Australia weren’t settled yet, the 16th minute goal would do that. After Emerton was fouled, Lazaridis sent in an in-swinging free kick from the right flank, reminiscent of the winning kick against Brazil at the 2001 Confederations Cup, and Popovic rose above Neville at the back post to head the goal in. A simple, well-executed goal, and one that England’s lack of respect for Australia helped conjure. A bit of homework should have seen a taller defender marking Popa. Anyway, England’s response was frantic. With just half an hour left for their “best” team to gain a half-time win, they wasted no time playing the ball.
First response came with a break from Dyer, who’d received a lovely long cross-field pass by Beckham, which caught Australia’s full-backs out after an attack. The ensuing low cross was finally poked into the net by Scholes after a minor goal-mouth scrimmage, and was rightfully disallowed for a clear shove by Beattie on Popovic when he attempted to originally clear it, and not for offside, as many commentators have suggested. Schwarzer then made a mistake in trying to get pass Owen after receiving a back-pass. Owen stole the ball off him, and saved the goalie’s blushes by sending his shot into the side netting from the very acute angle.
Owen had two other great chances, but his poor form for Liverpool transferred to his country. While Moore’s pressure on Owen may have affected his shot that went just wide from a headed knock-down, towards the end of the half, his total mishit after a nice run through a channel and receiving a lovely lob-pass from Scholes was simply dreadful.
In between those two instances, Australia still looked dangerous and managed to double their lead. After a Kewell-inspired move, Chipperfield dinked nicely over the English defence towards Viduka. He managed to get a good looped header on it, but the shot was just tipped over the bar by James. Then, in the best move of the match, Kewell, Viduka and Emerton and tore up the right wing with a series of one-touch passes, which resulted in Neville’s out-stretched leg deny Chipperfield from scoring off Emerton’s low cross. The resulting corner saw another great chance when Kewell gained a free header after leading to the near-post. Unfortunately for the green and gold, he failed to direct it accurately enough. Then on 42 minutes, Lampard was stripped of possession in midfield near the right side-line by Neill, whom played a beautiful and, more importantly, swift pass down the wing for Kewell to run onto. He won the race and barging contest with Ferdinand, whom then fell over, leaving Kewell clear on goal. Rounding the goalie, he stroked the ball into the open net. Eriksson looked decidedly sick – his face telling a thousand words – and the English fans booed like hell.
The commentators felt that England may have been hard done by with the goal. They felt Ferdinand may have been tripped, and deserved a free kick. In reality, it was a 50/50 go at the ball, and any clipping of his heel could almost have been self-induced. Replays showed nothing untoward. And there were no complaints about the goal from England’s players anyway.
At 2-0 up, whatever team Erikson put on the pitch in the second half, you just knew Australia would be in for a torrid time. He stuck with his pre-match “Young Lions” policy, and as you’d expect with a fresh team, they started the second half very lively. For Australia, Bresciano replaced for Skoko. The the team looked to contain the early onslaught. Kewell, with his Leeds coach Terry Venables watching on in the stands, was substituted after 10 minutes too – for Aloisi. But not before he had another great chance on goal – this time, a glancing header off a free kick that went narrowly wide. It was England’s youngster’s that then did the real damage, when they scored with a lovely break out of midfield, and firmly put the pressure back on Australia in the process. The much-hyped Rooney played a nice lob out wide to Jenas, whose whippy cross was greeted crisply by Jeffers. The crowd sensed an English revival, but Australia consolidated in defence, slowly took over possession, and leaving England chasing shadows for significant periods of the game.
Australia made more changes to restore some freshness to their team, with Vidmar and Grella, who was making his debut, coming on for Popovic and Chipperfield respectively. Bresciano moved out left to cover Chipperfield, whilst Grella moved into Bresciano’s position. This provided the team with some more spark – lost when Kewell was subbed – as their breaks became notably more dangerous. With England still attacking, though, another goal was required to quell Australian fans’ nerves. It came perfectly timed in the 82nd minute when Emerton played Aloisi through with a quick ball from midfield. Unable to shake off his marker, Aloisi played the ball back to Emerton, who was charging through a vacant middle chanel, to slot the ball between Robinson’s legs. Eriksson slumped yet again with that sick look on his face again.
While the resounding result sent shockwaves throughout the world (well, at least Australia and England), it really is a pity the match could not have been played out in accordance with a normal football match. It seems Fifa’s decision to incorporate their fairplay ethos into the very name of this form of international match, seems to have been taken way too literally. Had Australia not taken this match as seriously as it did, one cannot imagine just how farcical it could have become. And really, for England’s approach to the game, it would have been a grave injustice had they not lost.
As with most of these “big problems”, there are “simple solutions”. Fifa must put a cap on the number of substitutions for such matches and remove the word “friendly” altogether. Or simply don’t class them as “A” internationals. In fact, instead of Friendlies, call them A-Internationals. Five substitutions seems a good compromise (normally it’s three), but only allow three per transpiration of a half so there’s no time wasting. For other matches, like the likes of this morning’s match and nation versus club matches, call them B-Internationals. Whatever, there must be a better description than a Friendly.
Is this match the first real new dawn for football in this country? Considering the extra sponsorships already generated for the national body, plus new found respect for the team and for Oceania, it really does seem likely. The trick will be to convert this success into more matches. There’s been so much talk that Oceania’s World Cup spot will generate more of these matches, but it’s more likely that results like this will count more.
As for England, “this is the ultimate humiliation” was the sombre summation from England’s Sky Sports reporter after the match. No doubt the English newspapers will go even further and make that comment look like a St Valentines Day love greeting. While being the ultimate maybe stretching it, it is a significant impact on England’s sporting psyche, and especially the rivalry against Australia. And truthfully, whilst England’s cricket team is a mess, football’s the only sport to be serious about now. Hopefully this result will see the establishment of a legitimate sporting rivalry that will transcend that of even cricket’s Ashes.
It’s been a great start, however, and amazing that it only took one match for Australia to so easily dent England’s last bastion of supremacy over their former colony. I say dent in that while Australia’s win was outstanding and deserving of wide-spread praise, it was only a friendly after all. It really needs to be done in something more serious, something worthwhile – something like the World Cup – before that bastion comes tumbling down. Until then, look for a possible match-up in the World Youth Cup in March. England’s qualified for that.
Australia 3 (Popovic 16′, Kewell 42′, Emerton 83′) – England 1 (Jeffers 67′)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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 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
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.
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!
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
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!
23 Cross Counter $10
9 Marmelo $12
17 Prince Of Arran $23
13 Finche $13
24 Rostropovich $18
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. 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
That was Russia 2018 – The 21st World Championship of Football
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 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.