Aloisi debacle, fans brawl in streets – that wasn’t the A-League’s real howler

30 December 2013

Fans from Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers brawl and cause vandalism in the streets; WSW fans then light flares and set off fire-crackers at the ground and punches are thrown? Yes, we saw all that. John Aloisi finally sacked from the basket case that is Melbourne Heart after another embarrassing loss. Yes, we all saw that. While they were two very significant events the past few days, the most damaging one went ignored: thousands of people turned away at the MV/WSW game through lack of tickets despite the stadium only two-thirds to capacity. If I wasn’t there, I could not have believed it myself. Since I was there, and was one of them, it’s not only believable, it was a disgrace.

Can’t get a ticket despite thousands of vacant seats

First thing, for some bizarre reason, all seats were made reserved despite this being a non-derby game. Gone were the $25 General Admission seats normally for the ends. They were now C-reserved at $35, with B (upper levels of side stands) at $45 and A (lower side stands) at a whopping $55. This created queues as people had to look at seating charts to pick out seats, and then it created the impossible situation for any group of people (even small groups of 3 or 4) to not get tickets together at the “cheapest” price. Remember, this is domestic A-League, not an international test match of Ashes cricket that cost many of the very same sports-goers just $5 more for 5 more hours of sport earlier in the day. The A-League consistently has been a rip-off, not just in Melbourne either. Brisbane and Newcastle have had infamous reporting in the past. Of the several frustrated groups I had in front of me trying to buy tickets, all of them gave up. This happened both times I queued. Why did I queue twice?

Problem two, my friends are MV members, so I figured I’d just cough up $45 and buy the seat next to them. They said it’s never been used all season, nor the previous season, and still wasn’t for this game. In fact, they were swimming in spare seats. Could the system sell me this seat? No. Apparently it was “sold”. I thought it was incompetence from the junior seller, so that’s why I tried at another window. I also wanted more proof of the debacle I was witnessing with the ticket selling of fans turned away. While I could have got a ticket to sit alone, I went more for the experience to hang with friends. For $45, I damn well should have had that option too.

Content with walking away on the principle of not rewarding this shemozzle, I strode to the city and took train home, expecting to see almost a full house of 30,000+, or at least 27,000+. The actual crowd? A lousy 22,000 – only a few thousand more than a regular period fixture. While it’s true MV probably raked in similar revenue with the reserved seating policy compared to maybe the 25,000 with GA and cheaper prices, they burnt many people in the process. These numbers, most of whom would be opportunistic fans in Melbourne on holidays or even crossing from the cricket, will be lost forever. We’ll never know the real number, because you can never count a negative, and the next time it happens, it will most likely be to a new batch of disappointed people. All that it means, at least to this occasional A-League attendee: If you spontaneously feel inclined to amble to the Bubble Stadium to watch a humble football match during Christmas time, don’t bother trying.

Debacle at Melbourne Heart

It wasn’t a great few days for the A-League, and especially not a great few weeks for Melbourne’s second club. John Aloisi, winless all season and for the final weeks of last season, was finally sacked by the Melbourne Sympathy. Even this obvious and delayed decision was greeted with sympathy for the coach by many fans and journalists. While there is a divide that wanted him long gone, the sympathetic side, the “this is not how we do things at Melbourne Heart”, were disappointed. If that’s not bad enough, John van’t Schip is the interim replacement. Remember him? The former coach that quit after being home-sick, ended up taking a job in Mexico, was sacked six months later, and is straight back at MH as technical director. Again, more sympathy? Hence the “Melbourne Sympathy” tag. These decisions, not to mention the hiring of the under-credentialled Aloisi in the first place, is endemic of club so absorbed with sympathy that it’s become a total basket case. Since inception, not one decision has been correct. Why has it materialised this way? All because of the dopey nickname.

No doubt many will be confused that a nickname matters so much. It does, and there’s two posts previously on this page covering it. A nickname is supposed to resonate strength, a purpose or a philosophy. The psychology of it bleeds throughout the club, the fans, the marketing and, ultimately, the key football decisions and results. You see it with glib “Heart Believe” slogans on the players race. You see it with weak decisions about the club’s ethos. Forget about winning, let’s play with heart. Let’s treat people nicely. Let’s give the benefit of the doubt. Let’s show sympathy for former stars. Let’s pretend all we need is a fake image to conjure emotion to force success, rather than physically forge it through tangible effects like good coaches, strong recruiting and an astute board. Let’s simply believe it will happen. Because if we believe it, it will, right?

The fact Aloisi put beating Wellington this round as the standard to keep his job defies belief. Wellington are last, and are playing away from home. The standard should be to beat the top 3 or 4 teams. That Wellington did win, only did MH a favour. No more “let’s do it for JA” nonsense from the players. No more “we’re creating the chances, we’re just not scoring” drivel from the coach. No more excuses. It’s results that count, and this club has been woeful every year. Even the second year in which they made the finals, it was a quick and embarrassing exit. Well, it probably wasn’t embarrassing to them, and that’s the problem. Van’t Schip said he’ll continue with the MH “philosophy”. I guess he means losing.

Much of MH’s troubles had the FFA as accomplices to the negligence. Initially, this dopey nickname was banned and a new name was being sought from either Sporting Melbourne FC, Melbournians FC or Melbourne Revolution. The FFA changed their mind and despite MH being long-used as the working name for the club, Sporting Melbourne FC ran a close second in a Herald Sun poll in Melbourne. It also had many commentators in raptures, notably on Fox Sports. All this key evidence was ignored.

Apparently MH are in the process of gaining new owners. If the new owners don’t re-brand and re-launch, they are wasting their time. There needs to be a clean break from this sordid history. It can be done. While they’ve missed the boat for those unconvinced MV fans that have now long settled back at MV after examining MH and deciding it was rubbish, Western Sydney Wanderers show that it can be done. With the second Melbourne club not having geography to rely upon, getting the branding as the “point of difference (POD)” is even more critical.

No one knows MH’s POD. Apparently it is playing attractive football via a youth policy. Someone invite me to the 21st birthdays of Vince Grella and Harry Kewell then. In sport, you can’t slant a team in that direction just for a POD. Ultimately, it’s success that counts, and their simply isn’t the pool of players on the market to give that slant and ensure the best chance of winning. In actuality, MH’s POD boiled down to the colour red, a dopey, meaningless and irrelevant nickname, and a logo that looks like a tooth. When you’re up against the successful Melbourne Victory – you know, the club that brandishes victory as its motto and has captured the essence of the state with the blue and whites colours and big V on its shirt – you’re a dead duck. If you’re one of the two clubs chanting “Melbourne” at derbies and not being distinguishable as a separate entity, you not only project you are second rate, you confirm you are second rate, and very much the second club in Melbourne. That’s a path to eternal oblivion.

These are the changes that must be made:

1) Renamed as Sporting Melbourne FC. This defines you as a traditional club, no gimmicks. You chant “Sporting” at derbies to provide identity.
2) The away-strip of white with red sash becomes the home strip. Again, a very traditional footballing style.
3) A new badge and branding uses the sash as its key motif
4) A new away-strip using a sash. It could be a reverse, or even a black with white sash, any combination. Stick to the sash.
5) Settle the training base. Apparently they are all over Melbourne, including as far out as LaTrobe University. With the “Sporting” name, maybe link with a sports institute, like the Victorian Institute of Sport or a nearby Uni.

After that, there needs to be a strong technical director that oversees a meaningful agenda for recruiting and playing style. No more aging ex-Socceroos. Any coach hired must have strong tactical attributes, not be a “name” simply to schmooze with sponsors. That Ante Milicic was overlooked for Aloisi was criminal. He’s now at WSW as their mastermind behind the scenes.

Mostly, it will take patience and solid, dedicated management. As stated earlier, the many fans unsure of MV and looked to a new club have now decided… against MH. Personally, I’m still undecided, preferring to follow Brisbane, and not interested in season memberships either. MV don’t offer a 3 or 5 game membership, so their loss. The new club needs to exploit these gaps in the market. Ticket prices and ticketing control can be another key separation. Keep general admission, including a GA members area and add visitor passes so occasional goers can sit with their membered family and friends. Offer 3 and 5 game memberships. These are extremely popular in the AFL, even if you must exclude derbies as one of the allowed games. These lower members then get first right to purchase their seat, otherwise it’s for general sale. Long term, even though 5 years away, look to get Ange Postecoglou at the club. Image counts, and with the right branding and right coach, the easy – and controllable – aspect is done.

Brawls in the streets before the game, flares at the ground, vandalism and punches thrown after

A terrible look for the A-League. Opposing Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers fans weilding metal bars threw rocks and chairs at each other outside a city pub before the game; then a barrage of flares and fire-crackers were set off at the game itself predominately by WSW fans. An absolute disgrace to the game. Like the situation with Melbourne Heart, this has been covered in earlier blogs on this page, especially with reference to the apathy by much of the football community and senior commentators of “it’s just a few bad apples”. If it is just a few, why are we letting them ruin the reputation of our sport? Essentially, the clubs and FFA must crack down. Even if that ultimately leads to extreme measures like a closed gate.

So far this season the behaviour has been great, with fans to be commended. While there’s still a few noses out of place (MV cheer squad not as vocal as previously and sat in the upper deck at Docklands games), the clubs are winning the war against this un-Australian footballing “culture”, and therefore the sport is winning. Most pleasing about the troubles is that the football media didn’t play the victim again. Normally when such events are reported, it’s seen as a witch-hunt. These particular events were bad enough that any football fan can see past their bias and accept the reporting was deserved. The interview on Channel 9 news of the MV member – a mother there with her child – almost in tears and disgusted and wanting to tear up her membership showed that predominantly football fans are calm and families and true ambassadors of the sport, and only want to sit at a game where beer, punches and flares are not thrown. These thugs should see her to understand the consequences of the loutish behaviour. While words like “riots” and “ugly” might be typical of the media’s attempts at sensationalism, they are justified to present the message, and should compel the clubs to act further. The simple fact always remains that if this ridiculous behaviour is stopped, there’ll never be anything to report.

05 January 2014: Update

Ticketing

Last week MV against WSW had 100% reserved seating that saw countless turned away, especially groups of people, after being unable to get seats together. This supposed “sell-out” had only 22,000 in a stadium of nearly 32,000. Last night, Saturday, against Brisbane, the C-section (ends) were general admission as normal. No one turned away, no massive queues at the ticket windows, people could just buy tickets quickly rather than force to pick seats off a chart, a crowd of 23,000. Are we learning?

Crowd Troubles

Football Federation Australia acted strongly against Melbourne Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers for the unruly conduct of their crowds. Both teams received a suspended sentence of 3 points docked, to be activated if there’s any further crowd trouble for the remainder of the season. That trouble includes any unruly behaviour outside the stadium, in city centres as was the case last week. While both clubs worried about the realistic chance of this being policed fairly, potentially that rival supporters could impersonate another club’s fans and then create mischief to force sanctions, reality is that’s unlikely and easy to prove, plus both clubs would be sanctioned in any event. The mere threat of such sanctions should dissuade such fans from acting. The clubs themselves had a tit-for-tat in the media, especially MV slamming WSW via a press release. More heartening is that both clubs have vowed to act with the FFA to stamp out their “rogue supporters”. MV’s chairman Anthony Del Petrio: “Every stakeholder is in total agreement that anti-social behaviour must be prevented and will not be tolerated. Safety and enjoyment must be upheld at all times. How we achieve this is where the debate begins. We applaud the FFA for its zero tolerance measures.”

Disturbingly, and disappointingly, there’s still rogue commentators out there. Relatively quiet on the issue until now, Les Murray was engaged in a conversation with the Age’s Michael Lynch on twitter today about the flares, citing the situation in Italy, “When I commentated on Italian games in the 80s, for the 1st half hour I couldn’t see the players for the smoke”, and “Every game had flares and no one seemed to care. Part of the culture.” Murray was commentating from the SBS studio in Australia off the telecast at the time, so then, and probably these days when viewing from the comfort of a corporate or commentary box at the ground, is oblivious to the disgusting nature of smoke from flares that was the nature of the initial complaint in that conversation.

It wasn’t that long ago that “no one seemed to care” about cigarette smoking, and that it was “part of the culture”, so should we allow that too? For Murray, who often tweets against the glorification of alcohol, it does seem a strange hypocrisy that the one vice he does condone is the one that besmirches the game he loves. If smoking and boozing was a football culture, would he also begin to condone that? Smoking is banned in public because it infringed on the freedoms of others. No one should have to sit next to it and breathe noxious smoke from another person, and likewise no should need to breathe in smoke from a flare. Furthermore, flares are a physical danger that can cause serious burns. On the evening news there was a mother and her child scared and crying about the incidents they were forced to endure. Well Mr Murray, go tell them it’s “part of the culture” and just suck it up if they want to real football fans. Enough.

To show these events are not rare, nor is there a witch-hunt by the media because so few of these ever made the news (I only recall the Melbourne Derby of 2 Feb 2013, and there was a king-hit at a game involving Sydney), here are the dossiers of “football culture” from Victoria Police for the past three years released to the media under Freedom of Information laws detailing countless flares, smoke bombs, fights, king-hits, spitting, assaults, vandalism, abuse and intimidation…

16/10/10
Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Crowd: 17,299
Behaviour: Generally good; disruptive elements in Victory cheer squad
Incidents: Four flares ignited and penalty notice issued for riotous behaviour.
Details: Male tried to start a fight with Sydney cheer squad, police arrested him.

27/11/10
Melbourne Heart v Sydney FC
Crowd: 4857
Behaviour: Overall good
Incidents: Flare discharge outside ground
Details: There was an altercation pre-game between supporters at a Richmond Pub. Melbourne supporters were accused of having “ambushed” Sydney supporters and “caused some fear and anguish”.

22/1/11
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Crowd: 32,231
Behaviour: Poor
Incidents: 14 flare deployments, assault and taunting between supporter groups.
Details: 14-year-old boy abused police and “struck out” towards them after being seen acting aggressively towards other spectators after the match.
“Crowd behaviour in the Victory Supporter’s cheer squad was extremely poor”.
A male was “king hit” on the footbridge leading away from the venue after the match and received facial injuries.

30/1/11
Melbourne Victory v Gold Coast United
Crowd: 8207
Behaviour: Poor
Incidents: Three police assaulted, one police uniform damaged, 1 flare let off.
Details: An officer attempting to evict fan who had pulled the hair of another crowd member was “bitten on the leg by penetrating skin, but not causing bleeding”.
“Crowd behaviour in the Victory supporter’s cheer squad was again extremely poor”.
They held a silent protest for 15 minutes of the match but “then reverted to their usual behaviours”.
Moved en masse “in an apparent show of force/strength” to different seating areas. “This crowd/mob mobility was also a concerning behaviour”.

23/12/11
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory
Crowd: 26,579
Behaviour: Highly charged and active crowd, but mostly well behaved
Incident: Heart supporter spat on Victory supporter during match, had his membership card confiscated for further action. After the match fights erupted as a group of supporters walked across Gosch’s Paddock.
Details: “100 Heart active supporters were walking across Gosch’s Paddock a flare was set off and then a fight broke out. A number of fights then erupted.” Police, security and mounted branch attended.

13/1/12
Melbourne Victory v Adelaide United
Crowd: 20,959
Behaviour: Good
Incidents: One eviction
Details: Adelaide supporters were held back 15 minutes until Victory supporters had cleared area after the game. A banner erected by Victory supporters reading “Backrow Hooligans” was taken down.

5/10/12
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Crowd: 41,262
Behaviour: Generally crowd was manageable although hard core supporter groups became unruly at times.
Incident: Flares ignited and chairs thrown onto arena
Details: Heart supporters destroyed 65 seats and threw them onto the ground.

22/12/12
Melbourne Heart v Melbourne Victory
Crowd: 26,459
Behaviour: Extremely poor
Incidents: 18 flares lit and home made smoke bombs set off. A 12-year-old was detected carrying a flare and had it confiscated. Coins, liquid and bottles thrown at security, about 500 supporters invaded the pitch.
Details: “Police were overwhelmed to a point where we could only monitor the crowd due to the volatile behaviour. The general demeanour of the Victory support group was aggressive and anti social.”

26/1/13
Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC
Crowd: 28,852
Behaviour: Victory supporters antagonistic towards Sydney supporters although separated
Incidents: Two flares lit
Details: Sydney supporters held back after game to allow Victory fans to disperse, also deployed additional members for Sydney supporters travel to the game from Federation Square.

2/2/13
Melbourne Victory v Melbourne Heart
Crowd: 41,203
Behaviour: Seats broken and flares lit in both supporter areas
Incidents: 9 flares struck throughout the game and about 170 seats damaged.
Details: “It is clear from this match and previous recent matches that crowd behaviour, particularly in the active supporter area is deteriorating.”

16/3/13
Melbourne Heart v Western Sydney
Crowd: 5991
Behaviour: Reasonable up until last 15 minutes of match
Incidents: Hostile crowd behaviour
Details: “Approximately 100 Heart supporters moved to the northern end of the ground and started to bait the opposition. This tactic was successful. For a few minutes it was chaotic as the crowd was becoming very hostile towards each other.”

-General Notes

Fans’ behaviour is “totally different to AFL and cricket”. It’s a “touch one, touch all” mentality.

A BANNER was removed telling a Victory supporter to “stay strong” after he had been sentenced over an assault in which the victim lost an eye.

SECURITY was pelted with coins and bottles before 500 supporters invaded the pitch in late 2012.

A POLICE unit called for back-up after being surrounded by up to 20 Heart supporters earlier that year.

More: socceroorealm.com

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Challenge and excitement as Australia draw Spain, Netherlands and Chile

07 December 2013

Group of death, group of dread or, possibly the most accurate as it initially suggested, group of suicide. Aren’t we forgetting one thing? Australians aren’t supposed to lay down in a fight. Considering yourself in a group of death is self-defeatist. To think, given Australia’s lowly position at the moment, that many suggestions were that any group would be a group of death, it’s even more self-defeatist. While there’s no reason to go with an arrogant and bullying attitude that appears in many areas of the Australian sporting psyche, our true psyche of a confidence in ability and respect of our own opponents, will only serve our nation well next year.

Group B of Spain, Netherlands and Chile will provide Australia both a challenging and an exciting time. When Australia was drawn with Spain, I gave a fist-pump. When it came to the final pot, that of the Europeans, when the Dutch emerged, it drew a wry smile. This is not a daunting moment; it tickled our intrinsic sporting values. The challenge is on. Bring it!

As I wanted new teams, I was pumped that Croatia came out first from that pot to go in Group A. Earlier, I was dreading Australia entering Group G with opponents of 2010, Germany and Ghana. Australia’s group filled nicely. If there’s a switch I could make given the choice, it would into Group D with Uruguay, England and Italy. That’s the quintessential group of rivals. Costa Rica took the spot there.

Coach Ange Postecoglou echoed the mood well, impishly rebuffing the lead question from the media about a tough draw with “No, no, it’s great” (they laughed). He’s excited, and loving the challenge. Who wouldn’t? Probably Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek. You could imagine, especially from Verbeek, a defeatist shroud of body language coming from him. Osieck, just may not been as effusive as Ange. In fact, Ange must be pinching himself. Only a few weeks ago he’s coaching A-League; now he’s in Brazil at the World Cup Draw and preparing to lead his country into the biggest battle arena in the world on arguably the home of football. The fact he remains so composed and professional, it’s the hallmark of the man.

Being placed in slot 4 of the group, suits Australia well. Chile is the first game and if Ange has any tricks up his sleeve, that’s the match to try them and snare a win. Australia has a decent recent record against Holland, with a win and two draws, even if those were friendlies. A 2-1 in Holland and 0-0 in Australia under Verbeek, a draw under Guus Hiddinck just before the 2006 World Cup. Not to forget qualifying for the 1992 Olympics ahead of Holland. Holland are not the team of superstars like Spain or Brazil are. There are ways to exploit such teams, and a draw is certainly not beyond Australia. The final game, it may not matter for Spain, or even for Australia. Who knows?

If Australia can make the knockout phase, the cross-over group is Group A… of Brazil. Wow. Survive that and the quarter final is an opponent from Group C or D.

Schedule

Saturday 14 June – 0800 AET | Chile v Australia | Arena da Baixada – Curitiba

Thursday 19 June – 0200 AET | Australia v Netherlands | Estadio Beira-Rio – Porto Alegre

Tuesday 24 June – 0200 AET | Australia v Spain | Arena Pantanal – Cuiaba

Groups

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

It would be remiss not to slam FIFA for their unwieldy and unnecessarily complicated draw. The pot of 9 that facilitated an “X” pot for the extra European team, the pot system itself that arbitrarily segregates cross-regional teams from playing each other (for instance Asia mixed with CONCACAF means those two regions can’t play each other), plus the absurd use of FIFA’s flawed rankings system to decide seeds. Spain and Netherlands were the 2010 World Cup finalists and now face each other in a group stage? Fine if that’s the result of a true random draw. Bad if it’s a result of fiddling and coercion as it proved. FIFA obviously want some unpredictability in the group stage, whether that be some big name clashes, or even the chance of moderate teams progressing as more likely to happen in a group with a weak seed. Be transparent about it instead of making even bigger fools of yourselves and a mockery of the process. The solution is a single pot system, as detailed in the preview.

From the other groups, Brazil faces an interesting opposition in Group A. Croatia could conceivably hold them, while Mexico can’t be as bad as their fourth-placed qualifying suggests, and Cameroon are unpredictable. Then there’s the pressure of being home nation. No win against Croatia and it could be interesting.

Group C, with Greece and the enigmatic Colombians, would have been nice for Australia. Japan are good enough to progress from there. It’s one of the more even groups thanks to a weak top seed.

Group D is the truly luscious group for Australia, and they definitely would have a chance for progression. Just playing England would be enough for most Australians. To beat them, especially to deny them progression, would make the nation delirious and stoke the rivalry for eons. Remember, Uruguay qualified as fifth best South American, essentially making them sixth best with Brazil automatically qualified as hosts. It’s not difficult to hold Italy to a 0-0. It’s in their DNA. Ask New Zealand in 2010.

The chance of a weak Group E didn’t quite happen as France – one of the stronger Europeans – slotted in. Ecuador are flighty while Honduras – as have all teams outside Mexico and USA from CONCACAF – have done little on the world stage.

Iran has it interesting in Group F. That’s definitely a group in which Australia could have challenged. With Argentina likely to dominate, a team could qualify in second with one win – the team that loses least heavily to Argentina.

Group G is probably the most predictable, with Germany and Portugal the likely top two.

The dogdy seeding produced the most even group, with Group H. If Belgium’s high ranking is validated, they should sail through. They are an intriguing team and will be interesting to watch after 12 years out of the tournament. For Korea, all the opponents seem manageable.

Quotes – coach Ange Postecoglou

“No, no, it’s great. It’s a World Cup, and we’re playing against the best nations in the world, and our group will be really exciting. It’s a massive challenge, and I look forward to it. It’s going to be great.

“We’re going to see some good football in our group, that’s for sure. There’s some great footballing nations and our job is to play our part. It’s an enormous challenge for us but for a nation like ours that’s exactly what we want. We’ve got a chance to make some headlines when the World Cup comes around.

“We know what Spain are like and the Dutch have always played good football and in this qualifying campaign Chile have been outstanding. So there’s going to be some real footballing challenges ahead of us. We want to keep growing and keep getting better and that’s our measures.

“There wouldn’t be one of our players who wouldn’t be looking forward to this immensely. To play the world’s best teams that’s why you go to a World Cup. Everyone will be writing us off in this group, which is I think is logical. From our perspective we’ve some great opportunities to show the world we can play some good football against the best nations in the world. Our group looks the most difficult group but I hope it’s the group that plays the best football and we’ll play our part in that.”

Quotes – Players

Tim Cahill: SPAIN, HOLLAND AND CHILE. What an amazing group to be in. This is the beauty of WORLD CUPS

Mile Jedinak: It’s one of the toughest groups you could think of and we have been dealt a pretty tough hand. These sorts of challenges are really another level and it’s something as a player you relish and embrace.

Matthew Ryan: Spain chile and holland. Excited that we’ll get to test ourselves against some of the best players in the world!

Tom Oar: Spain Netherlands and Chile! What a group!

Jason Davidson: As a footballer you want to challenge yourself against the worlds best

Quotes – Netherland’s coach Louis van Gaal

“We have to play the world champion, we have to play Australia who we have never beaten and Chile was 3-0 up recently against Colombia before it ended 3-3, so that is not a weak team. The opponents are tough, but for the playing conditions it is not too bad.” But Van Gaal noted that if the Netherlands progress from the group stage they will have to play one of the teams from the group headed by host nation Brazil. That is a tough group and you travel north and the playing conditions get worse.”

Quotes – Chile’s coach Jorge Sampaoli

“It’s such a difficult group. We’ll try to be as competitive as possible to give us a chance to reach the knockout stages. In the career of a coach, you know this is the path that you may have to take. So we have to prepare well. After getting out of the war of the group stage, you don’t move on to an easier fate with having to face winners of Group A.”

More: socceroorealm.com

Uruguay, Cameroon and Greece the preferred World Cup draw for Australia

6 December 2013

Saturday morning, 3am AET, Australia will discover its opponents for next year’s World Cup in Brazil. The draw will also decide venues at which Australia will play, which could prove problematic for all those “We’re off to Rio” and “Road to Rio” slogans from media, fans and even players. Rio is just one of many cities that will host matches throughout this huge country, and most likely is a city that Australia will never visit.

The Pots

Pot 1: Brazil+, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, Switzerland

Pot 2: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chile, Ecuador, 1 from Pot 4*

Pot 3: Japan, Iran, Korea Republic, Australia, United States, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras

Pot 4: Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Russia, France

* In a pre-draw, a team from Pot 4 will be placed in Pot 2. Upon being drawn in the main draw, this team will be placed in one of the groups of a South American team from Pot 1 – either Brazil, Argentina, Colombia or Uruguay.

+ Brazil will automatically be placed in Group A as Team 1

To no surprise, in their infinitely insane and warped wisdom, FIFA have cocked up the whole notion of a draw. First, the seeds, whereby FIFA are using their heavily flawed and useless rankings system. Forget that Australia is ranked the lowest team in the tournament at 59, just like the Socceroo Realm consistently ignores referring to FIFA rankings as some sort of meaningful analysis of Australia’s status. Look at the fact that the sixth best South American team after the qualifying phase – Uruguay – is one of the top 8 seeds. Sixth best gets you top eight. While Colombia at least finished second behind Argentina, the fact that Belgium and Switzerland reached the top 8 after merely winning their qualifying group against fellow middling European teams, is astonishing. Belgium hadn’t even qualified since 2002, so unlike Uruguay that finished third in 2010, Belgium never had a points legacy. It’s been built by beating Croatia, Serbia, Scotland and Wales. While Switzerland qualified ahead Iceland, Slovenia and Norway. What? No Italy, Germany or Netherlands to surmount on your glorious, high-ranking qualifying run?

The second flaw is the potty pot system itself that’s perpetually used. While it’s fine to separate teams based on geography, it’s not fine to avoid opponents based on geography. Grouping Asia with CONCACAF in one pot means no team from these region can play each – ie: Australia cannot be drawn against Mexico, USA, Costa Rica or Honduras. Ridiculous. A real draw would be just all teams in one pot, then pick them out one by one, filling each group as the rules allow. Say Brazil is in Group A and Spain is drawn next, they go straight in with Brazil. If Chile comes next, they can’t go with Brazil so are put into Group B. If USA comes next, they go to Group A. If it’s Mexico next, they go to Group B because they can’t be with regional rivals, Mexico. If Australia is next, into Group A. If an Asian team were already in Groups A and B, then Australia goes to Group C. This is the simplest, most effective and fairest method. All teams get a realistic chance of playing any other team from another region. See the Hypothetical Draw below for more of an idea.

Preferred Draw

Mostly, I want Australia to play new teams – teams we’ve not played recently, and especially not at a World Cup – or rivalries.

Pot 1: Avoid Brazil, Germany, Argentina; Prefer Spain, Belgium, Uruguay or Switzerland

Pot 2: Australia are in this group, so a preferred option of USA won’t happen.

Pot 3: Avoid Ghana, Chile and France; Prefer Algeria, Cameroon or Ecuador

Pot 4: Avoid Netherlands, Italy and Croatia; Prefer England, Greece, Bosnia or Russia

Obviously some of these preferences will depend on teams already selected as Australia won’t play two teams from the same region unless it’s Europe. For instant, if Australia draw Uruguay from Pot 1, they won’t play any South Americans from Pot 2. Likewise if Spain is drawn from Pot 1, the European team from Pot 2 won’t be an option.

Most Preferred Draw: Uruguay, Cameroon, Greece

With our World Cup qualifying playoffs against them in 2001 and 2005, Uruguay is an obvious pick. Of course, they are beatable. They are not a top 8 nation. While Jordan capitulated in the first leg of the playoff this time, Uruguay were held 0-0 at home. Cameroon are the most interesting and erratic of the African teams. Greece is almost a “local derby”. It’s a natural rivalry, the match would be highly interesting, and competitive.

Least Preferred Draw: Germany, Ghana, Croatia

Germany smashed us in 2010 and simply would be too clinical, not to mention boring to revisit. Ghana, again, played in 2010 to a draw. With Serbia in 2010 and Croatia in 2006, and even despite Australia’s good record against these teams, been there, done that, with these Southern Slavic teams.

Toughest Draw: Brazil, Netherlands, Italy

Brazil would be interesting if it was Australia’s first match as it would be some occasion to play the opening match of the World Cup. Only in that situation would it be appealing. Italy wavers between a rival and a boring team. That 2006 match in Germany was more an anomaly than two even teams fighting it out. Worst, they’d be a tough team. Because you have top European teams like Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and France in Pot 4, any of which could end up in Pot 2, it creates a dangerous situation for a famed “group of death”, so there’s several options of tough Europeans in a draw to avoid.

Rivalry Draw: Uruguay, England, Italy

Remember, the World Cup doesn’t end with the Group stage. If Australia reaches the second round, they could face England. While many fans want to draw England in the group, I’d prefer them in the knockout stage so to knock them out.

Hypothetical Single Pot Draw

This is based on the one pot draw as described at the top of the article. Except for the host, each team is randomly assigned these numbers as their draw position…

17 Algeria, 09 Argentina, 03 Australia, 21 Belgium, 05 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 23 Cameroon, 26 Chile, 30 Colombia, 20 Costa Rica, 11 Croatia, 08 Ecuador, 10 England, 14 France, 06 Germany, 24 Ghana, 25 Greece, 15 Honduras, 28 Iran, 13 Italy, 29 Ivory Coast, 27 Japan, 19 Korea, 01 Mexico, 18 Netherlands, 07 Nigeria, 16 Portugal, 31 Russia, 02 Spain, 04 Switzerland, 12 Uruguay, 22 USA, 00 Brazil

In other words, Algeria would be drawn 17th out of the pot, Australia third. The groups are then filled in accordance with FIFA’s rule of no more than one team from each region in a group, except for Europe which can have a maximum of two teams. Brazil is automatically set to Group A as Team 1 as FIFA has dictated…

Group A: 00 Brazil, 01 Mexico, 02 Spain, 03 Australia

Group B: 04 Switzerland, 05 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 07 Nigeria, 08 Ecuador

Group C: 06 Germany, 09 Argentina, 10 England, 15 Honduras

Group D: 11 Croatia, 12 Uruguay, 13 Italy, 17 Algeria

Group E: 14 France, 16 Portugal, 19 Korea, 20 Costa Rica

Group F: 18 Netherlands, 21 Belgium, 22 USA, 23 Cameroon

Group G: 24 Ghana, 25 Greece, 26 Chile, 27 Japan

Group H: 28 Iran, 29 Ivory Coast, 30 Colombia, 31 Russia

Wow! Australia has it tough. They’d play Spain first, Mexico second (impossible under FIFA’s system) and Brazil last. Group C is a cracker, while Group F has a great opening match. You can see with Germany as drawn sixth was shuffled into a new pot as there were already two Europeans in Group B. Nigeria came out seventh so could fill Group B, as could Ecuador in eighth. It’s a very simple and fair draw. Just place the team in the first available pot.

Hypothetical Draw Using FIFA’s Pots

Group A: Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mexico, England
Group B: Spain, Nigeria, Australia, Croatia
Group C: Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, Italy
Group D: Germany, Algeria, Korea, France
Group E: Argentina, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Portugal
Group F: Uruguay, Ghana, USA, Netherlands
Group G: Belgium, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
Group H: Colombia, Chile, Iran, Russia

Note that Bosnia was the pre-drawn European team that would go into Pot 2 and there’s no draw on the group place. Pot 1 is slot 1, pot 2 is slot 2, etc. I much prefer the single pot draw. It produced a much more interesting and fluid draw. Australia has it tough, and I especially dislike playing Croatia again. Groups A and E seem the most interesting of a fairly dull outcome. Thankfully it’s all hypothetical, so far…

Hypothetical Single Pot Draw 2

This time the groups are filled horizontally, with the first 8 teams obviously filling first position in each group…

Group A: 00 Brazil, 10 England, 16 Portugal, 24 Ghana

Group B: 01 Mexico, 08 Ecuador, 17 Algeria, 25 Greece

Group C: 02 Spain, 09 Argentina, 18 Netherlands, 27 Japan

Group D: 03 Australia, 11 Croatia, 20 Costa Rica, 26 Chile

Group E: 04 Switzerland, 12 Uruguay, 19 Korea, 29 Ivory Coast

Group F: 05 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 13 Italy, 22 USA, 28 Iran

Group G: 06 Germany, 14 France, 23 Cameroon, 30 Colombia

Group H: 07 Nigeria, 15 Honduras, 21 Belgium, 31 Russia

Wow! Look at Group A. Opening match Brazil vs England. Then there’s Portugal and Ghana as the other teams. For a true lethal, you can’t go past Group C. Group G is tough, while Australia’s group proves quite placid and would present great optimism to reach the second round.

Mostly these single pot draws show that simplicity and a true democratic draw works best. FIFA trying to fix seeds and segregate teams is foolish. If the issue is that you can’t have the bevy of former players on the stage helping with the draw, that could be fixed by teams randomly split into separate pots for each player to be used and they take it in turns drawing a ball from their pot.

Positions

With the exception of Brazil as Team 1 in Group A, the draw also decides position in the group. Most likely Australia will face one super tough team, and many theories abound about best time to play them. Mark Milligan, earlier in the week, suggested it’s best to play them first: “Many times the big teams do not get into the swing of things so early in the tournament. They usually build into a tournament so playing them in the first match might give us an advantage and the best opportunity to get a result. People might say that facing Germany in the first game of South Africa 2010 did not quite help us (losing 4-0). The way I look at it is that the Australian team learned a lot from that bad defeat and went on to have two very strong games against Ghana and Serbia on the back of that game.”

Playing the top team first up, you might catch them by surprise. More likely they are primed, then you’re in the mindset of needing to win the final two matches (even if not in actual position as mathematically a team can progress with as low as 2 points), plus there’s the sapping of confidence. Australia just didn’t recover in 2010. If you win or draw, you could also become complacent. How often has Australia excelled against a top team only to bomb out against a lower side in the next match? Too often.

Playing them second up, if you’ve won your first game, you go in confident while still guarded because it is the top team. You also have the comfort of the third game in case the result doesn’t go well. If you’ve lost the first game, you go into the second game really alert, and with Australia’s famed fighting spirit, it’s perfect chance to snatch an unlikely win.

Meeting the top team third up they could be qualified, or they could be desperate. Of course, you could already be qualified yourself, then the match matters even less. If not, as in the case of second-up after a loss, Australia’s fighting spirit comes to the fore, and you also have nothing to lose. If the top team needs to win, the pressure is actually all on them.

Personally I favour the second match to face the top team, with third-up the next preference. There’s less psychological involvement with second-up, and historically it seems to just have the edge. In 2006, the scenario of second-up played out perfectly. Won against Japan, lost to Brazil without losing confidence, primed for the qualification passed Croatia. In Confederations Cups and Youth World Cups, when Australia excelled against the top teams, it’s been second or third match.

Even if Australia draws a top team first, there’s no reason to be anxious about it. No one can predict the mindset of teams, whether or not they’ve already qualified for the next phase, or know the mindset of Australia. There’s scenarios justifying any position to play the top team. If the team is coached well, especially psychologically, it just doesn’t matter at which stage points are accrued. As long as they are accrued, that’s all that matters.