Australia’s best ever World Cup performance, a worthy winner in Argentina, a high quality and efficiently run tournament, and Lionel Messi still does not compare to Diego Maradona. That was the story of 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
For the unheralded Socceroos, with a team of mostly domestic players and no big names, the portend of bigger things to come began early with a shock goal by Craig Goodwin on 9 minutes against the previous world champions, France. It was a quality goal too, after Mathew Leckie, on the right flank, ran onto a long pass from defender Harry Souttar, turned his defender, and crossed it beautifully for Goodwin to score. While this jolted France into action and they eventually ran out 4-1 winners – notably due to Kylian Mbappe unable to be controlled – it never stopped the aspirations of this Australian team.
With coach Graham Arnold instilling an intense belief and a strong work ethic into the team, and fashioning a disciplined, well structured defensive unit, this was the springboard to winning their next two games, holding their opponents goalless for the first time since 1974, and qualifying for the knockout stage for only the second time ever. It was a glorious move that started from defence that saw Mitch Duke head home on 23 minutes to beat Tunisia 1-0, and then Leckie’s solo break on the hour against Denmark saw another 1-0 win and guaranteed passage to the next stage. This goal and victory proved critical, as Australia could easily have relied on a draw in expectation France would beat Tunisia in the other game. Of course, France rested many players, and lost 1-0.
This qualification to the knockout stage automatically made the 2022 team Australia’s most successful World Cup team ever, and they still weren’t done. Facing eventual champions, Argentina, they had them under control for the first half and even dominated large portions of play at times, with one passage consisting of about 40 passes and almost resulting in a juicy chance on goal. Unfortunately, their discipline finally broke, when Aziz Behich gave away a silly free kick in a dangerous area near the side line, and while the free kick was initially defended, Lionel Messi was able to prod it into the net after some nice interplay on the next phase of play.
That first Argentine goal was on 35 minutes, and then 12 minutes into the second half was a moment of madness when goalkeeper Mathew Ryan, upon receiving a back-pass, tried to dribble past an Argentine player, only to be dispossessed and gift Argentina their second goal. While Ryan was clearly at fault, questions must be asked why defenders play these short, dangerous back-passes to the goalie, only for it to be usually booted upfield, when they could do it better themselves, and avoid any risk in the process. Seemingly down and out, Australia scored on 77 minutes when a Goodwin shot was deflected into the net by Enzo Fernandez.
Amazingly, Australia had two golden opportunities to equalise, when Behich made a breathtaking run into the box, only for his shot to be blocked. He really should have layed off the ball to a player waiting in the box. In the dying seconds, Garang Kuol found himself on the end of the cross, beautifully trapped the ball and spun around, and had his shot narrowly saved. It would have been fitting for this team to push the game into extra time. They deserved it. It’s not just that the results were far beyond expectations, so was their performance. They were defensively tough, scored a goal in every game, and kept two teams scoreless. Goals also came from open play, not the penalty spot as were both goals in 2018. In fact, unlike then, Australia were never involved in a Video Assistant Referee (VAR) penalty decision. The only area in which Australia disappointed was set pieces, primarily from Aaron Mooy. So many were over-hit or simply wasted.
As for coach Graham Arnold, like his style or hate it, results count. Just prior to the World Cup, when Football Australia ran a competition for fans to name their Socceroos Team of the Century, I named Arnold as coach of my team. He earned it simply from the tough qualification process he had to endure, so a competent display at the World Cup would be enough to compare favourably to his predecessors. He did far more than that.
For all the controversy about such a nation with poor human rights records hosting the World Cup, the threatened protests and moralising by many countries, including Australia, just prior to the tournament, was appalling. Qatar’s issues were known well in advance, and should have been expressed vociferously before they were announced as host. It’s certainly rich to wait all these years, on the precipice of the tournament starting, to pompously get all virtuous. It was similar with the 2008 Beijing Olympics when Tibet suddenly became an issue during the torch relay. The reality is, if such rights are so important to an individual or a team, don’t attend at all. Credit to FIFA for stamping out any chance of on-field protests by sanctimonious teams and players.
The final between Argentina and France, to finish 3-3, and then go to penalties, was as good and dramatic as you could hope, with France having two of the best chances late to steal it. Overall, Argentina were the better team, and best of the tournament, and finally got their third World Cup. No, this win does not immediately elevate Lionel Messi to legend status alongside Diego Maradona. Maradona won the World Cup almost single-handedly for Argentina in 1986, whereas Messi was merely an excellent, occasionally exceptional, player. He only really had one moment of magic for the tournament, and that was setting up the third goal in the semi final against Croatia. He’s at the second level of best ever players. Pele and Maradona sit at the top.
Qatar 2022 was a thoroughly entertaining and engaging tournament. Having four matches a day to reduce the closure period for domestic leagues, certainly added a nice, breezy flow to it. The groups developed evenly, and at pace, and we were onto the knockout phase before we knew it. In contrast, with the traditional three matches a day of previous tournaments, the group stage can seem never ending. Games themselves were good, with very few dull draws, and there were some crazy upsets, notably Saudi Arabia beating Argentina in their first group game. The refereeing was brilliant. Absolutely no concerns, and they have honed the use of VAR. Clear rules over handball certainly help, as is adding accurately all the stoppage time to prevent time wasting. Although, when it’s 8 and 10 minutes of additional time, FIFA might want to considering reducing halves from 45 minutes to 40.
It was a great tournament for Asia too. Along with Australia advancing to the knockout stage, so did Japan and Korea. The hosts, Qatar, were a disappointment when losing all three games, especially after all the investment and being Asian Cup champions. Japan were players in two of the most memorable games. Firstly, beating Germany 2-1 in their first group game, and then Spain 2-1 in their final group game. Unfortunately they fell apart during the penalty shootout in the first knockout game against Croatia, after the match finished 1-1 after extra time. Arguably the most memorable game was Korea stunning Portugal, 2-1, in their final group game. They scored the winner in the 91st minute, then waited for the result of Ghana vs Uruguay to determine if they would progress. Everyone huddled on the pitch looking at phones for several minutes was a sight to see, and then came the jubilation. Of course, let’s not forget about Morocco becoming the first team from Africa to reach the semi finals of a World Cup. A great achievement, eventually losing to France, 2-0.
In comparison to other World Cups, Qatar 2022 is on the second level. Russia 2018 remains my favourite, with USA 1994 and Brazil 2014 at the next level, and mostly let down by some weak games in the knockout stages, including the finals themselves. Germany 2006 was great simply due to Australia’s return after 32 years and then performing well. Qatar delivered a great final and semi finals, had Australia’s best every result, while being patchy elsewhere. The images broadcast were superb, especially the wire camera that could put you on the field, and the supporting graphics like for offside. Holding the tournament in winter, despite all the whinging at the time, was clearly no issue. The default commentary feed from the host was excellent, which made SBS’s continued use of the dreary Martin Tyler for certain games, like the final, extra puzzling. He waffles on inanely and is a living barometer of the state of the game. If it’s dull, he reflects it, draining all energy from the broadcast. He only pipes up when there’s a hint of action, which was at least beneficial for the times I would drift asleep.
When Qatar bid for the World Cup, their motto was “Expect Amazing”. While it didn’t quite reach such heights, we did at least get “Excellent”. They can be proud, and now we look forward to 2026, with the USA jointly hosting the World Cup with Canada and Mexico, and it will be the first World Cup to feature 48 teams. Finally, I might actually get to one.
That was Qatar 2022 – The 22nd World Championship of Football
A somewhat strange Melbourne Cup for 2022 in that the number of international horses are down on previous years (before COVID-19), meaning the number of local horses making up the field has increased. That’s manifested into a top echelon of hopes, and then the field really tails off. Adding further into consideration is the likely soft, if not heavy, track that will immediately boost or hurt the chances of several horses.
To keep it simple, I look at form, horses that will strongly run the 3200m distance and horses with enough class or are low enough in the weights to compensate. For the wet weather leading into this year’s race, obviously those that can handle soft or heavy conditions. Some won’t at all, while some will excel in it. There’s a couple of general queries to consider every year, namely mares (female horses) often struggle (last year was an exception with Verry Elleegant and there was the phenomenal Makybe Diva winning 2003, 2004 and 2005), top weights struggle and the Caulfield Cup is nowadays often a weak guide. This year the weights are quite compressed with Gold Trip only on 57.5kg and most of best chances at least 55kg.
MY TOP 3
1 Gold Trip ($17)
Second in the Caulfield Cup and strong late in the Cox Plate. The compressed weight scale this year means being top weight is not the usual burden. A quality horse and he loves it wet.
6 Without A Fight ($10)
An international with form around the short priced favourite, Deauville Legend. Never raced on heavy; won two and placed third twice from 5 races on soft. The Flemington track drains well and there hasn’t been too much rain about. Mostly light showers. It’s unlikely to become a bog.
24 Realm Of Flowers ($10)
Third in recent two runs, super light weight, and loves the wet. There’s one or two light weight horses that run on, often in the placings, each year, and she looks the best of that group.
8 Deauville Legend ($3.60 fav)
The short priced international and it’s that price that mostly steers me clear. There’s also the fact he’s only raced 7 times in his career and none were on soft tracks. You take his class and recent form (1-2-1-2-1) on complete trust. Compared to recent European 3yo horses that won the race, he’s well up in the weights with 55kg. Cross Counter in 2018 with 51kg and Rekindling in 2017 with 51.5kg. These horses are actually three and a half on southern hemisphere time, and so the weight scale has been adjusted to compensate.
4 Montefelia ($11)
Quality mare and fourth in the Caulfield Cup. Query about the distance.
3 Knights Order ($15)
Won this year’s Sydney Cup, so can run the distance, and loves it wet. Solid in the Caulfield Cup. Only 19th last year in the Melbourne Cup.
12 Hoo Ya Mal ($15)
Has form around the favourite, with his own blemish being 8th last start on a sticky track. Without that run, probably the clear second favourite.
19 Smokin’ Romans ($16)
Hot favourite that flopped in the 2400m Caulfied Cup. Doubt over the 3200m distance of the Melbourne Cup.
18 Lunar Flare ($21)
Light weight and wet conditions give her a solid chance, at least for a placing.
10 Vow And Declare ($27)
Won in 2019 and helped me land the trifecta then. Hasn’t won since, still not going as well, and the wet won’t suit him.
9 Stockman ($31)
Loves it wet.
23 Interpretation ($46)
An international that ran poorly in the Geelong Cup. Light weight the key here.
13 Serpentine ($81)
I love the name and ran second in a weak Archer Stakes (formerly the Hotham Stakes) on Saturday.
I’ll mostly bet on Gold Trip and pot around with a few others, notably Lunar Flare. I’ll do a 5-horse boxed trifecta of Gold Trip, Without A Fight, Realm Of Flowers, Deauville Legend and probably Knights Order. A second trifecta will be Gold Trip, Without A Fight and Deauville Legend first or second, with a whole bunch of others in third.
Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!
Nice to finally pick the Melbourne Cup winner after Gold Trip proved too classy to win ahead of Emissary and High Emocean. The favourite, Deauville Legend, finished fourth ahead of Realm Of Flowers in fifth. It was the first time I picked the winner outright since Dunaden in 2011 and Americain in 2010, while in 2019 Vow And Declare was my third pick and helped me land the trifecta. With Gold Trip paying $23 for the win, it was a juicy collect of $920 for my $40 bet on Sportsbet.
My trifecta bets were another case of just missing out, with my three key hopes finishing first, fourth and fifth. If either Deauville Legend or Realm Of Flowers finished second, with Emissary in third, I would have landed that as I had Emissary in my wide trifecta for third place. Second and third place were minor outsiders at $26 and $41 chances, and if they had not performed so well, I would have landed the 5-horse box trifecta with Gold Trip, Deauville Legend and Realm Of Flowers.
Gold Trip showed that class, form in the wet, and experience, proved the difference. The couple of negatives against him weren’t actually in play when looking at the whole picture. While you must remain skeptical of Caulfield Cup form finished second) these days, Gold Trip ran well in the much classier Cox Plate a week later to validate his form. Being top weight didn’t matter as it normally would as he carried only 57.5kg and his key rivals were only 2-3kg off him. This false belief that top weight was a critical issue in 2022 erased Gold Trip from the minds of nearly all experts. Of the ten or so I tracked, only one even had him top three, with Grace Ramage of Racing.com slotting him in for third and generally liked his chances. She had Deauville Legend first and Montefilia second.
Emissary and High Emocean won the Geelong and Bendigo Cups, respectively, this year, which are typically appalling guides to the Melbourne Cup. Almost certainly the wet conditions helped – both in them performing better and reducing the chance of many rivals.
Deauville Legend simply didn’t run it out strongly enough, and the ground likely didn’t suit. He loomed to win in the straight, before Gold Trip just blasted past him. Similar situation with Without A Fight, who finished the race as his name would suggest.
Realm Of Flowers tracked with Gold Trip into the straight and couldn’t keep up. She never had the class; it was only the ultra light weight that elevated her chances.
Mares like Montefilia (16th) and Duais (18th) reinforced the fact that mares rarely do well unless they are obvious staying mares like High Emocean. Add to that the wet track and a doubt over the distance, and their results weren’t a surprise.
As for the rest, they weren’t good enough (like Knights Order), couldn’t run the distance or couldn’t handle the wet. In that sense, it was quite easy to knock out the chances of many. The uncertainty was which ones would surprise, and it actually proved to be those down in the weights that could handle the distance and the soft ground, and had recent Cup form, even if they were inferior races, because their light weights would compensate.
With the win this year, I quit! Since losing my mother in 2019, the Melbourne Cup just hasn’t been the same. It was a common interest with her since I was little, as far back as 1977, and without her, its relevance and interest has faded. She always liked “Gold” in the name of a race horse and it was this fact that ensured I stick with Gold Trip, despite a couple of little doubts I had. I was already thinking I’d quit regardless of the result this year, and with Gold Trip’s win, it’s the perfect timing. I won big in the year I lost my mother, and now again with Gold Trip. So thanks, Mumsey!
I will still watch the Melbourne Cup, and post my tips on Twitter. It’s just the betting that is over.
01 Gold Trip ($19.40 W, $5.80 P) 02 Emissary ($7.40 P) 03 High Emocean ($9 P) 04 Deauville Legend 05 Realm Of Flowers 06 Daqiansweet Junior 07 Smokin’ Romans 08 Stockman 09 Knights Order 10 Vow And Declare 11 Arapaho 12 Hoo Ya Mal 13 Without A Fight 14 Grand Promenade 15 Young Werther 16 Montefilia 17 Tralee Rose 18 Duais 19 Numerian 20 Serpentine 21 Camorra Failed to finish – Interpretation Scratchings – Lunar Flare, Point Nepean
Football Federation Australia is the process of announcing the Socceroos Team of the Century as part of that 100 Years Of The Socceroos celebrations. It’s judge by the fans and voting closes 7th September. Here’s the link. Remember to set your formation first. I chose a 5-2-1-2, which is a sweeper system, as I already knew most of the players I’d select were best suited to this system. In reality, it could be 5-3-2 or even 3-5-2. Three at the back gives your sweeper the liberty to go forward, while your wide players would add defensive cover. My team is a mix of players from an era that I first really engaged with the Socceroos (the early 1990s), and those that formed the golden generation that culminated in World Cup qualification in 2006 – the first such qualification since 1974.
They pick themselves. Harry Kewell is arguably the greatest talent Australia has ever produced, while Mark Viduka is a dominant striker that can play various roles. While I believe he’s best with two up front, he can play as a solo striker, allowing the likes of Kewell to play deeper in a revised formation or simply to mix up the game if needed.
Tim Cahill is simply a maestro of scoring goals when needed, and seemed even more lethal when playing deeper, rather than main striker as during the latter stages of his international career. If required, he and Kewell could switch roles. Ned Zelic was sadly lost to the Australian team when Frank Farina was coach, seeming to be a surplus requirement in his 4-4-2 formation. Despite that, it’s impossible to argue that Zelic was one of our most gifted players ever, and really made a name for himself when Australia qualified for the 2002 Olympics, beating Netherlands in the final playoff, with Zelic scoring all 3 goals, including the famous decider from near the goal-line in Utrect. Zelic was also proficient enough to play in midfield or as a sweeper, and played at the highest level of club football in Europe. Paul Okon became Farina’s main choice in midfield, led the team well for the 2002 World Cup qualification campaign, played in Italy’s Serie A, and in this 5-3-2 formation, there’s no reason both he and Zelic can’t be included. Zelic is this team’s captain.
Whether this formation is 5-3-2 or 3-5-2, there’s zero competition for the wide defenders. Brett Emerton on the right; Stan Lazaridis on the left. Both had speed, with Emerton able to nip in for goals and Lazaridis a superb crosser. Lucas Neill is clearly Australia’s best ever defender, so gets a spot as stopper. On the other side is Mehmet Durakovic, who was incredibly solid during his career of 64 caps, could score goals, and was famous for scoring the equalising goal against Canada in a playoff for the 1994 World Cup. When you’re talking sweeper, there was no better than Milan Ivanovic. Not just his reading of the game; it was also his ability to provide scything attacking passes out of defence. He was a freak at times. It’s sad he’ll be remember for losing possession to Diego Maradona in Sydney in the first leg of the playoff against Argentina for the final spot for that 1994 World Cup. He was exposed a little, and, of course, Maradona popped a sublime cross on the head of Abel Balbo. Australia soon equalised to go to Argentina at 1-1, before losing 1-0 there in a tight match.
As much as Mark Schwarzer, over his record career of 109 caps, had very safe hands, coming off the line was one of his weaknesses. This was noted most famously against Japan at the 2006 World Cup, and which ultimately saw him dropped for the game against Croatia. While Mark Bosnich was the most talented goalkeeper Australia has produced and played at the highest club level, he played only 17 times for Australia and, let’s just say it, it was a rubbish goal-kick that Iran rebounded to sink Australia’s hopes for the 1998 World Cup. So Robbie Zabica gets the nod. A stalwart during the first half of the 1990s, and was stoic in that second leg against Argentina for a spot at the 1994 World Cup. He was reliable and, most of all, had an affinity with the defenders in this team.
Essentially the next best options that missed the final eleven and potentially could fill more than one role. Frank Farina was Australia’s leading striker in the 1980s and early 1990s, Craig Moore a quality and enduring defender, Paul Wade was solid in midfield and a could pop up for goals, and Marco Bresciano was dynamic in midfield. Aurelio Vidmar could play up front or in midfield. Those to just miss the squad are Charlie Yankos and Robbie Slater.
Likely a controversial selection for many, Graham Arnold simply emerges as the best option when you analyse the careers of all Australia’s previous coaches and considering the players he would manage. As colourful and patriotic that Frank Arok was, he never got Australia to a World Cup, and is most particularly remembered for the loss to Israel in a playoff before even the final playoff (against Colombia) for the 1990 World Cup.
The Eddie Thomson era was an interesting one, given he was first to load the team with high profile players based overseas, and to much publicity too. Farina, Zelic, Slater, Arnold, Vidmar, Bosnich – they were all there, while Thomson wisely stuck to a core group of domestic players in defence, who already had formed themselves into a solid, cohesive unit.
The blistering exhibition Thomson promised from the team materialised when routing New Zealand, and after a tight 2-1 loss in Canada (Australia led despite goalkeeper, Robbie Zabica, sent off), Thomson promised Australia wouldn’t get beaten at home by a team like this Canadian one and couldn’t wait to get them in Sydney. In a game Australia could have won 10-0, a goalkeeping error by Mark Schwarzer (replaced the suspended Zabica) saw Canada lead 3-2 on aggregate before Australia scored late and Schwarzer famously redeemed himself in the penalty shootout.
Next was Argentina, in the final playoff, where Thomson disappointed many in the home leg by starting with only one striker (Graham Arnold) up front instead of the double striker of the previous games. While Australia played well to draw 1-1 after going behind, they would need to score in Argentina to have any hope. They couldn’t, with an unlucky deflected cross lobbing into the goal to give Argentina a 1-0 win. This lack of faith in the players at critical moments is something that would taint the record of several future coaches.
Australia famously fell short for 1998, losing to Iran in a playoff after leading 3-1 on aggregate in Melbourne, with arguably Terry Venables opting to play nuggets in defence, including the under-prepared Steve Horvat, instead of the reliable Milan Ivanovic to partner Alex Tobin, being the critical failure. Despite Australia dominating throughout, Iran scored two goals in the last 15 minutes to level the series 3-3 and win on away goals.
As much as Guus Hiddink was lauded for imprinting upon the team a new belief and style, he made blunders at the 2006 World Cup, notably starting Zelko Kalac against Croatia and conceding an early penality, and leaving substitutions too late against Italy, thinking a better strategy was to overrun them in extra time (Italy had a man sent off early in the second half). He also got lucky in the tie against Uruguay, which could have been over in minutes had Alvaro Recoba not missed early in Sydney. Uruguay had plenty of other chances too, meaning Australia would need to score 3 goals to win the playoff, instead of the 1-0 that pushed it to penalties.
If you look at match results against high calibre oppoents, Frank Farina arguably reigned over Australia’s most successful period. Australia finished third in the 2001 Confederations Cup when beating world champions France in the group phase and Brazil in the playoff for third. They lost to Japan 1-0 in the semi final, which is indicative of a frustrating pattern with Australia’s international sports teams and athletes of doing well as underdogs and choking as favourites.
Facing Uruguay in a playoff for the 2002 World Cup, the high hopes after a tough 1-0 win in Melbourne were unravelled within 15 minutes in Montevideo when Uruguay scored and levelled the tie on aggregate. Farina foolishly believed the team needed a goal in Uruguay when clearly protecting their lead was more important. While his theory was sound that an Australian goal under the away-goals rule would transform the tie and make it very difficult for Uruguay, surely you start with a solid defence, because stopping goals is easier than scoring them.
Until the 90th minute when Uruguay scored their third goal, this mystical away-goal scenario was actually still alive. Uruguay going up 2-0 in the 70th minute still meant an Australian goal would see them qualify on away-goals. Alas, Australia couldn’t score. Instead, they were reckless, got caught out early, and lost 3-0, with Farina adamant in belief that Australia always needed a goal. He probably still believes that. After famously beating England in England in 2003, results soon began to sour for Farina, which included 3 spectacular losses at the 2005 Confederations Cup (spectacular in that Australia still scored plenty of goals against Germany and Argentina!) and that’s when Guus Hiddink was brought in for the final qualifying stage for 2006. He noted Australia’s style at the Confederations Cup as something like 4 across the back, 4 across the middle, and 2 cowboys up front.
Pim Verbeek managed Australia through the World Cup campaign for 2010 in South Africa, and for the tournament itself. After so long in Oceania and subjected to cruel, random playoffs, 2010 was the first time Australia qualified through Asia, notably through a group phase, where one or two bad results would not crucify you. With the bulk of the stellar 2006 team still in the squad, it was an easy passage. Verbeek would be judged in South Africa. “Pimbecile” headlines were already fermenting when Australia started against Germany with no strikers, and they were quickly confirmed with Australia all at sea and losing 4-0. The Verbeek era was essentially over. He simply had no faith in Australian players, especially from the domestic league, and the only time he got adventurous was when the team took charge against Serbia and looked like they could qualify for the knockout phase. The 2-1 win wasn’t enough, and Australia missed out on goal difference, even with the same results in 2006 of a win, loss and draw (1-1 to Ghana). Had they held Germany to 1-0, they would have qualified.
Ange Postecoglou had almost complete impunity to do as he pleased at Brazil 2016 after Holger Osieck was sacked just prior to the tournament. Two 6-0 losses in preparation games (to Brazil and France) compounded a reality of a tired and aging squad. Osieck, like Verbeek, had almost zero faith in domestic players, hoping the aging list could last until Brazil. While the youthful team that Postecoglou managed did play well (particularly against Netherlands), they left Brazil with three losses and were clearly exposed as substandard.
Postecoglou would win the 2015 Asian Cup on home soil before almost failing to get the team to the 2018 World Cup. Before Australia comfortably handled Honduras in the final playoff, Syria just missed scoring in the dying seconds of the third placed Asian playoff, which would have seen them play Honduras. Postecoglou then notoriously quit on the eve of the 2018 World Cup, meaning he left with his job and legacy as mission incomplete. He whinged about lack of support from Football Australia; in truth, he’s been a coach to quit on a high or when tough scrutiny begins to emerge, unable to cope with even mild criticism. Bert van Marwijk took over duties in Russia and summed up the two losses and a draw as “I’m not a magician”.
Then there’s Rale Rasic, who took Australia to their first World Cup, in 1974. It was a different era, so it’s difficult to compare. Australia certainly had a tough run to qualify, needing to win a group that involved New Zealand, Indonesia and Iraq, then beat Iran over two legs, then beat South Korea over two legs. That final series ended in two draws, so a third match in neutral Hong Kong was arranged in which Australia won, 1-0. In Germany, Australia lost to both East and West Germany, before drawing with Chile. They didn’t score a goal.
When speaking of toughness, arguably Graham Arnold has had the toughest job since Rale Rasic to get Australia to a World Cup. While qualifying top two in one of two final Asian qualifying groups sounds easy in simple terms, in reality the current generation of players are one of the weakest bunch Australia has had, and then add COVID-19 forcing home matches played away and creating other problems, and there were two sudden death playoffs to navigate, including a tough opponent in Peru in the final one, Arnold and Australia had so much against them. Qualifying for Qatar 2022 was a true triumph, easily comparing, if not surpassing, 1974 in difficulty. Another factor in his favour is that Arnold is from an era where he’d understand the mentality, and have faith in, many of the players selected in this team. Specifically the likes of Ivanovic, Durakovic, Lazaridis and Zabica in the final eleven, Farina, Vidmar and Wade on the bench, and even with Viduka and Emerton, who both emerged through the domestic soccer league before playing overseas. While Arnold’s yet to be tested at a World Cup, a competent display will be enough to compare equal to his predecessors and even be seen as a triumph.
25 September 2022
Football Australia announced the official Socceroos Team of the Century. More a squad of the century, as it includes 23 players and no specific positions defined. The forwards are the most obvious picks and align with my choices. Midfield and defence differ (six omissions), as does the coach (an assistant). Sixteen of the positions were chosen by fans, while a panel of historians chose the rest (in bold).
Players: John ALOISI, Mark BRESCIANO, Tim CAHILL, Scott CHIPPERFIELD, Reg DATE, Brett EMERTON, Mile JEDINAK, Harry KEWELL, John KOSMINA, Joe MARSTON, Judy MASTERS, Jimmy MCNABB (GK), Craig MOORE, Aaron MOOY, Lucas NEILL, Alf QUILL, Mathew RYAN (GK), Mark SCHWARZER (GK), Alex TOBIN, Tony VIDMAR, Mark VIDUKA, Johnny WARREN, Peter WILSON.
Head Coach: Guus HIDDINK
Assistant Coaches: Graham ARNOLD, Ange POSTECOGLOU, Rale RASIC
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 this 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.