Canada 2015 – Women’s World Cup – Review of Australia / Matildas

28 June 2015

Disappointing end to a promising campaign

After escaping the so-called “group of death”, and then beating Brazil in the round of 16 to record their first knock-out match win ever, the Matildas succumbed to World Champions Japan 1-0 in the quarter final. Even with 5 days break compared to 3 for Japan, the Matildas seemed lethargic from the start and unable to impose their game. While commentators suggested fatigue was the problem, it seemed more like a combination of Japan being too good and Australia possibly pacing the game in case of extra time. The “hot weather”, which was 26 at the start of the game and forecast to reach 31, should not have been a problem. The artificial pitch, supposedly 50 degrees in such conditions, did not hamper the players’ post match commiseration, as they lay sprawled all over it in sadness. Pacing the knockout games seemed to be a trend at the men’s World Cup in Brazil last year, and maybe it’s crept in here too. It’s a good strategy, as long as you’re not sucker-punched near the end of regulation time.

Other than the early phase of the second half, Australia were shut out of the game, and ultimately hit with a sucker punch. Their only shots were speculative from range or from the very rare Japanese mistakes. While 8 corners to zero and a 60% possession rate are suggestive of the dominance, the reality of the dominance is that Japan’s high-pressing strategy saw Australia’s attempt to play its possession game collapse. It only seemed a matter of time that Japan would capitalise on a mistake or convert a corner, and that proved exactly true when a loose pass out of defence was picked off. After the shot was blocked, the resulting corner on 87 minutes was scrambled into the net. Game over against a Japanese team that all teams have found difficult to crack. Ignoring the bad goal-keeping error in the R16 final against the Netherlands, Japan have only conceded one goal all tournament.

Australia’s best performance of the tournament came against Brazil in the R16 final. They managed to shut down the dangerous Brazil while creating good opportunities for themselves. The winning goal came on the 64th minute by the fabulous Kyah Simon, who scored both goals in the pivotal game against Nigeria that virtually sealed Australia’s place in the second round, to leave the Brazilians shattered. It was marvellous scenes for both the jubilation of the Matildas and tears of the often arrogant and conceited Brazilians.

This World Cup had been expanded to 24 nations from 16, meaning the four best third-place teams from the six groups would also progress and 3 points is quite often to progress. Australia drew 1-1 with Sweden in their final group match to hold second place, while Sweden’s three draws were enough for them to progress in third. USA, which had difficulties against Australia and Sweden, won the group with 7 points. Against the USA, Australia matched them for the first 60 minutes, entering half time at 1-1, before class told in the end and USA ran out 3-1 winners.

Quotes – Norio Sasaki, Japan’s coach

Even if we didn’t get a goal within 90 minutes, I felt we would get it inside 120 minutes. The game-plan was executed very well. We recognise the growth of Australia in this World Cup and my team will take confidence from this and we can build with future success (at the tournament). Also the solutions we came up for this match worked very well, and this also gives us confidence. We will fight hard in the semi-final being mindful of the people supporting us back in Japan.

Quotes – Alen Stajcic, Australia’s coach

Clearly the better team won, even though I thought it evened out a bit after the first 20 minutes. Japan were a lot more composed over the full 90 minutes. We didn’t set out to play any differently, but we just spent a lot of energy in the first 20 minutes chasing the game. Most of our players are young, and it is a heartbreaking moment for them, but sometimes you learn from these experiences. We don’t want to compete with the best, we want to beat the best, so now it is a case of taking further steps. There is a lot of room for growth moving forward.


The Women’s Game

Watching these tournaments since Sweden 1995, when just 12 teams participated and Australia lost all 3 games, the growth in skill has been phenomenal. The key growth area is the goal-keepers, who bordered on embarrassing even until the last World Cup in Germany. So many long shots would be scored as the goalies’ poor athleticism would preclude them from reaching shots that seemed in very simple reach of the men. Even allowing for women being less powerful in the leap and generally shorter, the attempts to save looked terrible, or the women would be left flat-footed. That’s all changed for Canada 2015 with notably far few shots from range being scored, and that’s not from the lack of trying. Australia’s Lydia Williams notably pulled off several world class saves, especially against Brazil, and she’s only 175cm tall. Defending is also tighter in general, especially the lack of one-on-ones. It’s only the African and Latin American teams, who are quite a bit off the pace, that you still see some of this calamity. Also the expansion to 24 teams did bring a few weaker teams in, notably Ivory Coast and Ecuador, both of whom conceded 10 goals in a match.

The general attraction of the women’s game – the more open play and more shots on goal – that’s still there. That should remain a part of the fabric of the game given women’s weakness (or strength!) of being naturally not quite as strong or fast as the men. So, too, should the paucity of diving, cheating and time-wasting that often blights the men’s game. Let’s hope this difference is a result of women having more integrity rather than being “less professional” than the men so that it never enters the women’s game. This overall increase in action and flow meant that the Australia/Japan QF was probably the only match that approached the banality of a stalemate in the men’s game. If the women keep improving, there’s no reason why they cannot provide a product that’s as compelling to watch as the men’s. In tennis and basketball, connoisseurs of those sports (including myself) appreciate the more technical and nuance nature of the female versions. Football, with the rules unchanged for the woman, can certainly reach this level.

Of course, the other attraction of the women’s game is the women themselves. Let’s be realistic and resist accusations of sexism, women have for generations enjoyed watching men play for reasons more than just watching a football match, so why not vice versa? Thankfully the women are not treated as sex objects, as play in the same uniforms as the men, not any stupid bodysuits to artificially “sex up” the game, like Australian basketball did or once Sepp Blatter notoriously suggested that football do. Kyah Simon has the prettiest eyes and a winning smile that’s as lethal as her boot, and is certainly my favourite of the Australian team, while any player with a long ponytail looks so elegant. Japan’s Rumi Utsugi, who was integral in converting the winning corner, is one notable, as too almost the entire starting eleven of the Netherlands. USA still has the glamorous Hope Solo, who’s been a long time favourite.

It’s good to see different teams dominate at world level. In the early days the trio of USA, Norway and China were the most dominant. While Norway and China have slid a little, the USA have reached the semi final of every single World Cup. Japan has taken over as Asia’s most dominant team, while Germany has supplanted Norway. Traditional footballing countries are now improving thanks to their domestic leagues, notably England and France, and this was the first ever World Cup for Spain, Netherlands and Switzerland. Latin America is poor (except for Brazil) and Africa is far behind. Canada is the other strong member in the Americas, while Asia saw Thailand qualify to reinforce the power of the east. New Zealand is competitive for Oceania.


Offsides

Give the female assistant referees a gig at the men’s events! Never before have I see a virtual faultless display off refereeing the offside law. Most particular the “favour the attacker” edict in that, yes, in every line-ball case, the referees favoured the attackers! Maybe only once I’ve seen an obvious offside allowed, and even then we’re still talking reasonably close. More importantly, I don’t recall seeing a wrong offside called. Those are the true bane of the sport, because they deny goals and goal chances. The spirit of the law is being refereed perfectly at this World Cup. Whatever it is, better eyesight, reinforcement of the edict, or females having a better empathy for the game, it’s been wonderful. The outfield refereeing has also been great. If there’s an area that the women have clearly surpassed the men, it’s the referees.


Equality

The big talking point in the media has been the discrepancy of pay between the men and women. While the men get $6000 per match at their World Cup, the women get $500 at theirs. Obviously market forces are involved here, with the men generating far more revenue. They also get a slice of the prize-money, which the women also do. While you could say double the match payment to $1000, there will still be calls of inequality unless it’s even. Just look at Grand Slam tennis where even at less than 5% difference in recent years, the women were still howling until it was equal. That’s even despite the fact their matches are only 60% as long as the men, they attract less crowds and the depth in their fields is much weaker. Given the match payments are a relatively small cost in the overall expense of sending a team to a World Cup, the FFA should probably just make it equal. As for prize-money split, that percentage should also be equal. Unfortunately, until the women’s game generates enough revenue to pay the massive prize-money on offer at a men’s World Cup, that means total dollars from prize-money will remain low compared to the men.

The important thing with any issue of equality is to see it progressing. It was only 20 years ago that the men were striking at their pathetic pay, which was in the realm of a few hundred dollars like the women now. Remember World Series Cricket in the 70s? That was all about pay, particularly revenue coming into the game that wasn’t being spread to the players. Cricket has just recently put their women on contract, something that the FFA has emulated. The advantage with the cricket model is that, yes, you do control your players, so your national team is never compromised. Unfortunately that’s created a problem that the women are then precluded to play overseas, where they could earn much more money than the local W-League. Football is not cricket, with fundamentally different structures at international level. Whereas cricket is a pseudo club team almost permanently on international tour, football is representative and an adjunct to domestic club competitions. For the short-term sacrifice to the improvement of the Matildas that the contract system seems to have made for this World Cup, it would better to disband the contracts, use that money to pay higher wages in the W-League, and be more accommodating to any player that does want to go overseas. After all, if it’s about equality, our female warriors should be treated equally to our male ones.

Full site: socceroorealm.com

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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

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′)

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

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

Some atonement against Canada as Lowy backs a local coach and Neill backs himself

Craven Cottage, Fulham, 15/10/2013: Australia 3 – Canada 0

17 October 2013

A 3-0 win over lowly Canada at least brought smiles to the face. The serious “in-arms” attention to the national anthem proved portentous as the first goal came on 26 seconds when Mark Bresciano pounced on a loose ball to lob it to Joshua Kennedy for a trademark header. Two goals came in the second half. The first by Dario Vidosic nodding in a lame shot on goal, while Matthew Leckie headed nicely from a David Carney cross to score his first goal for Australia. While Vidosic was slightly offside, it was close enough that the referee should allow it given the “favour the attackers when in doubt” FIFA edict. It’s a pity more referees don’t follow it. Despite the dominance of the scoreline, if was often scrappy game, with Australia still needlessly losing possession at times and Canada having two great chances to equalise in the first half. Australia looked more tidy in the second half, applying more consistent pressure, including the third goal that was preceded by a chain of 14 passes.

Aurelio Vidmar was interim coach and made some pleasing decisions, notably playing a striker as a striker and a defender at right-back. He might have done similar at left-back if not for a depleted squad, so he “had to” pick Carney there. Vidmar also gave more time to younger players like Leckie and, in goal, Matt Ryan, while giving debuts to Jackson Irvine and Oliver Bozanic. They handled themselves well.

In the lead-up to the match, Lucas Neill was hammered by many sections of the media for questioning the hunger and passion of younger players while defending his own. He also resisted calls, from friend Mark Bosnich, to quit.

“In the three qualifiers in June, which were the most important we have played in the last four years, I think my form was very good and led to us reaching the World Cup. Mark Bosnich is entitled to his opinion but I would expect better from people who have played the game and certainly from those who call themselves my friend People who know football know games are won and lost by a team and it’s not about one person. I am committed to remaining captain for as long as the people in charge give me that status. I add value to the team and I bring a lot of good attributes but I am the victim, the same as everybody in this team, of a side which has lost two games in a row 6-0.

“When I was young I had to fight like cat and dog to even get a chance of being selected. Nobody gives you that for free – you have to earn it. For me, the biggest problem in Australia right now is not the older guys who have been doing it for a long time. I still have as much passion now as I had when I was 17. But my question to the younger guys who dream of playing for Australia is: ‘do you really dream of playing for Australia?’ If you do, then show me the hunger and desire. That’s where we are lacking. It’s all in our attitude towards the national team.”

The media response has portrayed him as selfish and disrespectful – understandable if you want Neill gone. Hearing Neill’s comments at the time, they seemed quite harmless. The hunger he mentioned was more about the younger players stepping up and claiming a spot in the team rather than it gifted to them. Other than Kruse and Oar, and potentially Rogic and Duke, none have. If the new coach does keep Neill, the coach needs to spell out clearly the qualities Neill has that keeps him in the team. Fans should accept this in move on, allowing the coach and team to prepare for the World Cup without all the whiny criticism. The real issue about dumping Neill is finding a replacement. Thwaite, North, Kisnorbo, Spiranovic? They don’t bring a compelling case for selection. If you’re dumping Ognenovski as well, that’s two spots to fill.

The appointment of a new coach has taken a turn with FFA chairman Frank Lowy stating he wants a local. The “review” that was mentioned upon Osieck’s sacking has obviously been in the process for months, given the fact FFA were so swift to act on Holger. Those decisions are not made so abruptly. The action might be, the decision not. The timing is also right for a local coach. While Australia has been more in mercenary mode with their past few coaches, if there’s to be a move towards giving younger players experience, it makes just as much sense as doing similar with a local coach. While Ange Postecoglou is the glamour choice, Graham Arnold could be more likely given his international experience as both interim and assistant coach, his proven ability of integrating new players and melding a team, and seems itching to jump from his A-League role if a better offer came elsewhere. Brazil 2014 could be the making of both the new coach and the newer players. Despite all the recent turmoil and melodrama, it’s actually an exciting time.

Au revoir Holger after national embarrassment in Paris

Holger Osieck sacked after Australia hammered 6-0 by France

12 October 2013

One 6-0 loss can be seen as forgivable, especially when it’s against Brazil in Brazil. A second thrashing, especially with national pride on the line, and even if it’s at the hands of one Europe’s better teams, is not. With that 6-0 loss to France, 4-0 at halftime, Socceroos coach Holger Osieck received his marching orders.

Since the mid stages of World Cup qualifiers, the football community has been simmering with a virtual ultimatum that anything less than a reasonably competitive performance against France would be terminal for Osieck. As it panned out, Football Federation Australia harboured those views too, and was swift to act, bidding adieu to Holger only hours after the match.

The Socceroo Realm has been one of the few voices defending Holger, especially with the process and mandate conferred on him. The charter was World Cup qualification. He did that, quite comfortably in the end if you note the points table that qualification came a game ahead of third place, and despite the tougher process both with the improvement of the Asian teams and the early run of away games. The fixtures in reverse would have seen Australia shooting ahead on the table with two wins and two draws from 3 home games and the away match to Japan, and it doesn’t seem so bad. Some of the perception of struggling was merely based on circumstance of the schedule.

Part of Holger’s charter was also to integrate new players into the team. He was right there that he tried this. While maybe not at the speed some wanted, he was constrained by needing to qualify for the World Cup. Those tried mostly failed. It was restoring the experienced players that saw the team qualify, especially when he was able to play them in consecutive games for the first time during the campaign. While that proved sufficient for qualifying, liabilities did emerge, and returning to some of the those older players already discarded or on the decline, was clearly a breach. On a tactical level, liabilities also emerged with the persistence of playing players out of position. To be fair to Holger, this has been intrinsic to the squad since the Hiddink era. While few media make note of it, it’s been a bugbear of this website for just as long.

Two glaring errors were made in this game against France. With Tom Oar injured, to fill the troublesome left-back role, Dave Carney was brought back from exile. Why? He’s passed his best, if his best was ever good enough. He’s been a liability in the past, and was again. He conceded the first goal by throwing his hand in the air and being called for handball. Regardless that he didn’t actually touch the ball, it was the action of an insecure player – one that’s never been a dedicated left-back either – to throw his hand up. For the sake of inches, the ball would have hit his hand. Second mistake, to strengthen the right side that France’s Franck Ribery notoriously exploits, Osieck threw James Holland at right-back and pushed Luke Wilkshire forward. Why? Holland is less of a right-back than Wilkshire is. Wilkshire’s struggling to get a game for his Russian club, so the call to persist with him at the expense of a new, dedicated right-back, made even less sense. Holland, normally a central midfielder, was thrown to the wolves. He was all at sea, and easily beaten for France’s sixth goal. A better option would be to play five at the back, three proper defenders and the two wing-backs. That gives you the cover in defence and the flexibility in attack.

Then there’s the enduring positional error: Tim Cahill as striker. He’s not a striker! He’s most dangerous as a lurking midfielder, as proven by his rush of goals with his New York club from midfiled and the fact his goal-rate has dried up with the national team. Behind Cahill was Robbie Cruse – again wasted. Frank Lebeouf, former French international, gave a commentary in coaching excellence during the broadcast. He noted Cahill needed to be in midfield where his experience could be used to provide poise during the French onslaught. Often Cahill would drop deep to find the ball, which saw the French line higher, instantly pressuring the Australians whenever they received the ball. When France had the ball, Cahill and Kruse were easily drawn forward, virtually allowing a vacant midfield with defensive midfielders Bresciano and Jedinak too deep. France’s third goal was a case in point. Collected direct from a goal-kick, passed to Ribery, a through ball, goal.

Probably the only excuse for Osieck is the calibre of opponents taken on so soon after qualifying. The team had so much time on the ball against the Arab teams, could be lazy with passing, or even expect to win a pass if tightly marked. Not here. Brazil and France stripped them easily, while any dallying on the ball was open sesame to be dispossessed. Lebeouf reiterated this point too, noting later in the game a missed opportunity to cross just “kills momentum”. Instead of immediately crossing, a few little passes were made trying to work an even better option, seemingly a guaranteed option, like you might against a glaringly inferior team. Bad. Best to get it in quickly and keep pressure on by capturing the rebound. You just never saw Brazil or France messing about it. Nor did they treat Australia with contempt by looking for guaranteed chances. They only needed a sniff.

Osieck said post match that nothing tried in training was transferred to the pitch. That’s damning against the coach, suggesting the players wanted remedial action with the coaching situation and possibly took it upon themselves. With the first goal conceded so quickly, it was easy for the team to become disheartened, with the famed Australian “spirit” dormant. When asked if the players were fully behind him, Holger’s response and body language was telling, citing that regardless of being behind the coach, national pride should keep them interested. It should. 

There were some positives from the match. It was 6-0 on 50 minutes, so the team kept France scoreless for nearly the entire second half. Mitch Langerak excelled in his debut as goal-keeper, keeping the score at 6-0 with several superb, reflex saves, and great positioning. While the cynics will say it could have been 10-0, “it could be” any number of goals in any numbers games. That’s the reason for goal-keepers and a low scoring sport. Had Langerak not saved most of those shots, they’d be classed as errors and his debut a failure. As it stood he was at no fault for any of the goals conceded and allowed the team to walk off with 0-0 draw over 40 minutes.

The FFA has wisely announced a thorough review before lurching into another appointment, with chairman Frank Lowy saying…

“The decision [to sack Osieck] is based on the longer term issues of the rejuvenation of the Socceroos team and the preparations for the World Cup and the Asian Cup. FFA has set a strategic objective of having a highly competitive team in Brazil and then handing over a team capable of winning the Asian Cup on home soil in January 2015. We have come to the conclusion that change is necessary to meet those objectives. I thank Holger for his contribution to Australian football and wish him well in his future endeavours.”

CEO David Gallop…

“I have given our new Head of National Performance Luke Casserly and the National Technical Director Han Berger the task of conducting a review of our World Cup planning. The review will include all aspects of the technical and logistical preparations, national teams unit staffing and the appointment of a new Head Coach. The World Cup kicks off in eight months and the Asian Cup is 15 months away. We are determined to make the most of the historical opportunities that these tournaments present to Australian football. FFA will give the highest priority to these projects because the Socceroos are the standard bearers for Australia on the world stage.“

In a way, Holger’s done Australia a favour. He could easily have continued with the “survivor” mentality, of which he was accused by the studio panel, and played lesser teams. He wanted to find the level of the team now and then remedy that during the preparation phase. While you can never really pass up a glamour match like Brazil in Brazil, France might have been too much. The adjustment phase from casual Asia to up-tempo Europe was too great. Again, while you can consider Brazil as forgivable for the many reasons already discussed at the time, the fact virtually nothing was done to address these concerns against France, it was self-crucifying.

Without these games against Brazil and France, possibly Australia finds out at the World Cup itself that it is out of its depth. At least now we go with the knowledge that we are off the pace, and can go with a fresh and more realistic approach. That’s the other positive. Australians too fast had inflated perceptions of our ability. You only need compare the clubs of each teams players. France read as a whose-who of major European clubs. The best Australia had was Kruse and Langerak in Germany. We’re very much third world, and will continue to produce peaks and troughs for decades to come. Mature nations like France, they’ve fallen off the pace since their World and European Cup highs of the 10 to 15 years ago. Just qualifying has become a struggle with Australia warily seen as a confidence boost. Even a middle European team like Belgium, of which we are far off in terms of national league maturity and national team pedigree, have been 12 years in the wilderness until just overnight storming into the World Cup. Remember the Romanian and Bulgarian power national teams of the 90s? Gone. Likewise Colombia, about to return after 16 years, or 3 World Cups, out. Even nations like Holland and Portugal suffer the odd dip. Why? They don’t have the level and depth of domestic leagues like the powerhouse nations of Italy, Spain, Germany and Brazil. Until the A-League reaches that level, so will our national teams be subject to “golden generations” for our international highs.

This reality check is good. The key will be the management of it. Had Osieck remained for the game against Canada on Tuesday, the curtain surely would be called on several players. Wilkshire, Carney, Bresciano – out. Wilkshire backed Holger earlier in the week – often a sign a player is worried about his future at the change of a coach, and never a good sign for a coach. Schwarzer now surely is the reserve keeper given Langerak’s performance. Why would you drop him? Jedinak needs a shake-up. Something not mentally right with him. Maybe elevated to a senior leadership role after the purging of several elder players could do wonders.

Lucas Neill, who was stoic post-match and said the training track is the answer, possibly survives simply on lack of options. If a ban is made against anyone playing in the Middle East (as there should be), Sasa Ognenovski would be out. That would mean the entire defence is out. You do need one or two old heads in the team. With that Middle Eastern ban, out goes Brett Holman, Alex Brosque and the aforementioned Marco Bresciano. It’s bad enough the national team can be bogged down with the more casual and grinding style of international matches against Arab teams, you don’t want it embedded far worse at club level. Harry Kewell, the main older player at A-League level that you’d even consider restoring, unless he really explodes, there’s no compelling reason to pick him again. Archie Thompson, never good enough at top international level, goodbye.

As to the new coach, it’s pointless if it’s someone not willing to flip players. Guus Hiddink, the immediate and nostalgic favourite, most likely would have faith in the older players he already knows. His record since Australia has been inconsistent at best. Would he stay on for the 2015 Asian Cup? He’s more mercenary than man. Is that looking forward? Nostalgia is also fleeting. Fellow Dutchman Frank Rijkaard, who failed to get Saudi Arabia to the final group phase, has been mentioned. Personally, the Dutch experiment is a failure. We don’t have the players to be played out of position. We’re not Spain, or even Holland. They’ve yet to even master their system at the highest level, with it collapsing under extreme pressure. It’s constantly caused Australia problems too. Even the famed 2006 World Cup, conceding goals was a problem. It was even worse in 2010. Holger’s basically persisted with the style deemed successful, and conceded the odd calamitous goal during the qualifiers, not to mention the horrors against Brazil and France. Argentina’s Marcelo Bielso is second favourite among bookmakers and would at least look for different qualities in the personnel and provide a new system.

Ange Postecoglou is favoured among locals. He’s better served sticking with Melbourne Victory, building up his credentials and clout. Graham Arnold, a former interim coach, said it would be an “honour” and seems ever-ready to jump from his A-League role with Central Coast if a top offer comes from anywhere. He may not have the clout, nor did he handle himself well as interim during the 2007 Asian Cup. FFA might be tentative offering anything long-term to him. There’s also a problem with the media, especially SBS, notorious for unfair treatment of Australian coaches. That could be undue extra pressure when least needed.

If FFA eventually go for a short term coach for the World Cup, then go with Ange. No point wasting huge dollars on a big name coach that will oversee a team likely to fair poorly at the World Cup. Since we want to give younger players a go, then surely give a local coach some real experience? The situation can then be reviewed after the World Cup. Until then, Ange could manage both A-League and national team concurrently. There’s only a handful of preparation games during the club season, then come April he’s all clear. If the Asian Champions League becomes an issue for Melbourne Victory, they can use their assistant coach.

These recent drubbings could be the cleansing the sport needs. Clearly there was widespread agitation among the community. Whether it’s from Osieck directly or, more likely, legacy from the Verbeek and Hiddink eras, the mood had become stale. There was more than a touch of the “same old”, almost a cry for change. Much like the recent federal election, the fans decided long ago, and it really was a case of pulling the trigger. That makes it even less logical to return to Hiddink. With the World Cup in South America, the omens suggest to look that way for a new coach, and a new style. At least it would provide fresh hope.

Match report and videos:

http://www.foxsports.com.au/football/socceroos/a-defiant-holger-osieck-says-he-wont-stand-down-from-job-despite-successive-6-0-defeats/story-e6frf4l3-1226738725917