Squad for Ecuador – Out with the old, in with the new

26 February 2014

Out: Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano, Brett Holman

In: Curtis Good, Massimo Luongo, Ben Halloran and – finally – Chris Herd

These are the highlights of coach Ange Postecoglou’s squad for the World Cup preparation match against Ecuador next week. Also notable is Brett Holman bypassed again, while Luke Wilkshire returns for his first shot under the gaze of the new coach. It seems Ange has ignored anyone playing in those rubbish Middle Eastern leagues. Other than being over-rated after a couple of spectacular goals, Holman is the victim of that, and so too Alex Brosque. Sasa Ognenovski recently signed for Sydney FC, recognising the low regard Ange rightfully has for the Middle East. He misses out after not playing much recently, as does Mark Bresciano, who’s suspended after an illegal transfer involving his club. If Ange is consistent, Bresciano is gone anyway, as he’s another playing his club football in the Middle East.

Of the newbies, only Chris Herd is a recognised name to these eyes. Ange’s recent weeks scouting in Europe has paid dividends. As much as there is a desire by fans to rejuvenate the Socceroos, there is a dearth of talent coming through. The much maligned Lucas Neill, who just signed for Watford in England’s second tier after months in limbo, should get a plane ticket to Brazil. The reality is eight defenders are required for the World Cup squad and, shockingly, it’s doubtful Australia has one better defender than Neill, much less eight. At best, one or two might be level, and then you still need to decide whether to trade youth for experience. This is a World Cup, and we go for results, not experiments. Players like North, Thwaite and Kisnorbo, have been tried, and failed. Ange overlooked them. While Spiranovic and Davidson get another go, and must perform. Spiranovic has been unable to own one of the two central defender’s spots as many believed was his destiny, while Davidson has hardly been reassuring in his handful of games.

The most shocking aspect of the squad is no recognised strikers. Leckie and Vidosic are more attacking midfielders, while surely it’s time Cahill is returned to his most successful and damaging role as a box-to-box midfielder. No Joshua Kennedy here, which may mean nothing, as his abilities are known and is surely a certainty for Brazil as one of four strikers, especially with Robbie Kruse’s knee injury leaving a big hole in Australia’s striking ranks. Dare it be suggested that a certain Scott McDonald might have deserved another look? At least to be played in a system that suits him, not as the solo marksman under previous coaches.

Postecoglou reiterated that this is mostly an experimental squad, and that the door is still open for anyone overlooked. Good news for the sake of Sasa Ognenovski, who has done very little wrong in Australian colours, and will be important to shore up an inexperienced defence should Neill be axed. Good news for another veteran destined to play in his third World Cup: Harry Kewell. Much more will be known after the match. Suffice to say, anyone that doesn’t get a meaningful run, is gone.

Comments – Ange Postecoglou

The squad to face Ecuador represents the first steps in what I believe is the building of the next golden generation for Australian football acknowledging there is a need to balance experimentation and experience to achieve this. The match gives this group of players an opportunity to stake a claim for the World Cup. They have been rewarded for playing consistent and strong football and shows that age and limited international experience are not barriers to opportunity. I was encouraged by what I saw on my scouting trip and what I’ve been watching in the A-League and other parts of the world and I’m confident that with courage and belief we can face the challenges ahead and not waver from our long term plan.

Ecuador is a very important game for us. It’s the last game (before World Cup squad selection) and it’s a quality opponent. Ecuador made the World Cup and it will be a tough challenge for us. We started our journey against Costa Rica and we want to build on that. It was a solid performance and the players backing up from that game would already have had a taste of what we are trying to achieve. For the new ones it’s about getting as much information as possible. We’ve done a lot of work in between the Costa Rica game and now with analysis of our own performance and analysis of our opponents and they’ll get a lot of information in those two or three days and I’m certainly looking for a strong performance against Ecuador so we continue to build on the positive feeling we had after the Costa Rica game.

Selection in the final squad for the World Cup is still very much an open door. There were quite a few players, particularly those in Asia whose leagues are just beginning, who are still very much on the radar. There are also a few players who are very much a part of my thinking and plans for the World Cup who are not playing and I was pretty mindful of not calling anyone who was not going to play some significant game time. Their club form going forward will be a big indicator of that and players still have an opportunity to get back into the squad.

Oliver BOZANIC (FC Luzern, SWITZERLAND)
Tim CAHILL (New York Red Bulls, USA)
Jason DAVIDSON (SC Heracles Almelo, NETHERLANDS)
Ivan FRANJIC (Brisbane Roar FC, AUSTRALIA)
Curtis GOOD (Dundee United FC, SCOTLAND)
Ben HALLORAN (Fortuna Dusseldorf, GERMANY)
Chris HERD (Aston Villa FC, ENGLAND)
James HOLLAND (FK Austria Vienna, AUSTRIA)
Mile JEDINAK (Crystal Palace FC, ENGLAND)
Brad JONES (GK) (Liverpool FC, ENGLAND)
Mitchell LANGERAK (GK) (B.V. Borussia 09 Dortmund, GERMANY)
Matthew LECKIE (FSV Frankfurt 1899, GERMANY)
Massimo LUONGO (Swindon Town FC, ENGLAND)
Ryan MCGOWAN (Shandong Luneng Taishan FC, CHINA)
Matthew MCKAY (Brisbane Roar FC, AUSTRALIA)
Mark MILLIGAN (Melbourne Victory FC, AUSTRALIA)
Tommy OAR (FC Utrecht, HOLLAND)
Tommy ROGIC (Melbourne Victory FC, AUSTRALIA)
Matt RYAN (GK) (Club Brugge KV, BELGIUM)
Adam SAROTA (FC Utrecht, HOLLAND)
Matthew SPIRANOVIC (Western Sydney Wanderers FC, AUSTRALIA)
Dario VIDOSIC (FC Sion, SWITZERLAND)
Luke WILKSHIRE (FK Dinamo Moscow, RUSSIA)

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End triple-punishment and dubious offsides, for the good of the game

20 February 2014

Picture it: World Cup, South Africa, June 2010, Australia vs Ghana. In a goal mouth scramble, a Ghanian player strikes a thunderbolt for goal and it hits Harry Kewell on the arm, denying the goal. Penalty for Ghana. Despite the apparent accidental hand-ball, Kewell sent off, and banned for the next match. Unjust, ridiculous, absurd? You name it. It is. Especially when barely a match goes by and referees are denying goal scoring chances by their ineptitude to officiate offsides correctly. While no attention is given to the offside rule and the obvious need to help referees, players are dealt a brutish blow under the guise of “denying a goal-scoring opportunity”. Except the opportunity was never denied. Ghana was awarded a penalty, and scored.

Last night, the Champions League featuring Arsenal and Bayern Munich, enter Arsenal’s goalie, Wojciech Szczesny, who brought down Arjen Robben has he tried to poke a lobbed ball into the net. The goalie, entitled to go and try stop this, clumsily collided into Robben, and a penalty is called. After some minor deliberation, out popped the red, and with that, Szczesny suspended from his next match. Had there been no contact, it looked like Robben’s poke may have gone wide. In effect, he wasn’t even denied a goal scoring chance, he was provided a better one. Statistically, a penalty is far more likely to be converted than any one on one in general play against the goalkeeper. Only in handball situations like that of Kewell could it be said a team’s goal scoring chance is reduced via issuing a penalty.

It must be said, these two incidents are not the typical examples of the rule. Kewell was a handball and clearly stopped the goal, while Szczesny’s red card was valid for the ugly boot to Robben’s shin that quite easily could have broken his leg, even though it’s the “triple punishment” factor of seemingly a goalie’s non-dangerous penalty making the headlines. The more typical incidents are genuine attempts by a defender to tackle or a goalie to stop an attacker shooting, and bringing them down in the process. Outside the penalty box, it’s simply a foul. Inside, it’s mutated into this big, ugly monster of “denying goal scoring opportunities” and “last defender”, and other such pontificating. By the way, if you bring down a player outside the box, who’s to say you’re not denying a goal-scoring opportunity anyway? The width of a line should not matter between a red card or not. This is, indeed, the genesis of the rule.

Picture it. World Cup, Italy, 1990, known as the Cynical or Ugly World Cup. Countless tackles, often from behind, deliberating bringing down a player to stop them advancing on goal, specifically into the penalty box, where any foul would then have serious consequences of a penalty. I vaguely recall a Swedish player, versus Costa Rica, actually pulling down a player by a rugby tackle. Back then the penalty was a yellow card. FIFA’s response to this terrible behaviour was award such “professional fouls” a straight red. This was especially the case if you were the “last defender”, as obviously dragging down the player was your last recourse to deny an open attack on goal. For goalies, the rule was even more relevant, being used on those rushing outside the box to foul a player, not for fouling a player inside. Most famous case Australians will recall is by Robbie Zabica away to Canada in the 1993 World Cup qualifiers, Zabica was sent off early in the game, with Mark Schwarzer making his surprise debut. Both Zabica and Schwarzer were only involved because Mark Bosnich had sensationally “retired” from international football after submitting to the pressure from his club Aston Villa. He was back for the series against Argentina. The rule worked perfectly then. Had Zabica not been sent off, Australia would not have been penalised fairly for this infringement and Canada never get their goal scoring chance redressed. Players never respected yellow cards then. They still don’t. A red card is the only solution to stop this blight on the game.

Over 20 years since the law was enacted, commentators and fans and FIFA themselves have let it run amok. Even last week in Melbourne Victory’s Asian Champions League qualifier in Geelong, Fox Sport’s Andy Harper was prattling on about MV’s penalty and whether the Thai club should also have been given a red card. The foul was merely a clumsy attempt at winning the ball, which would have been a standard foul outside the box, so a free kick and no card. Here was Harper musing of the “last defender” despite several other Thai players in the box and the goalie in play to attempt a save. If you give that a red card, you give every penalty a red card, as essentially you are always “denying a goal scoring opportunity”. As his wont, at the other end, Harper was musing about a shoulder being offside for MV’s second goal. On one hand he wants to destroy one club’s chances with a severe punishment for a standard, miss-timed tackle while rewarding a team with a penalty and an extra player for the rest of the match, yet the player with maybe his shirt fabric offside, he wants this goal denied? There’s no consistency in philosophy for the good of the game, or any semblance of sane logic.

FIFA’s law: A player is sent off if he commits: 5) denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick. The way the law is now, any foul could be a red card, as most players fouled are indeed moving towards goal and making an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. Note there’s no mention in the laws about the “last defender”, so that was only ever a commentator’s concoction, or maybe an outdated guideline.

The laws surrounding handball are even more bizarre, being a microcosm for the extremes of the game. It’s either a free kick if a player: handles the ball deliberately. Or it’s a red card if a player: denies the opposing team a goal or goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball. There’s no case for a yellow card, and what constitutes “deliberately”? To a referee, deciding on “deliberate” is deciding between play-on or issuing a penalty, red card and a one match ban. Preposterous.

FIFA are apparently examining the laws that lead to this triple-punishment nonsense. Here is the solution. Any outfield player that deliberately brings down another that is clear on goal and outside the penalty box is red carded. Such infringements would be tackles at the feet, high tackles, tackles from behind, man-handling and shirt pulling. If a goalie rushes outside a box and brings down a player, red card. Any foul within the box is judged as it would be outside the box: unintentional is a penalty (or a direct free kick outside the box); intentional is a penalty (so an almost certain goal) and a yellow card. A shirt pull or holding is regarded as intentional. Handball should always be a penalty or free kick unless it directly blocks the ball from scoring (hits a defender on the line and the goalie is beaten), then it’s an automatic goal. Intentional handball (like arms extended) is a yellow – and that should be all over the pitch.

If you actually made yellow cards a 10 or 15 suspension from the game, they might create some deterrent factor too. Part of this move to wanton red cards is that a yellow is just not sufficient for some challenges. Now we are at the other end of outrage that a red is too severe. UEFA president Michel Platini is suggesting an orange card that would be a 15 minute suspension from the game to prevent this triple punishment scenario. A penalty and 15 minutes out of the game? Seems fairer. Either way, there is a ridiculous discrepancy between a red and a yellow card right now that should be addressed. It’s long been problematic.

Remember, you still have other laws for red cards like serious foul play and violent conduct, so if a player goes in with flying studs up or grapples an opponent to the ground, red card irsrespective of location of the foul. If a player grabs the ball like a basketball player as Luis Suarez did for Uruguay against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup semi final, red card (as it rightfully was). For the fabric of the game, let’s get it back to basics and the intention of the laws.

Triple punishment was never, ever envisaged as part of cleaning up the game. The intent was a double punishment for dreadful actions outside the box where an attack on goal was stopped totally and the opposition not rewarded. Inside the penalty box there was already the severe punishment of an almost certain goal via a penalty. Therefore the triple punishment should only ever be seen for the most cynical and unsportsmanlike of challenges, not for common skirmishes. Likewise the offside law was to stop strikers camping in the goal mouth, not to be recalled because defences are running them offside by an eyelash. When you actually have a “favour the attackers” guideline to support the rule, it’s even more bizarre that there are pinheads crusading on the tiniest of technicalities that only serve to harm the game, not enhance it.

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