Australia vs Netherlands – Preview

18 June 2014

Defence must hold up

As strange as it seems, especially after reading all the “must win” claims in the media, Australia does not need to beat Netherlands in their second group match   tonight. Presuming Spain beat Chile, that leaves both Spain and Chile on 3 points, Australia on 0 and the Dutch on 6. The equation for the final match in the group is for Australia to beat Spain, and hope Netherlands beat Chile. If Australia snag a draw tonight, then they could afford Netherlands and Chile to draw the final match. It will come down to goal difference, and that’s where conceding the extra goal against Chile will hurt, and where the Dutch demolition of Spain helps.

Defence will be an even bigger key than it was in the first match. In light of the national exuberance that Australia prevented itself from being destroyed and, indeed, “competed” adequately for 70 minutes, the big issue entering this tournament was defence. It failed. That this fundamental tenet of the game be ignored because the rest of the match was reasonable, is wrong. Defending will be the test in tonight’s match, not whether Australia can have its moments and create a few chances. Because most likely, it will.

Reality is that Australia has been competing on the world stage for at least two decades. It was only 13 years ago that they defeated world champions France and subsequent world champions Brazil on the way to a third place at a Confederations Cup. They’ve already reached a knockout stage of a World Cup once, and nearly did it again four years ago. Despite the novice nature of some of the team, Australia are not putting out amateurs on the pitch like 30 or 40 years ago. These are all full time professionals players, many of whom with decent and long established European experience.

Maybe it’s been the media that’s lulled the players – and most fans – into this thinking of Australia is suddenly a “minnow” again, and honourable losses are acceptable. Thankfully, coach Ange Postecoglou has not been consumed by this faux pride, repeating in many interviews since about his disappointment at letting an opportunity slip. Quite possibly, the major opportunity for a win is gone. It wasn’t Spain or Netherlands in that first game. It was Chile. Despite the flawed FIFA rankings often cited, Chile are hardly a world power. They’ve only have been to the round of 16 twice in their long history at the World Cup, and never passed it. Usually they fall at the group stage. Before the tournament, Chile was the match against we hoped to draw, if not win. Now the results must come from the real big boys of the group.

Australia’s record against the Netherlands is statistically good at 2 draws and 1 win. In truth, both the two draws could easily have been a battering. The first was a 1-1 in Rotterdam in the lead-up to the 2006 World Cup, and the other was a 0-0 in Sydney towards the end of the Pim Verbeek era. Poor shooting, good goal-keeping and good luck kept Australia in both the drawn matches. Even the 1-1, Australia’s goal came from a penalty, which was saved only for Tim Cahill to win the pounce on the scrimmage for the rebound. The win, in Eindhoven, and under Verbeek, was a good, recovering from an early goal conceded.

With Ivan Franjic injured, Ryan McGowan will most likely take the right back spot and will offer more defensive surety at the expense of attacking prowess. It was Franjic that set up Cahill’s goal, and the one disallowed for offside. Maybe Ange will tweak his attacking options, as Tom Oar was poor on the left wing against Chile. Mark Milligan will miss the game through injury, which should not harm the team’s prospects too much as he’s merely one of several moderately good players available can fulfil a deep midfield role.

It can’t be emphasised enough. Defence is the key, and will be severely under the microscope. It simply must hold up. Then the Dutch could get frustrated, and leave a few gaps for Australia to exploit. With the hammering of Spain under their belt, they go into this match expected to win. It will be hard to suppress this over-confidence, so the best way to use it against them is to keep them under pressure. That will be done by seeing a zero next to the Netherlands on the scoreboard for as long as possible. Quite simply, nothing will be as galling and disappointing in this match than if Australia lost by a couple of goals and conceded early. Nothing.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Disappointing loss to Chile despite the promise shown

14 June 2014

Chile 3 – Australia 1

We as a country must be at a low ebb if we are “proud” of a 3-1 loss to a team in which hoped for a better result. After conceding two early goals, it was disappointing not to convert one of the several chances created in the second half, and then even more disappointing to concede another goal in injury time. The goal Australia scored came courtesy of a Tim Cahill header that brought the game to 2-1 ten minutes before half time. Post match it was odd to see all the studio and commentary “experts”, along with most fans, beaming with pride at the “performance” despite the sickly feeling of the final goal and the lack of converting the second half renaissance into something tangible. It harks back to the era of 20 or 30 years ago when Australian teams were indeed proud simply to get close to quality teams – to play well enough and not be annihilated, and regale in our “brave losses”. Are we back in this situation again?

Thankfully coach Ange Postecoglou didn’t buy into this nonsense of a good performance. While proud that the team did not capitulate after such a poor start that many anticipated in such a scenario, he was far more disappointed that nothing was gained at the result. He is not in Brazil for “performance” and getting style marks. This is not figure skating. It’s a score based game and scoring is the quintessential measure of a result at such a tournament. Yes, even with the somewhat experimental and youthful team, that does not absolve the greater responsibility of achievement. After all, if you are not driving for a result at the pinnacle tournament of the sport, when will you go for it?

Australia will rue the horrible start to the game. Two goals in two minutes inside the first 12 minutes almost made the mission hopeless. Against fears of the inexperienced defence unravelling and an avalanche of goals conceded, Australia regained composure, and gradually worked back into the game. No doubt Chile also relaxed, with their objective of maximum points from this game before they face the tougher opposition of Spain and Netherlands well in reach. When Cahill scored, the pressure returned on Chile, further enabling Australia to have an impact in the game. Cahill had a goal denied after being just offside, he also had a penalty claim for a shirt pulled ignored, and Mark Bresciano had a low chance from a volley that was well saved. The shirt pull on Cahill was far worse than that seen in the game involving Brazil and Croatia that saw Brazil win a penalty. The difference? Cahill did not throw himself to the ground. You wonder why players “cheat”.

While Australia could craft a few good chances, defence proved the issue. While unlucky for the first goal that the rebound fell to Alexis Sanchez, Mile Jedinak could be pinpointed for not charging at the ball to make a clearing header. The second goal was a mess, with the defence dragged to the right side of the pitch, leaving huge gaps on the left for Jorge Valdivia to exploit and score from mid range. The final goal came from a quickly rebounded goal kick that caught the defence out of shape, especially with Australia pushing for an equalising goal. Also, just after 70 minutes, Chile broke through for a one-on-one situation that could have been curtains for Australia had it not been wrongly adjudicated as offside.

In the group’s other game, the Netherlands destroyed Spain 5-1. With the Dutch being Australia’s next opponents, there simply cannot be any defence lapses. The Dutch victory also has interesting ramifications on the group. While mathematically it makes Australia’s task to progress more difficult as now four points will almost certainly be the minimum required to qualify, it might see a somewhat relaxed and over confident Dutch team enter the game. The pressure on them to beat Australia won’t be near anything as high had they suffered a loss to Spain. Of course, Netherlands have yet to beat Australia at senior level, even if that statistic comprises of only a handful of non-serious games. Continuing that streak will be handy.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Australia vs Chile – Preview

13 June 2014

On paper, Australia’s team is rubbish and they have no hope in this World Cup. Compare to 2006 when the attack was comprised of Viduka, Kewell and Emerton, with Cahill in support out of midfield, in 2014 it’s Leckie, Vidosic and Oar, with Cahill thrown out of position to lead the line. The defence was tight in 2006 with Neill and Moore at their peak. Now it’s the unconvincing Spiranovic, with either novices Wilkinson or McGowan as his partner. Midfield has only seen a minor decline, with Jedinak and Milligan as serviceable as Grella and Culina, and probably a tad better creatively, while Bresciano is still around, albeit in a greatly reduced capacity. Australia was always a defensive liability out wide with its converted midfielders of Chipperfield and Wilkshire. Davidson and Franjic are on par, at least defensively, and that’s where it will really count in Brazil. Other than the retirement of Viduka, the squad largely remained for 2010 in South Africa, and accrued the same number of points in their three games as they did in Germany.

Since Ange Postecoglou took over as coach, Australia has shown little to suggest the heavy defeats against Brazil and France that saw Holger Osieck sacked won’t be totally avoided. While 6-0 losses are unlikely, the team has still looked vulnerable in defence against the moderate opposition it has played so far. A 1-0 home win over an under-strength Costa Rica was put into context by a 4-3 loss to Ecuador in London. The four goals all coming in the second half after Ecuador made a raft of changes, including the replacement of their experimental defence with their first team regulars. Most recent results has been the uninspiring 1-1 draw at home against South Africa (again, defence easily breached for the goal conceded) and a 1-0 loss to Croatia in Brazil.

The issue with this team will be largely psychological: are the scars of those two thrashings healed? While the old guard of Neill and Ognenovski are gone, the replacements have never hinted at being superior. Like most of the team, they’ve been picked as part of a rejuvenation philosophy, not that they’ve usurped the incumbents. The pessimistic hue over this team remains, especially that once the defence is breached, it could be a goal avalanche. The novice defence just doesn’t inspire confidence against the calibre of teams that Australia will face. Not that much is expected of them either. Ange’s big challenge will be to inspire them. Even if he masters that, then there’s the problem of goals. Cahill is a poacher more than anything. The lack of creativity and individual brilliance, the lack of a lethal edge anywhere in front of goal, and even the lack of a dedicated out and out striker in the team (Kennedy’s omission was shocking), will make scoring difficult. As much as Australia’s opponents are tough going forward, they are just as tough at stopping, and are unlikely to be troubled by the moderate opposition.

The one salvation for Australia is the group composition itself. If Spain can dominate as expected and win all three games, that makes the spot for second much more open. If Netherlands and Chile draw their match, then Australia could advance with just two draws. It would come down to the team pushing Spain the closest. Winning a match would obviously make the second phase more attainable, especially if Australia’s other two matches are narrow losses, or even a draw could be gained. Facing Spain last could be advantage if they are already qualified and potentially relaxed. Also, given the tightness of the group and the low regard of Australia, Chile (especially) and Netherlands (especially if they are belted by Spain in the first game) will have all the pressure on them. If Australia snag a goal, they could indeed surprise. It’s just a shame that these peripheral issues will be the dominant force for Australia to advance, and not sheer footballing ability. Unfortunately, that is the reality of it.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

Squad Preview, Tactics and Strategy as Neill dropped

10 May 2014

The World Cup in Brazil is just 4 weeks away. In some unavoidable timing, the Socceroo Realm will be away leading into the World Cup, and will miss the preparation match on 25 May in Sydney against South Africa, and some of the build-up thereafter. Check the twitter feed on the homepage for small updates.

In place is this piece provided for a British website late last year – and now with some updates.


Lucas Neill dropped

First, the big change since the above piece was written was the retirement, either voluntarily, pre-emptively or decided for them, of several big name players, notably captain Lucas Neill. He was notified by coach Ange Postecoglou that he would not be in the World Cup squad. In the end, it was easy. With no real club form for over a year, no player can expect to be selected in that situation. With a sweeping regeneration of the team now in place, it’s almost impossible any older player will have their career extended unless there’s a really compelling reason to select them.

It’s a shame for Neill. He loved playing for Australia, and we shouldn’t begrudge any player wanting to keep playing as long as possible. While many fans wanted him out long ago, he was more a cause celebre for the broader problem of an aging and sluggish team. In truth, there were others ahead of him to go first and, more importantly, there were no younger replacements ready to step up and take his place. He still is among our best defenders even at this stage of his career. As recently as the final few World Cup qualifiers, his return as part of a settled and experienced defensive unit was integral to Australia qualifying. Ultimately, if fans don’t like that certain players are in the team, the coach should be the target of blame and criticism, not the player.

Thankfully, as often the case, bitterness has been swallowed, and the tributes flowing. Ange at least allowed him to equal the Australian record of most caps as captain with Peter Wilson at 61. Wilson captained Australia at the 1974 World Cup, while Neill had the role in 2006 and 2010. Does that make Neill Australia’s best captain ever? It’s a bit abstract and difficult to calculate. How does leadership add or diminish your general performance? Raw statistics say yes. So do raw results. He’s certainly our best defender ever, and with Craig Moore our best defensive pair. Overall, the trio of Milan Ivanovic, Mehmet Durakovic and Alex Tobin – as part of a sweeper system in the 90s – would trump them as our best ever defensive unit.

Had Neill had been playing regularly at club level, and at a decent club, he’d have been a worthy addition to the World Cup squad, at least as a squad player. At the very least, his experience would have been invaluable. At best, he’d have been a steady hand in case the youngsters did capitulate badly. Unlike Mark Schwarzer, Neill didn’t cut and run either. It was never an option to decide he won’t play for Australia. It was the highest honour and he fought it out. Isn’t that the Australian spirit we all love to see?

The other retiree was Brett Holman. He announced it a week before Neill got the call from Ange, stating he’ll concentrate on his club career in the Middle East and his young family. Unlike Neill, a much less of a concern. The rare spectacular goal never compensated for his erratic passing, running and shooting. Ange obviously told Holman that time was up, so Holman did the honourable thing like Schwarzer to “retire”, rather than be retired.


December 2013

Squad Preview, Tactics and Strategy

** Defence **

Australia’s defence, much like the rest of the team, is in a state of transition. Under a reign of two Dutch coaches including Guus Hiddinck and Pim Verbeek, and then under German Holger Osieck, Australia has deployed a back four of two central stoppers and two attacking full-backs, with those full-backs typically converted wide midfielders. The result has been defensive frailities at the highest level, such as the past two World Cups, where the team was unable to produce a clean sheet in any of its seven games. At the lower level in the Asian region, they haven’t been exposed as much and, indeed, allowed the team to escape difficult situations during World Cup qualifiers, and even during those World Cups, notably against Japan and Croatia in 2006, and Serbia in 2010.

After two 6-0 embarrassments against Brazil and France in recent friendlies, and after stuttering through the World Cup qualifiers, Osieck was replaced by the local Ange Postecoglou. His first change is to deploy specialist defenders, with attacking capabilities, in those wide postings. His one and only game so far, a 1-0 victory in a friendly against Costa Rica in Sydney, produced an accomplished defensive display without losing anything going forward. By no means a conservative coach, Postecoglou has instantly recognised that the pillars of excelling at the World Cup, especially against such group opponents of Spain, Netherlands and Chile, will be on the back of a solid defence. Australia’s next match is not until March, so with such little opportunities to experiment, Postecoglou will be staking the success of his defence on his double-championship experience as coach of Brisbane Roar in the domestic A-League.

Lucas Neill is the highest profile defender after a long career in the English Premier League with Blackburn and West Ham. Now in Japan and with an Australian record of 61 caps as captain, he’s the talismanic focus in the nation’s dispute over the team’s lack of regeneration since the last World Cup. On one hand he is older and slower, on the other there’s no one behind to push him out. With Postecoglou likely to model the remainder of defence around integrating newer players, chances are Neill will be retained for his invaluable experience to marshal the likes of Rhys Williams, Jason Davidson, Ryan McGowan, Ivan Franjic and Alex Wilkinson, all of which play in lower profile European teams, Korea and the A-League.

Goal-keeping will be in the hands of novices on the world stage after the sensational retirement of Mark Schwarzer on the even of the match against Costa Rica. With a long career in the EPL with the likes of Middlesborough and Fulham, Schwarzer moved to Chelsea in the summer as a reserve goal-keeper to potentially be part of a trophy winning squad. Perhaps pre-empting his fate of being dropped from the national team, he undertook the decision himself to go on his terms. Postecoglou has made it clear that players won’t be picked if not playing regular first team football. Schwarzer’s decision is a pity because, with two World Cups behind him, the likes of Matt Ryan (Club Brugge, Belgium) and Mitch Langerak (Borussia Dortmund) would greatly benefit from his guidance. As it stands, Ryan, who started against Costa Rica, will be favourite to assume the number one role given his excellent and consistent form for his club.

Update

With Neill gone, Curtis Good of Dundee Utd was Ange’s next pick. He played well enough against Ecuador is likely to gain a starting role in Brazil. Matthew Spiranovic of Western Sydney is likely, while Brisbane’s Ivan Franji as sewn up a position out wide. Matt Ryan has sewn up the number one goal keeper’s spot.

** Midfield **

As with the defence, new coach Ange Postecoglou will revert to playing players in their position of strength, rather than fit players into unnatural positions simply to have them on the park, as was the case under the previous two coaches of Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek. The key issue he will face is of who to leave out. Tim Cahill was the most notorious example of the old policy, often thrown forward as a striker, to allow for one of the abundance of midfield options to get a spot. That had a detrimental to both his and the team’s goal scoring power.

In Postecoglou’s one and only game so far, a friendly against Costa Rica, Cahill was used as a substitute to allow the coach a look at fringe players. More likely he’ll resume his classic and most dangerous position of a box-to-box midfielder in which he excelled at Everton in the EPL for 8 years and in which he was scoring a goal every two games for Australia, including Australia’s first ever World Cup goals, against Japan in 2006. Now at New York in the MLS, he’s come off a successful year with 12 goals from 39 games.

Robbie Kruse, at Bayern Leverkusen, is playing at the highest club level of any Australian. With his speed and skill and marauding striking ability, he’s the other key attacking component out of midfield. He’ll operate on the right, while Tom Oar from FC Utrect will offer a similar outlet on the left. Central midfield options are the aging Mark Bresciano, a stalwart of Italy’s Serie A and now in Qatar, the aforementioned Tim Cahill, and Celtic’s Tom Rogic. Rogic is seen as the future of Australian football with his skilful dribbling and deft passing. He’ll definitely gain game time, most likely as a substitute.

Recent Australian teams have played with two defensive midfielders with Mile Jedinak (captain at Crystal Palace) and Mark Milligan (captain at the A-League’s biggest club, Melbourne Victory). Both are adept at going forward, while Milligan’s outstanding defensive awareness could see him operate in front of the defensive line alone if required. Matt McKay of Brisbane Roar is adaptable to various midfield positions, and was integral in his club’s double-championship success under the helm of Postecoglou as coach. The formation and selections will depend on how much Spain and Netherlands temper Postecoglou’s attack minded tendencies. Indications so far is that he won’t be shirking the challenge.

Update

Robbie Kruse tore an anterior cruciate in his knee earlier this year and is out of the World Cup. Tom Rogic is still too raw so unlikely to get a starting birth. Massimo Luongo of Swindon Town and Oliver Bozanic are likely to gain roles now.

** Attack **

Australia’s one key striker at present is Joshua Kennedy of Nagoya Grampus. With 17 goals from 33 games, his aerial prowess has come to the fore many times, most notably in the pivotal 1-0 win over Iraq to qualify Australia for Brazil 2014. Coming on late as a substitute for Tim Cahill, Kennedy scored in the 83th minute to ease a nation’s nerves. Kennedy was part of a trend during the last three qualifiers that saw Australia score 5 of its six goals from actual strikers. Bizarre as that may sound, with Kennedy often injured and with coach of the time Holger Osieck loath to explore other options, the pattern through the qualifiers was to use one of the bevy of attacking midfielders as a striker. It didn’t work, resulting in a stodgy qualifying process.

As with the midfield and defence, new coach Ange Postecoglou is looking to play players in their positions of strength. Kennedy is back and will be integral to the team, especially with his height. It could be imagined he’ll start against Chile, and then used as an impact player against Netherlands and Spain. The recurring issue is fitting Cahill in the team with Kennedy. Historically, the team easily became too enamoured with a game of long balls and early crosses if both were present. Osieck’s solution was to drop Kennedy. In Postecoglou’s only game so far, a 1-0 win in a friendly over Costa Rica, he also kept Kennedy and Cahill apart. That could be more out of experiment to try other players, more than a guide to his future plans.

Charged with also looking for the next generation of Australian strikers, Mathew Leckie of FSV Frankfurt lead the line against Costa Rica, supported by Dario Vidosic of FC Sion, and Robbie Kruse. All performed satisfactorily. One exciting name on the horizon is Mitchell Duke from Central Coast Mariners in the A-League. He excelled at 2013 East Asia Cup and was in the recent squad to face Brazil. Tomi Juric of Western Sydney Wanderers is also another potential inclusion. Two players unlikely to be seen are veterans Harry Kewell and Archie Thompson. Kewell has long slipped off the radar and is struggling to recapture anywhere near the form he once had when marauding for Leeds in the EPL, while Thompson – the world record holder of 13 goals in an international match – simply lacks the composure at the highest international level.

Update

Kennedy is the mystery and is seemingly out of fashion as an out and out striker. He’ll certainly be going to Brazil and most likely used off the bench. Kewell retired at the end of the A-League season and Thompson is long past his best – not that his best was ever good enough at top international level. Leckie looks to have sewn up the main striker’s role, with the likes of Cahill and Vidosic in support.

** Tactics **

Australia’s coach Ange Postecoglou has vowed that he won’t be intimidated by his group opponents of Chile, Netherlands and Spain, and eagerly looks forward to the challenge to create some of the biggest upsets in World Cup football. With two stunning championships in the A-League with Brisbane Roar, and then a similar remodelling with Melbourne Victory until he was recruited by Football Australia to replace Holger Osieck – sacked in October after embarrassing 6-0 losses in friendlies to Brazil and France.

Postecoglou brought an attacking, possession based passing game to Brisbane that made full width of the pitch, the hallmark of which was an unnerving penchant of delivering results late in games, notably both Grand Final victories, and setting an Australian record of 36 undefeated club matches for any football code. At Melbourne Victory, tweaks were made to deliver a more counter-punching style. Elements of both will be seen in the national team, plus potentially a surprise or two given the acclaim generated of Postecoglou’s tactical nous.

Ostensibly the formation will be 4-2-3-1, possibly 4-1-4-1 given the status of match. The central striker can often drop a little deeper to allow the two wide attackers to penetrate the last line, essentially switching the formation to a 4-1-3-2. Speed will be the key ingredient along with support from deeper midfield. Defensive integrity will be maintained by the actual use of specialist defenders in the back four, rather than converted midfielders that saw Australia fail to keep a clean sheet in all its seven games of the previous two World Cups.

Australia’s big challenge – and essentially the one that devoured Osieck’s credibility – is adapting from being the hunter in the Asian region, to hunted at World Cup level. Asian opposition often sat back to force Australia to make the running, allowing the luxury of converted wide midfielders in full-back positions. While no doubt Postecoglou will look for periods to pressure the opposition with length possession, the reality is that a sound defence will be the cornerstone of progressing to the next phase.

Can Australia make it? Oddly, Spain in their group is a huge favour – just as long as Spain defeats all the teams. That clears the race for second sport, whereby one win could see a team progress. If all other matches are draws, then just two points is enough, with the team with narrowest loss to Spain the team to finish second. That scenario is rare, so given that Spain does dominate the group, Australia will hope to snag one win and a draw. If Chile vs Netherlands is a draw, then the one win will be enough.

The key will be not to lose to Chile, then back it up with a good result against Holland. Failing that, the last match against a potentially already qualified Spain, Australia will have nothing to lose.

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Calamitous end to a promising start as Ecuador roll Australia

06 March 2014

London, Australia 3 – Ecuador 4

For a polished display of attacking football against a lackadaisical defence, let Australia vs Ecuador be your lesson

For a polished display of calamitous football when holding a 3 goal lead, let Australia vs Ecuador also be your lesson

If it wasn’t for the fact that this was an experimental side and that coach Ange Postecoglou had only had one training session with the team beforehand, the 4-3 loss to Ecuador overnight would be a national embarrassment.

After such a promising start with a 3-0 lead at half time, Australia ended the match as losers and with a man short. The red card itself was not enough to mitigate the embarrassment or discredit Ecuador’s resurgence because Ecuador already scored once, and would have scored the penalty in the incident involving the red card. So that’s 3-2 with Ecuador firmly in control and with 30 minutes of the second half left.

Australia’s defence had already vaporised before the red card; goalie Mitch Langerak’s expulsion for a crude challenge only made it more difficult. With Ecuador’s first two goals, Australia was beaten by speed and a total lack organisation. Jason Davidson was again caught out of position at a critical moment, losing Fidel Martinez for the first goal, even though tightly marking the initial run. Davidson’s yet to show any hint of being a reassuring defender.

Even the excellent first half performance needs to be tempered with the fact Ecuador didn’t offer any defence. It was so incoherent at times that the average Australian supporter would be begging them to play better to test our team for the tougher challenges that await with Spain and Netherlands. At half time, among the five substitutions made, Ecuador’s coach switched his experimental defence for his regulars and it was the Ecuador you’d expect to see from a tough South American World Cup qualifying phase.

There’s still issues with Tim Cahill. While he scored the goal from open play, Mathew Leckie was marooned on the right wing and made almost totally ineffective. He’s better central, with Cahill back to his traditional midfield position, with a different right sided wide player needed. That’s where Australia will really miss Robbie Kruse. Dario Vidosic came on for Cahill later in the game. Maybe he is the wide right player.

It’s difficult to make much sense of this game given the polar extremes offered by both teams. We know Australia’s defence is still shaky. A preliminary World Cup squad is to be named before Australia’s next preparation match, against South Africa (who lost 5-0 at home to Brazil overnight) in Sydney in May. The lesson learned is Ange will need to be the miracle man we hope him to be if Australia is to get anything out of the World Cup.

Notes

Matt Ryan has surely sowed up the number one goal-keeping spot. Langerak was too reckless. While Brad Jones didn’t do much wrong, Australia can’t go to Brazil with two club reserves as their reserves. We need at least two goalies playing regularly with their clubs. Jones’s appearance mean Australia played all three goal-keepers for the match, given the Ryan was substituted for Langerak at half time. That’s one rarely to be seen.

Ecuador were denied two one-on-one goal scoring chances by incorrect offside calls. That would have made the match closer at half time.

Cahill was dragged down in the penalty box and a penalty not awarded. That would have made it 4-0 at half time.

Langerak’s red would have highlighted again the insane “triple punishment” for denying a goal scoring opportunity, even though the award of a penatly is a greater goal scoring opportunity, had his foul not been so callous.

Brett Holman and Luke Wilkshire were late replacements into the team after the withdrawals of potential debutants Chris Herd and Ben Halloran. Rightfully, neither got a run. Ange “looking at them” probably to be polite. With Holman in the Middle East, Ange must stay true to his embargo on those rubbish Middle Eastern clubs. That also means no Mark Bresciano.

Massimo Luongo did get a debut, albeit as a late substitute, and looked good. Tom Rogic has a long way to go to realise his potential, and desperately needs a shooting leg. Passing decisions can be off, and a fairy could stop most of his strikes.

Lucas Neill, recently signed with Watford on a contract based on game appearances, is surely at least a chance for the World Cup squad if, indeed, he gets regular football. Experience will be invaluable and, despite all the criticism, has rarely let the team down. Him and Craig Moore were similarly hammered before the 2010 World Cup and proved critical in the defence for the last two games. No one would have stopped Germany in that first game, especially given Pim Verbeek’s cowardly tactics.

Cahill was very friendly with his former Everton teammate, Segundo Castillo. Jovial at the start of the match, very jovial at half time, and even jovial as Castillo was about to take the penalty to bring the match to 3-2, giving him a hand slap. At the end of the match? No doubt Castillo had the last laugh. Cahill did take the Australian goal-scoring record from Damian Mori. He can be jovial about that.

Comments – Ange Postecoglou

Going down to 10 men against a quality opponent was always going to be tough for us. Up until that point, it just reaffirmed my belief in the direction we’re heading. I was really happy with our shape in that first half and the way the team were able to play the kind of football we wanted to. We were really bright and positive and every time we got the ball we tried to find little angles for ourselves. It was exciting to see … it was definitely a step forward.

Match report courtesy of ffa.com.au

Coach Ange Postecoglou has plenty of work ahead of him but at the same time plenty to work with after watching the Socceroos go three goals up but in the end lose 4-3 to Ecuador at The Den.

Australia held a comfortable advantage thanks to Mile Jedinak’s penalty and a brace from Tim Cahill, who, playing at his old Millwall stomping ground, broke Damian Mori’s record to become the national team’s all-time leading goal-scorer.

But Ecuador came out after the break looking more like the team which finished fourth in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying, and after Socceroos goalkeeper Mitch Langerak was sent off, the South Americans laid siege on Australia’s goal to register an unlikely comeback victory.

Postecoglou made five changes from the team which beat Costa Rica 1-0 in his first friendly in charge in November. With Lucas Neill not picked and Rhys Williams injured, Matthew Spiranovic and Curtis Good were chosen at centre-back, the latter making his international debut.

Mark Bresciano, Dario Vidosic and another long-term injury victim, Robbie Kruse, were all absent from the starting XI, with Cahill starting up front and Matthew Leckie pushed out wide. Tommy Oar came in on the left flank and Tom Rogic was deployed in the hole.

Australia started strongly, moving the ball quickly and worrying Ecuador with their pace in attack. Cahill enjoyed an early sight of goal in the sixth minute with a header that glanced just wide of the post.

Two minutes later he improved on that narrow miss. A driving run from Tom Rogic earned Australia a corner, which Tommy Oar swung in from the right. Mark Milligan, stationed on the edge of the area, headed the ball back into danger and Cahill was on hand to nod it home and enter the record books.

In the 16th minute, the Socceroos were awarded a penalty when Cahill went down after grappling with Gabriel Achilier inside the area. Jedinak stepped up to slot home the resulting spot kick with ease.

The Socceroos remained relatively untroubled by their opponents as the half progressed, and grabbed a third goal on 32 minutes. A quick break near the half-way line allowed Leckie to advance and swing in a cross, which Cahill dived to connect with and head past Adrian Bone in the Ecuador goal.

Langerak replaced Mat Ryan in goal for Australia at the break and the South American side made a host of changes, beginning the second half with considerably more purpose.

In the 57th minute their endeavour was rewarded with a goal from Fidel Martinez, who prodded the ball home after being found in a dangerous area by Enner Valencia’s pass.

Less than 60 seconds later they had a second and Australia found themselves down to 10 men. Langerak rushed out to try and clear a ball into the area but Valencia got there first, and the Borussia Dortmund man was shown a straight red card after sending the Ecuador forward flying into the air.

The linesman initially raised his flag to signal Valencia was in an offside position but was overruled by referee Lee Probert, who spotted that the last touch came off Jedinak.

Brad Jones became the third player to pull on the gloves for the Socceroos in the game, but he was unable to prevent Segundo Castillo from making it 3-2 from the penalty spot.

The Ecuador onslaught continued as a series of substitutions from Postecoglou, including a debut for Alex Wilkinson, proved unable to stem the tide.

In the 78th minute a counter-attack saw Antonio Valencia advance into the area and cut the ball back for namesake Enner Valencia to guide past Jones.

With the clock ticking down it looked as if the Socceroos would survive to claim a draw, but an error from Wilkinson, who was dispossessed in a dangerous area, allowed substitute Edison Mendez to claim an injury time winner for Ecuador.

For the Socceroos, it was a game of contrasting halves, Langerak’s dismissal consigning them to hold on for much of the second 45 minutes. However, as Postecoglou stated post match, the new generation of Socceroos would learn “some useful lessons of what you can and can’t do”.

Australia 3 (Cahill 8’/31′ , Jedinak 15′ (pen))
Ecuador 4 (Martinez 56′, Castillo 60′ (pen), E.Valencia 76′, Mendez 90+1′)

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

26 February 2014

Out: Lucas Neill, Mark Bresciano, Brett Holman

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

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

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

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

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

Comments – Ange Postecoglou

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

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

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

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

Bigotry rears its ugly head again – and it’s us

27 January 2014

The day after Manchester City purchased an 80% controlling arm of Melbourne Heart, Melbourne’s Herald Sun ran this cartoon:

Melbourne Heart New Owners (c) Herald Sun

Melbourne Heart New Owners (c) Herald Sun

While the odd twits on twitter immediately ran with it accusing the HS used the cartoon to “welcome” the investment of money by the Arab-owned Manchester City, it wasn’t until SBS and their theworldgame website that a full exploitation of it came to fruition. Philip Micallef, who says he did not derive any pleasure from writing the piece, said this:

In a case of bad taste at best and blatant racism at worst, it published a cartoon depicting an Arab sheikh and a set of ‘cheer girls’ dressed in black burqas ushering the Heart team onto the field. A caption read “That should sheikh up the A-League”. What on earth was the Herald Sun thinking?

Did it think at all about the ramifications of publishing such a tasteless cartoon in the present political climate? Did it realise that as host country of the 2015 Asian Cup it is Australia’s obligation to welcome the participants not poke fun at their culture? Did it really believe that its hundreds of thousands of readers would approve of such ignorance and opportunism or, more seriously, find it funny? Did it honestly expect to get away with its flagrant disregard for basic human courtesy.

Australia arguably embraces multiculturalism like no other country and the Herald Sun’s cartoon went against everything that we stand for. I refuse to believe that there were more sinister motives at play here like purposely damaging the event’s credibility behind the publication of the controversial cartoon. However if the newspaper’s intention was merely to have some fun, surely it must have known that what is considered ‘just a bit of fun’ by us might not be seen as ‘fun’ by people from a different background, whether they live in Australia, Indonesia or Iran.

Ironically, Micallef’s description of the cartoon, “depicting an Arab sheikh and a set of ‘cheer girls’ dressed in black burqas ushering the Heart team onto the field”, is stunning for its accuracy and simplicity. Should the girls be dressed in bikinis? That would have stripped these women of their basic human courtesy. The intention of the newspaper was to satirise the news, as it does every single day about the biggest story. In a country that arguably embraces multiculturalism like no other, then no group should should be excluded, or we make a blanket law that protects all groups.

The real heart of the issue is not this cartoon by the HS, it’s again this vendetta by SBS and “us”, the football public, against a news operation because we are so insecure and precious about our flaws in the game. Craig Foster, in his Fairfax column about the purchase, also made a sleight at “half” of the media in Melbourne, only because that “half” doesn’t have him on their payroll. This grievance is built particularly that certain media outlets have the temerity to report crowd trouble and violence associated with our game, and therefore are anti-football. While I, the biggest proponent of free speech, especially when it comes to satire, did find this cartoon a little unsavoury, in no way would that suddenly propel me into a tirade of ridiculous claims of xenophobia and that a news operation is trying to destroy the game in this country and create racial hatred. At most, I’d suggest HS is better than this, that it doesn’t match their general reportage of the game, so is it worth the risk of upsetting their true enemies? No, not the risk of upsetting Muslims. They’ve actually fled to this country because basic freedoms are allowed. It’s the risk of upsetting the rapacious and hypocritical traditional football media. If a Catholic-run club bought MH and the cartoon had a group of priests cheering with “GO BOYS” across their tummies, would there be an issue? Not only would we all be laughing it up, the cartoon would be immediately inducted into the Hall Of Fame of Cartoon Satire.

If only such scene as depicted were even true. In these despotic nations, women aren’t even allowed to attend games. The only time I’ve seen such a breach of this ultra sexism and misogyny was after the Iran Game, where TV scenes in Tehran showed women “breaking free”, to fill the streets and the national stadium, unable to keep further suppressed their desire to grandly celebration their nation’s success. Yes, they were dressed like this, except for any lettering on their clothes, nor carrying pom-poms. Mark Knight, who is a superb satirist and indeed has mocked the Catholic religion in cartoons because NO one is immune to his wit, erred in that he should have used sheikhs, not women. Then again, what message is actually offensive? I see a despondent sheikh annoyed that women are out celebrating a football team, and this could shake up the A-League. Or maybe it will shake up the Islamic religion? Maybe it’s our own sensitivities that Arab Oil and Tourism, often built on slave labour, are funding this new club. Much like we’re aghast that Qatar “bought” the 2022 World Cup. Instead of confronting our insecurities, we attempt to brush it aside, and throw around labels like “racism” and “xenophobia” to distract from our own uneasiness by tarnishing someone else. The classic case of self-absolution by diminution of others.

It wouldn’t be so deceitful this crusade against HS if there was at least a minuscule attempt at balance by SBS. Fine to trash them for the cartoon; it’s disgraceful to use it to impugn the daily coverage as anything even remotely near similar. On the day of the announcement, the HS homepage had a massive headline reporting this great news. That led to at least four fully featured articles of news, opinion and video – all positive. In fact, you could visit HS every day and look under sport then football (note football, not soccer), and see an expansive and positive coverage of our game. When is that ever mentioned by SBS? Never. Of course, it doesn’t tickle the agenda of biased media against our poor, wretched souls struggling to survive. So it’s the cartoon, the once since probably never cartoon, that gets all the attention.

The absurdity of our crusade is even more ridiculous when our goal is to make football mainstream. There’s no bigger mainstream newspaper than the HS, serving the biggest A-League and sports market of Melbourne. Instead of recognising their otherwise superb coverage of the game, we continue to malign them, and push a lie. When SBS was an outcast from A-League coverage because they snubbed the inaugural rights and almost weekly either by Les Murray, Craig Foster or Jess Fink via their TV shows and website undertook hit-pieces against the A-League, who’s been responsible for the huge resurgence and growth and knowledge of the domestic game? News Ltd – via Fox Sports and their newspapers, with Fairfax also superb. They rescued the domestic game of which now SBS can capitalise upon. Without these mainstream organisations exposing the sport to the mainstream, the sport would barely register beyond that of the NSL days. A reader’s comment in Micallef’s article said he’s never read HS, yet here that person goes making judgements – judgements based on total ignorance and the football community’s agenda of bias and deceit alleging an anti-football media. While SBS is still doing hit pieces on News Ltd, isn’t it any wonder that people like Rebecca Wilson will still reciprocate against us?

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt as a reader of all media, and with subscriptions to News Ltd and Fairfax, is that those claiming bias are the most biased people themselves. Politicians and their sympathetic stooges are notorious for it. We, football, are even worst, being the most precious and insecure lot in history, and with still so much growing up to do. We’re the ones painting football in a bad light. We defend loutish behaviour at A-League games by condemning any media that dares report it. We now refuse to question our concerns raised by a satirical cartoon about Arab money flowing into the game. Of course, it’s Arab money that owns an English football club as well. Oops, that’s another concern. Anything British influencing the game in this country is supposed to be extirpated; what happened to that crusade? Yep, washed away once Arab mega dollars are thrown into our face.

The defintion of bigotry: “Intolerance towards those that hold different opinions from oneself.” Are we that? We’re even worse. We’re intolerant towards those that hold the same opinion as ourselves and when those very people are outsiders to us. Shame, shame, shame.

Source: http://theworldgame.sbs.com.au/philip-micallef/blog/1179682/Bigotry-rears-its-ugly-head-again

More: socceroorealm.com

Finally hope for Melbourne’s second club as Manchester City moves in

25 January 2014

Melbourne’s now entrenched second club, Melbourne Heart, has been purchased ironically by Manchester’s second club, Manchester City, in a $11.25m deal. Manchester City will take an 80% controlling interest in the new club, with the owners of rugby league club Melbourne Storm taking the remaining 20%. It’s expected part of administration, facilities and other resources will be shared between Storm and the new club. This will really streamline and professionalise a club that’s lacked a true homebase since inception, nor a true model for success.

“New club” you read? Let’s be realistic in that Melbourne Heart was a dead club walking, with the owners potentially handing back the license to the FFA as the inaugural 5 year stint came to completion this season. With the worst crowds in the league, a wretched playing record that’s seen only one meek finals appearance and culminated in only one win this season and a horrible branding, ethos and marketing, it became stale and stagnant and long-term unviable. Not only had it become entrenched as Melbourne’s second club, it was seen as a second rate club. It’s only redeeming feature was that the owners under Peter Sidwell managed to keep it in minor profit through the years. Their heart seemed far more in that, rather than taking the club to the next level. This profitability was mostly on the back of FFA awarding them two of the highly profitable 3 derbies with Melbourne Victory as home games for most seasons, and by closing half the Bubble Stadium to save costs for almost all other games. According to Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper, the owners will walk away with a $5m profit from the sale, maybe as much as $6m. Not a bad business success.

Part of MH’s attraction of being in such a destitute position meant that Man City had power for some sort of re-branding. This was not possible with the other purchasing option in the A-League, the ultra successful Western Sydney Wanderers, still owned by the FFA. The consortium has already registered the name Melbourne City Football Club, and is almost certain to use it, just like the partnership with baseball’s New York Yankees to start the New York City MLS side. Melbourne is also seen as having far more room for growth than the Sydney club, with still a large latent base of football fans, if 95,000 to see Liverpool at the MCG is any indication. There’s simply no reason that some of these fans might see Melbourne City as an equivalent traditional and serious club, and attend some games. Two Melbourne clubs with average crowds over 15,000 should be attainable given a sound environment.

While Sporting Melbourne FC should always have been the name of Melbourne’s second club, and would still be the best choice, Melbourne City is worthy. The key issue with MH was its lack of “point of difference” from MV. To choose between the two, it boiled down to colour and nickname preference, with “heart” just a laughable comparison against “victory” as an attribute for a team. “Victory” also borrowed elegantly from the “Vic” in Victoria, and adopted the white V on their shirt in using the state’s colours. The colour red has little or no significance to the city of Melbourne, nor does “heart” have significance or any relevance. To make matters worse, the club played up the underdog tag with lame slogans like “heart believe” to inspire triumph rather than earn it through hard work and accountable results. As derisory and insipid as the nickname was, it also provided an awful series of puns for newspaper headlines, like heart beat, heart break and pulse. It was endless. All that we missed was flatlining, and that was coming soon anyway.

With “City”, the point of difference will be about identity. It’s a traditional name, and it has neutral connotations, unlike the bravado of the name “Victory” suggests. Because it is “City”, it suggests the team represents more for the city, compared to Victory a more fragmented base. With no other teams in the A-League with a “City” suffix, the team will no doubt be referred to as “City” in an abbreviated form, much as Man City is in the EPL. The FFA must protect this, and all other nicknames or suffixes in the A-League like United and FC. In a Herald-Sun poll, a whopping 81% of responders supported the name change, and it was repeated fractionally on a Fox Sports poll. If that’s not sufficient public endorsement, nothing is. The few fans of the club that like the existing nickname must make the sacrifice for the greater good. Reality is that it’s not about them, it’s about the future.

Even with the incredible investment, some history must be preserved. This can’t be a subsidiary of actual Manchester City in Australia, adopting a sky blue shirt or anything like that. The club must be seen to be independent, with a strong, unique identity. The history of the NSL has showed us how external baggage dramatically suppresses growth and maligns a club. The FFA already has requirements against this and it must be enforced. So the red and white colours remain, even if that means polishing the overall, somewhat garish, design. For their 100th match last week, MH presented a design of red and white quarters with black shorts, and far more professional. Personally it’s the sash of the away-strip that must come to the fore, becoming the motif that permeates through both home and away playing strips, the club logo and all branding. Maybe the away-strip incorporates sky-blue, like something in that colour with a white-trimmed red sash. That must be all the visible link to Manchester City.

The huge benefit of Man City is the dollars. The fans the second Melbourne club could have attracted have long since decided to return or stick with Victory. So it will be about broadening the support mostly by recruiting new fans. It could take 5 or even 10 years now. Much of it will depend on success on the field, and this is also an area that Man City’s and Storm’s expertise will come to the fore. No “name” coaches and has-been former Socceroos. The drive must be to quality coaching and players that can fulfil a role on the pitch, not that can fulfil a name to schmooze with sponsors. There’s also so many other areas to exploit in attracting crowds, notable ticket prices and membership options. Melbourne Victory present very much as the elitist club in this sense, so Melbourne City has the chance to present as the people’s club. The club for the city of Melbourne.

More: socceroorealm.com

Top 5 Football Highlights… and some lows… of 2013

18 January 2014

A year of concern that, with some introspection, proved exciting and buoyed the nation for the challenges that will come further in Asia, and then in 2014, at the World Cup

1) Australia defeating Iraq 1-0 to qualify for the World Cup

While Australia would still have qualified had they lost that final game of World Cup qualifying, it just would not have been right. Jordan, at home, later that evening snuffed out Oman’s hopes to over-take Australia. The match against Iraq in Sydney, much like the campaign, proved a struggle. It wasn’t until an inspired substitution on 77 minutes by coach Holger Osieck to bring on Joshua Kennedy, who happened to be a striker, to replace Tim Cahill, who happened to be not a striker, that 6 minutes later Kennedy scored the solitary goal that won the game. The nation was in raptures, proving a great fillip for all those that had doubts, and vindication of Osieck’s return to using experienced players for the final 3 games. The move to replace Cahill might have been Osieck’s best move of his entire tenure. Withing weeks, he was sacked. That said as much for his general coaching style, and as much as the frustration of the nation expecting more from their national team.

2) The World Cup draw

Spain, Netherlands and Chile – WOW! They are Australia’s group opponents. While the usual moans and groans about the “group of death” abounded, reality soon set that this is a time for great challenge and excitement. It beats the hell out of something like Switzerland, Croatia and Algeria.

3) Ange Postecoglou new Socceroos coach

After 6-0 losses to Brazil and then France, Holger Osieck was out and the precocious Ange Postecoglou in. This is exciting not just for the return to an Australian coach, especially one that reeks of the good side of the Australian sporting psyche of a respectful “have a go” attitude, it’s also a reward for the rate of development of the domestic coaches in general. Postecoglou has earned the credibility to coach a national team full of prima-donnas earning millions more than him. While the low ebb of talent at present does not quite present the problem that it might have previously, without clout, a coach can easily loose respect from the players. Postecoglou already showed a no-nonsense style, sweeping out the “boys club” of players like Craig Moore at Brisbane Roar upon his start there, and won’t have the same problem at national level. More importantly, he’s shown as an innovator and tactically astute – something that will benefit both the team and him. His develop will only be aided by taking on the likes of our World Cup opponents. Surmount those and he’ll be regarded as a genius. If he doesn’t, it’s a great learning experience for the Asian Cup in 2015 and then the World Cup 2018.

4) A-League Grand Final and season in general

This was not just a success for Central Coast finally being deserved champions after three previous grand final losses, it also showed the potential of the sport with the raging success of Western Sydney Wanderers. Even I had doubts whether western Sydney really such a hot-bed for the sport that was being touted to the public. They showed it is with vibrant crowds and slick administration, not to forget the premiership in their inaugural season. Credit to the FFA for acting swiftly here after booting out the insipid and ill-conceived Gold Coast. Credit for the huge rise in crowds and TV ratings for the A-League season. Credit also for streamlining the finals system. Cut from 4 weeks to 3 weeks to remove repeat match-ups and streamline the process, it probably still should be over 4 weeks, except the semi finals be over two legs to give the top two a type of second chance. At present they get the first week off and then face the one-off semi-final at home. It seems wrong for a whole season to unravel after one game.

5) Australia 2 – Oman 2

While it caused great mirth among fans, this match proved the catalyst for the exciting finale to the campaign, the exciting finale to the match, and an exciting switch in the coaching regime. It was at this point that the FFA started to question the value of Osieck. In fairness, Australia were hit by injury and suspension for this game, and recovered from a 2-0 deficit. These things happen in the sport. As a nation, we should be more humble, lest we become obnoxious, arrogrant brats, like our cricketers.

The lows…

Easily the media, and we’re talking the football media, their denialism and lack of responsibility for crowd troubles at A-League games. Us as a sport are responsible to stop these unsavoury problems continually damaging the image of our sport. While the FFA and most commentators have now swung about, especially after the appalling MV-WSW debacle late in the year, there’s still some stubborn resistance, notably from the likes of Les Murray and some of the core fans themselves that feel victimised and that it’s all sensationalised by the mainstream media. Interesting that our sport wants to become mainstream itself. How about acting it?

Elsewhere, Australia made a Turkey of themselves at the World Youth Cup while Mark Schwarzer sensationally retired from the national team upon Postecoglou naming his first squad complete with Schwarzer in it. It’s very strange to just bail on the eve of the World Cup and before even waiting or knowing of Postecoglou’s plans for Schwarzer. There was not a hint of any such action or desire to retire. Now at Chelsea as a reserve, Schwarzer probably saw his first team national selection as not guaranteed, and rather than fight for the spot, just quit altogether. A shame, because even as a third-choice for the national team – of which no doubt he’d gain such a selection – his experience would have been invaluable in Brazil for the two youngsters fighting to assume his role.

More, including links to all these stories: socceroorealm.com

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

30 December 2013

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

Can’t get a ticket despite thousands of vacant seats

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

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

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

Debacle at Melbourne Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the changes that must be made:

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

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

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

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

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

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

05 January 2014: Update

Ticketing

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

Crowd Troubles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-General Notes

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

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

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

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

More: socceroorealm.com