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

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Ange making the right moves with first squad

2013/11/07 1230 AET

Schwarzer also quits. A dummy spit?

Holman, Wilkshire, Carney, Thompson, Ognenovski out. Neill remains. Schwarzer retires. Did he have a dummy spit? All good decisions so far. The much anticipated first squad by Ange Postecoglou, to play Costa Rica in Sydney on 19 November, mostly confirmed the one key reality that blocked Holger Osieck’s attempts to rejuvenate the squad: the cupboard is bare. While on face value Ange has been bolder with selections like Bozanic, Franjic and Wilkinson, he’s not dealing with crucial World Cup qualifiers. Still, the signs are good, especially the theme among the discards of them being from lowly clubs in the Middle East or simply players passed their expiration date. Only Mark Bresciano survives as a player from the Middle East, and that’s most likely experience. Likewise Lucas Neill, the much maligned target of the fans’ furore at the plodding status of the team, experience is vital. He’s become the target of a bigger problem, not the problem himself. There’s still none coming through to push him out and with Ognenovski gone and Ange looking to try other options at right-back – preferably an actual defender, not a midfielder a likely Wilkshire – some experience will be needed. As the new players are integrated, Neill can be eased out or even moved to right-back. Players like Archie Thompson and David Carney, they simply are passed their expiration and are squad players at best. Surely these are the spots to be reserved for integrating the emerging players.

The major shock with the squad was Mark Schwarzer retiring from the team upon the announcement. It’s a very dubious way for such a most venerated player to leave the team, especially after all his comments of wanting Brazil to be his swansong. It reeks of a dummy spit after he didn’t play in the recent matches against Canada and France, and Ange has not guaranteed Schwarzer would return as number one choice – and rightfully so – under Ange’s regime. Even as second or third choice, his experience would be invaluable, not to mention the spirit of the team coming before the individual. Some of this individualism was exposed prior to the 2010 World Cup, as evidenced by the saga of Tim Cahill ejected from a Sydney bar and then an anonymous player emailing a Sydney newspaper to complain about prima donnas within the team, and the drama over Harry Kewell “will he or won’t he” play at the Cup itself. Cahill still shows spurts of petulance, while Neill did himself no favours recently with some of his comments criticising younger teammates for lack of hunger. Ange’s first challenge is restoring the Australian pride and fighting mentality into this team, which he wonderfully exudes himself. Then there’s matters like ending this “no striker” system of playing Cahill as a striker. He’s not a striker. His goal-rate has dried up since this move. He’s most dangerous as a lurking midfielder. Put him there. Ange seems on foot with this notion of playing players in their right positions. Again, good decisions so far.

Oliver BOZANIC FC Luzern, SWITZERLAND
Mark BRESCIANO Al Gharafa, QATAR
Tim CAHILL New York Red Bulls, USA
Jason DAVIDSON SC Heracles Almelo, NETHERLANDS
Ivan FRANJIC Brisbane Roar, AUSTRALIA
James HOLLAND FK Austria Vienna, AUSTRIA
Mile JEDINAK Crystal Palace FC, ENGLAND
Josh KENNEDY Nagoya Grampus, JAPAN
Robbie KRUSE TSV Bayer 04 Leverkusen, GERMANY
Mitchell LANGERAK (gk) B.V. Borussia 09 Dortmund, GERMANY
Matthew LECKIE FSV Frankfurt 1899, GERMANY
Ryan McGOWAN Shandong Luneng Taishan FC, CHINA PR
Matthew McKAY Brisbane Roar, AUSTRALIA
Mark MILLIGAN Melbourne Victory, AUSTRALIA
Lucas NEILL Omiya Ardija, JAPAN
Tommy OAR FC Utrecht, NETHERLANDS
Tom ROGIC Celtic FC, SCOTLAND
Mat RYAN (gk) Club Brugge KV, BELGIUM
Dario VIDOSIC FC Sion, SWITZERLAND
Rhys WILLIAMS Middlesbrough FC, ENGLAND
Alex WILKINSON Jeonbuk Hyundai FC, KOREA REPUBLIC
Michael ZULLO Adelaide United, AUSTRALIA