Russia 2018 – Australia vs Peru Review, What Went Wrong, Tournament Player Ratings

28 June 2018

This World Cup was always more about hope than expectation, and that hope was only ever a tentative one. A solid performance in the 2-1 loss to France provided a small spark of hope that Australia could beat Denmark in their next match and set a strong course for the next phase. That spark quickly extinguished when Denmark scored early, only for it to reignite when the Socceroos equalised not long after. Alas, no. Despite dominating much of the game, Australia were unable to get a winner, so were faced with the double jeopardy of beating Peru and hoping France beat Denmark.

Entering the final game against Peru in Sochi, it was almost a continuation of the Denmark game. Australia dominated early, failed to convert opportunities, and then went behind on 17 minutes. Four minutes into the second half, it was another goal for Peru, and any flickering hope we had now changed to putting us out of our misery and ending this campaign that always seemed forlorn. A late Peruvian shot hit the post to avoid a more embarrassing 3-0 loss. Not that an Australian win would have mattered, as France and Denmark only needed a draw to qualify first and second, and 0-0 was the not so unexpected final score.

Aaron Mooy sums up Australia's disappointing campaign after 2-0 loss to Peru - World Cup Russia 2018

Aaron Mooy sums up Australia’s disappointing World Cup campaign after their 2-0 loss to Peru in their final game at Russia 2018. Image: fifa.com/Getty

In fairness, Peru were the second best team of the group and should have progressed. They dominated much of the action against Denmark and France with 27 shots on goal, and shot a penalty over the bar against Denmark. They lost that game that they should have won, meaning their match against Australia was only for pride. In victory, they looked as despondent as Australia did. Not only were Peru more deserving to progress, and more lethal when required, they also out-played Australia strategically. In contrast to their two frenetic opening games, knowing Australia had to win, Peru let Australia do all the running, and picked them off the break.

Peru’s opening goal was simply a lob over the top that was passed across the box for a running Andre Carrillo to hit first time into goal. Calls of offside were dismissed as Trent Sainsbury got a foot to the ball to annul the possible offside. It was Peru’s first real chance of the game, whereas Australia and several opportunities, and continued to create them. The best being a low cross by Robbie Kruse that saw Mathew Leckie just fail to connect while under pressure by two defenders, Tom Rogic shooting meekly at the goal-keeper after skipping past four Peruvian players, and an Aziz Behich volleyed cross that failed to find an open Tim Cahill.

World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C final standings

World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C final standings

A disappointing end to a totally disappointing campaign. Even the qualifying campaign was disappointing, with the team constantly conceding goals and having trouble to score goals. It came down to an intercontinental playoff against Honduras, in which, after 0-0 in Honduras, Australia won 3-1 in Sydney, thanks to a free kick and two penalties by Mile Jedinak. In Russia, it was all too familiar. Conceding goals, and the only two goals scored were penalties to Jedinak. While the lack of a killer edge up front was clearly obvious, facts are the perennially leaky defence could never be fixed. Ignoring the less relevant fact Australia hadn’t kept a clean sheet at a World Cup since the 0-0 against Chile in 1974, the more relevant fact is through the entire World Cup cycle for Russia 2018, defence has been a problem. The glaring reality is if Australia could have denied France one of their goals and Denmark their goal, they’d have made the next round.

In hindsight, there doesn’t seem much more Australia could have done. The most glaring situation was when Tim Cahill not brought on against Denmark when they were ripe for the picking. When Andrew Nabbout was injured, it’s fair to say most people were surprised that Tomi Juric came on instead. This was at a stage when Denmark, with France as their final game, were clearly happy with the 1-1 score, and were playing tentatively. Australia was in desperate need of a big moment and Tim Cahill is our big moment player. It wasn’t until Peru that he got a run – not long after Peru went 2-0 ahead – and it was all too late by then. To his credit, in that limited amount of time, he had a shot blocked after a corner, and would have had a goal at his fourth World Cup had Behich crossed better.

It would be unfair to criticise Bert van Marwijk too harshly as he arrived with only a limited amount of time with the squad, and would have judged his playing selections by his own measure. Cahill played barely any club football in 6 months so it’s not right to compare the Cahill we’ve known all these years, or even a year ago, with the Cahill of now. Remember, Ange Postecoglou had been phasing Cahill out of his starting teams long ago, and indeed, it was Postecoglou deserting Australia with mission incomplete that compromised the team’s preparation. Van Marwijk’s first match was a 4-1 loss in Norway in late March, and fears coming to Russia were a smashing by France. That the team produced three creditable and competitive performances, and put themselves in a positions to win, is a huge tick for van Marwijk, and easily offsets the non use of Cahill against Denmark, especially since we can never know if he’d have made a difference.

PLAYER RATINGS FOR THE TOURNAMENT

GOALKEEPER

Matt Ryan 6

Not at fault for any of the goals, nor made any miraculous saves or penalty saves. So it’s a “good” rating for doing his basic job.

DEFENDERS

Trent Sainsbury 7

Did little wrong at the back, other than almost conceding a penalty against Denmark, and not being quite able to intercept the pass that led to Peru’s first goal.

Mark Milligan 7

Solid in an unnatural position as a stopper next to Sainsbury. Had some good attacking flair too. Good to see him rewarded with three match starts after only playing one match in the past 3 World Cup campaigns.

Josh Risdon 6

Showed some good pace and got into good positions; unfortunately never resulted in much.

Aziz Behich 4

Not good enough at this level.

MIDFIELDERS

Mile Jedinak 6

Reasonably solid in a defensive midfield position, and reliable with penalties. General forward passing was uninspiring, or went sideways.

Aaron Mooy 8

Best player of the campaign. Let down by very few decent corner kicks, and he plenty of them to try.

Tom Rogic 7

Always looks neat and skilful on the ball, and played the two passes versus Peru that set up Kruse’s and Behich’s crosses. Otherwise, his work often results in very little, and he can’t shoot either. The World Cup is not like playing Motherwell in Scotland. Was substituted in all 3 games.

Robbie Kruse 5

Another player that looks neat, or tries to look neat. He’s lost pace, and often when he gets into good positions his crosses are rubbish or are blocked. Was substituted in all 3 games.

Mathew Leckie 8

Really stepped up when the situation demanded it. Fast and always looked dangerous. Unfortunately never quite had the support to capitalise on his work, and missed a great shooting chance late in the game against Peru by taking an extra touch.

Daniel Arzani 7

Came on all all 3 games, always looked dangerous, and twice against Denmark nearly set up a goal. Unfortunately, no actual result for his effort so it keeps his score down.

Jackson Irvine 6

Serviceable as the second midfield substitute in all three games.

FORWARDS

Tomi Juric 5

An old fashioned target man, he was neither a great target or could create much himself. A substitute for Nabbout in the first two games; started the third before being substituted for Cahill.

Andrew Nabbout 6

Looked dangerous at times, especially with his speed. Never quite got the service. Missed the final game through injury. Was substituted for Juric in the first two.

Tim Cahill 6

Only appearance was as a substitute against Peru. Did as much as he could with his 35 minutes. Would have had a goal if Behich’s cross on 71 minutes vs Peru was better.

As much as we can pick at coaches, preparation, tactics, selections and even bad luck, ultimately, the players of this generation are not good enough. During the qualifying campaign it was noted that none of this 2018 team would get a start in 2006. Perhaps the possible exception is either Mile Jedinak or Aaron Mooy for Jason Culina. Not even Tim Cahill was in the starting eleven then, and now, at 38 years old, he is still Australia’s most dependable goal scoring option. Comparing to the other teams at Russia 2018, the differences are clear. One less touch, a bit more urgent, a bit more ruthless, a bit more tricky, even a bit more cunning. We need to be resigned to the fact that World Cup success below the top echelon of nations is about generations. All teams go through it. The likes of the Netherlands can go from almost a World Cup winner in 2010 to a non-qualifier in 2018, while Italy missed out too. It’s not about grand visions, technical direction, permanent playing styles, changing landscapes and other hocus pocus ideas. It’s about youth development and growing the game domestically to ensure the best talent is attracted to the game and a pathway is provided for them to reach their full potential. Then the final polish is made with coaching, tactics, strategy and general support. The hope now is the wait for that next generation of great players is not too far away.

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Russia 2018 – Denmark vs Australia Review as VAR Succeeds Again

Russia 2018 – France vs Australia Review & VAR Controversy

Russia 2018 – World Cup Preview, Predictions & Australia’s chances

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Russia 2018 – Denmark vs Australia Review as VAR Succeeds Again

23 June 2018

The 1-1 draw against Denmark in Samara on Thursday has left Australia in a precarious position. Fail to beat Peru on Tuesday night, Australia are out. If France fails to beat Denmark on Tuesday night, Australia are out. A 1-0 win over Peru will be sufficient as long as France’s win is also a low scoring match. If it’s 3-2 or higher, Australia must beat Peru by 2 goals.

World Cup Russia 2018 - Group C standings after 2 games

World Cup Russia 2018 – Group C standings after 2 games

It’s disappointing that Australia is in this predicament after they were the better team against Denmark and blew too many good opportunities to score. The match started poorly for Australia when Denmark scored after just 7 minutes. The ball wasn’t properly cleared well after a Danish throw-in, and Denmark was able to pop the ball through an unsettled Australian defence for a relatively simple running volley by Christian Eriksen. The ashen look on coach Bert van Marwijk’s face said it all. It was a sickening opening to a match Australia entered with high hopes of winning.

Thankfully it was only 20 minutes later that Australia equalised, thanks to a penalty by Mile Jedinak. It came after the intervention of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) when the referee was notified to check the replay for a possible handball. The Australians had protested immediately when Matthew Leckie’s header towards goal was blocked and, indeed, replays showed Yussuf Poulsen had blocked the header and possibly prevented a goal. It even looked deliberate too, with Poulsen’s arm flailing in the air, so lucky to avoid a yellow card. It’s the second game in a row where Australia’s goal came from a penalty after a handball infringement and no yellow card was given.

Once into the second half, Australia began to exert its dominance as Denmark became tentative. A loss to Australia would mean Denmark would need to beat France in their final game and obviously wanted to avoid that. Sadly, Australia could not make the breakthrough, with substitute Daniel Arzani providing the best two opportunities: one a cross that slipped through the penalty box untouched, and later a shot himself from a tight angle after a burst down the wing. Another cross might have been beneficial there. Then there were other lost opportunities through the recurring problem of errant passing and poor decision making. For Denmark, a tangle between Trent Sainsbury and Andreas Cornelius could have been a possible VAR intervention for another penalty. Cornelius managed to stay on his feet, and pass to Pione Sisto for a shot just wide.

Van Marwijk fielded the same starting line-up again, and made similar substitutions, notably leaving Tim Cahill on the bench. When Australia really was needing a moment of magic, it seemed strange that Tomi Juric was used instead of Cahill. While the team has played well in both games, clearly up front isn’t potent enough. Tom Rogic can’t shoot while Robbie Kruse is too slow. Leckie has been dangerous out wide only to be let down by a lack of support for his creativity. That’s where a Cahill just pops up to nod one in. Even his presence alone benefits the team, as he’ll draw defenders and inspire more confidence. The only issue against Peru should be whether Cahill, with barely any club time in the last few months, starts the game or comes on in the second half. The chorus among fans and many commentators is at least make sure he gets a run. Instead of Kruse, it’s worthwhile to give Arzani a go from the start too. He’s trickier, and faster.

As noted, the VAR was active again, and successful again. Of course, in the bizarro world of SBS’s World Cup coverage, VAR was another misuse and wrong use. Despite Poulsen clearly blocking a goal-bound header with his arm, for Craig Foster, it wasn’t a penalty, with his primary reasoning is if it was Australia infringed, would we be happy? Yes! Just like with the Griezmann penalty against France. Rational Australians want the rules applied fairly and consistently, not on potential feelings of indignation. Then in the Brazil vs Costa Rica match, Neymar reacted to a touch, threw himself to the ground, and somehow Foster deems Neymar was impeded so it’s a penalty. Meanwhile, Griezmann was clearly impeded and he says no penalty? VAR doesn’t decide or overturn anything either. It advises the referee to check the replay, then he decides. The only issue with VAR is that perhaps it doesn’t intervene enough. No doubt it will be reviewed after the tournament, and possibly one idea is the referee asks for a review, rather than rely on VAR itself to intervene.

– Australia plays Peru on Tuesday night 26 June at midnight (00:00 27 June). France vs Denmark is at the same time.

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Russia 2018 – France vs Australia Review & VAR Controversy

Russia 2018 – France vs Australia Review & VAR Controversy

18 June 2018

Australia got the job done against France in their opening game at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Despite the 2-1 loss, the broader aim is qualifying for the knockout phase from the group, and with that, against by far the group’s strongest team, the primary aim was of damage minimisation. While a draw would obviously be better, or even to snag a win, the most realistic and critical outcome was goal difference. The 4-0 hammering to Germany in 2010 cost the Socceroos a spot in the next round, while the experimental 2014 team lost 3-1 to Chile – effectively ending their campaign when Netherlands and Spain were still to follow.

Mile Jedinak scores a penalty for Australia against France at World Cup Russia 2018

Mile Jedinak scores a penalty for Australia against France. Image: fifa.com

After a nervy start, Australia handled both themselves and France well. While France always looked the more dangerous side, eventually they ran out of ideas and Australia began to create the occasional opportunity themselves. Nil-nil at half time was perfect, and it was hoped the pattern could remain. Then, after 10 minutes into the second half, the chaos started. A penalty on Antoine Griezmann when tripped by Josh Risdon was followed within minutes by one for Australia when Samuel Umtiti inexplicably, and deliberately, handle the ball. Mile Jedinak converted while Umtiti inexplicably avoided a yellow card.

As the game progressed, Australia began to tire and became sloppy, losing the ball too often in midfield either by dallying too much on the ball or through errant passing. Eventually France would capitalise, and it happened in the last 10 minutes when Paul Pogba ran onto a loose pass and shot on goal. It deflected off Aziz Behich’s leg, over goal-keeper Mat Ryan, off the crossbar and over the line. Curiously it was awarded as an own goal by Behich. So disappointing to concede so late after all of that hard work was done.

All the post-match focus since has been about that penalty to France. It was the first time the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) had been used to determine a penalty situation at a World Cup, and it’s driven controversy online and in the media since. Much of this is through ignorance or a downright denial of reality. For those in Australia it’s been led by SBS’s Craig Foster. While initially he agreed with the decision (as the commentators did), he reversed his view and now claims no penalty. Claims that only “clear and obvious” errors are meant to be “overturned” is also misleading.

First, the use of VAR. For penalty decisions, the FIFA website says its “role is to ensure that no clearly wrong decisions are made”. There’s nothing about “overturning” a decision. With the VAR active, the referee, when in doubt, is more likely inclined not to unnecessarily stop the game and call a penalty, preferring to wait for notification from the VAR. In this particular case, the referee was notified of a possible missed decision, went and checked the video himself and awarded a penalty. His decision was never “overturned” as the system relating to penalty kicks is not about that anyway. It’s about preventing clearly wrong decisions, and denying a penalty based on the footage would have been clearly wrong. The system worked.

VAR guidelines on penalty decisions

As for the decision itself, the chorus of “he touched the ball” as somehow meant to annul further fouls is nonsense. Again, Foster has led this in Australia, primarily from picking out of context David Elleray’s (former English referee and head of VAR) admission Risdon got a touch on the ball. Even Australia’s players post-game, and captain Mile Jedinak in the press conference, blindly blathered away about this infamous “touch” – a touch that was barely noticeable and only deviated the ball’s direction by 5 degrees, if that. The touch is irrelevant, as Griezmann is still entitled to regather the ball. In his subsequent stride, Risdon lifted his leg and clearly tripped Griezmann. That’s always a penalty. The sequence of events:

Risdon/Griezmann penalty France vs Australia World Cup Russia 2018

Risdon attempts to tackle Griezmann, barely contacting the ball. Note this is outside the penalty box, so a foul would have been preferable then.

fra-pk13

Now inside the box and Griezmann into a new stride, Griezmann skips clear in pursuit of the ball while Risdon lifts his leg and drops it on Griezmann’s heel.

Risdon/Griezmann penalty France vs Australia World Cup Russia 2018

The force of the contact causes Griezmann to fall and Risdon’s leg to fly into the air. It’s clearly a subsequent incident, clearly a trip, and clearly a penalty.

David Elleray’s full quote:David Elleray on France Antoine Griezmann penalty vs Australia World Cup Russia 2018

It’s a shame there’s been so much focus on this one incident as it’s a mostly a distraction. Facts are France “handed” Australia a penalty back within minutes, reversing the damage and restoring the game to level scores. Australia lost because of their constant turnovers in midfield that gave France too many opportunities on the break. Australia were lucky not to be punished earlier. So look to the match in the broader picture, praise the team for playing so well and remaining so disciplined. Whinging won’t help. Even the complaints against France’s Lucas Hernandez constantly going down on any minor contact is irrelevant. As he admitted in the press conference, “Sometimes I exaggerate, but that’s all part of the spectacle… it also helps to take more time when you are winning.”, it’s all part of the game.

Mile Jedinak was right about one thing: It’s time to move on and look forward to Denmark. With Denmark beating Peru 1-0 in their opening game, that blocks the scenario of two draws being enough for Australia to qualify for the knockout phase. That would have been a real scenario as long as France beat Denmark and Peru by more than a goal, and all other games were draws. As it stands, and presuming France doesn’t implode and lose both of its remaining games, Australia cannot afford a loss to Denmark otherwise it’s all over. A draw will mean the final game is alive and goal difference will likely count (the real achievement made against France). A win will mean a draw is most likely enough against Peru. A win by two or more goals means a narrow loss to Peru would also be sufficient.

– Australia plays Denmark on Thursday night 21 June at 22:00 AET. France vs Peru follows at 01:00 on 22 June. The group’s final games are Tuesday night 26 June at midnight (00:00 27 June).

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Socceroo Realm – Top 5 Moments of 2017

7 January 2018

1) The end of an era for the Socceroo Realm

It’s been a year of transition for the Socceroo Realm. The personal webspace that’s been home for it for almost 20 years is now a thing of the past. While the site is still alive on the alphalink domain (select “Archive” from the main menu here to reach it), moving house in November and changing internet providers means I’ve lost access to it. Eventually, presuming the host ISP gets its act together, it will disappear totally. So it’s only this site, hosted by WordPress, that is being updated.

The old Socceroo Realm website

The old Socceroo Realm website as it stands now

2) Australia through to play Honduras as Ange Postecoglou shoots through

The other big event of 2017 was World Cup qualification for Russia 2018. Australia struggled through the group phase, and while they did well to score 19 points and only lose 1 game for the entire phase, it wasn’t enough to secure a top two spot and therefore direct qualification. So it was off to the playoffs where they overcame a stubborn Syria and a meek Honduras. Although, to coach Ange Postecoglou’s credit, the team played some of their best football for the entire campaign. Speaking of Ange…

3) Australia to play France, Peru & Denmark at Russia 2018; Ange Postecoglou quits

Ange Postecoglou shoots through. Yes, qualifies for the World Cup. Yes, quits the team. It’s possibly never happened anywhere else in the world before. A combination of preciousness to occasional media criticism, a long held grudge against Football Federation Australia and another job lined up, seemed behind the decision. Indeed, Postecoglou has signed with Yokohama F Marinos in the J-League, which was the rumoured outcome all along.

4) The Iran Game 20 Years On – Recounting the Memories

On more a personal note, and the reason for the Socceroo Realm in the first place, the infamous Iran Game of 1997 had its 20th anniversary. Strangely not too much fanfare about it compared to the last milestone of the 15th anniversary. No doubt because all the players of the time have retired, and there’s only so much it can gnaw at our soul anymore – especially since Australia had just qualified for its fourth World Cup in succession. Maybe I need to watch the match again to rekindled the distress and torture of that infamous night? The post linked above is actually a slightly modified version of the one written 5 years ago. With the old website no longer active, more of these “Blasts from the Past” will be feature in future.

5) Pros and Cons of a 48-team World Cup

In the world if FIFA, rarely something happens without controversy, and this time it’s the decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams for 2026. You know what? Despite being a bit indifferent about it in the post above, now I believe it’s the right thing to do. It will happen sooner or later so may as well be sooner.

Honourable Mentions…

Australia featured in the Confederations Cup this year and performed well enough, and in what was once a staple in the Socceroo Realm, a “What Went Wrong” post returned, albeit for not qualifying for Russia 2018 directly. While I’ve written nothing all year about the women’s team, the Matildas, they are on fire. Winning the four-team Tournament of Nations in the USA in July and August by beating the hosts 1-0, Japan 4-2 and Brazil 6-1, and then beating Brazil in Australia in two internationals in September. On the back of this success, Australia plans to bid for the Women’s World Cup of 2023. Let’s hope it’s not a repeat of the last time Australia made such a bid – for the 2007 edition. With Australia the only bidder, FIFA extended the deadline and asked China to bid, and duly awarded it to them.

Melbourne Cup 2017 – Preview and Review!

6 November 2017

With Winx such the dominant headline maker throughout the spring, the Melbourne Cup has suddenly crept up on us. There hasn’t been much thought about it – until now with the final jostling for positions in the race. On first inspection of the field, it was a case of “who” for about half the field. After a few preview shows and reading the newspaper,  suddenly the horses are like old friends and excitement is mounting.

Almandin out-lasts Heartbreak City to win the 2016 Melbourne Cup

Almandin out-lasts Heartbreak City to win the 2016 Melbourne Cup

Time for my annual selections, and hopefully they’re much better since I started posting them on this blog. Ironically they’ve been poor, even despite a few outsiders winning like Green Moon in 2012 and Prince of Penzance in 2015. My last two big wins were 2010 and 2011 with Americain and Dunaden. When I say big, I mean BIG!

Also, the Melbourne Cup is evolving. The international horses have firmly taken hold, whereas before 2010, they’d be regarded as scratchings. Even then, 2010 and 2011 were both French horses, while Protectionist in 2014 was German, so it’s fair enough to be skeptical of British horses. Even the Irish ones are in a significant drought, with Media Puzzle in 2002 the last winner. Also it’s worthwhile to be skeptical of international horses that haven’t had a preparation run in Australia. Since Vintage Crop in 1993, almost 100 first-timers have run and failed, mostly abysmally. Fifteen placings by 12 individual horses is the closest they’ve come.

Speaking of skepticism, the Caulfield Cup continues its poor guide to the Cup. Whereas once it was a pivotal guide, now it’s almost useless. The last Melbourne Cup winner to even run in it was Delta Blues in 2006, who finished third. It’s become almost a b-grade race full of horses that can’t get into the Melbourne Cup (due to proliferation of international runners), while horses targeting the Melbourne Cup don’t want to risk a penalty for winning the Caulfield Cup. Consequently organisers are removing that condition, and will raise prize money to make it a stronger stand-alone race of its own. It’s only possible value these days is noting the preparation run of any international horses.

The Field & Current Odds

1) Hartnell $26

Third last year when in much better form so easy to ignore. He’s a class horse, and they’re trying a new approach to run him fresher in the Cup, so a win wouldn’t surprise.

Result: Didn’t quite run it out last year, and in weaker form this year, was beaten a long way out. 20th

2) Almandin $9

Last year’s winner and returned to the spring with a solid win, then a poor run. Also up 5.5kg on his original handicap weight last year (4.5kg up on race weight). Repeat winners are rare so will risk it.

Result: The weight and history told. 12th

3) Humidor $10

Second to Winx in the Cox Plate and the class local horse. Running the 3200 metres is a query and he’s very temperamental and prone to over-racing. That’s enough to ignore him.

Result: Failed at distance as expected. 19th

4) Tiberian $26

The son of a “teaser”. These are horses that get mares “into the mood” before the stallion arrives to do his job. Studs give the teasers a few shots at the end of the season to keep them interested, and occasionally something is produced than can run. It would be remarkable if that could be a Melbourne Cup winner. Tiberian has solid form so I might have something “small” on him. Otherwise, as an international that hasn’t run here, better to ignore.

Result: Started a long run 1400 metres from home, cruised up heading into the straight and only battled to the line. Disappointing. 7th

5) Marmelo $8

An international than ran home well in the Caulfield Cup. That proves he’s settled in, and with his obvious class and Hugh Bowman, Australia’s best jockey on board, is one of the ones to beat.

Result: A nice run just off the lead and then could only battle to the line. Another disappointment. 9th

6) Red Cardinal $18

Last start flopped; before that great. Had he a preparation run here, he’d be favourite. Do you want to risk it? He could be the one that finally breaks the fist-timer international hoodoo. Has last year’s winning jockey Kerrin McEvoy on board. He should cope with the widest barrier of 24, having done so (if I recall accurately) in 2000 with Brew. The widest is not too bad as it gives you a choice to drop back. If you’re a few horses in, then those out wide can dictate your settling position.

Result: Got into a good position and then, like Tiberian and Marmelo, battle to the line. 11th

7) Johannes Vermeer $10

I always liked this until a few others overtook him. I might still return. Third in the Caulfield Cup if that matters and solid in previous runs, with his only doubt being untested over the distance. These days, a distance doubt is a big doubt.

Result: Sprinted clear and looked the winner to be pipped 50 metres out. The jockey said the horse was going so fast he was surprised anything else could go better. 2nd

8) Bondi Beach $61

Previous Melboune Cup runs 16th and 13th. Says it all.

Result: Failed twice before, failed again. 22nd

9) Max Dynamite $15

Second two years ago and arguably should have won. Was then injured and has only run 4 times, in low grade races, since. He’s a leap of faith.

Result: Couldn’t sprint with the other two. A fabulous effort nonetheless for such a horse light on runs and up in age. 3rd

10) Ventura Storm $34

Disappointing in the Caulfield Cup. Pass.

Result: Disappointing in the Melbourne Cup. Couldn’t run the distance and out-classed. 21st

11) Who Shot Thebarman

Scratched

12) Wicklow Brave $61

Failed last year and in poorer form.

Result: Got some money this time by sneaking into the top 10. Again it proves one of the golden Melbourne Cup rules of failed before means fail again. 10th

13) Big Duke $19

Probably out-classed.

Result: Over-achieved. Class did tell ultimately. 4th

14) US Army Ranger $61

International runner in poor recent form and no preparation run. No.

Result: Never a factor as expected. 18th

15) Boom Time $31

Caulfield Cup winner at $31. Says a lot about the horse and the race.

Result: Failed to run the trip and out-classed. 15th

16) Gallante $101

Previous Cup failure and out-classed.

Result: The first one beaten. 23rd

17) Libran $41

Seems out-classed. A place hope at absolute best.

Result: Ran well enough to grab some prize money. 8th

18) Nakeeta $34

A Scottish horse, so would be a great irony if it could win for Britain before an English horse does. Won “Britain’s Melbourne Cup” – the Ebor in York – which only rarely is a good guide to the Melbourne, and that’s when the winner wins impressively. Not this year. Nakeeta only snuck in. Because the Ebor is a handicap, it’s often regarded as a poor race and good horses generally ignore it.

Result: Ran on late after being left behind in the sprint. A good result overall. 5th

19) Single Gaze $41

A mare that stuck on well for second in the Caulfield Cup. Wary of both mares and the Caulfield Cup, so will pass.

Result: The jockey said the horse was flattened, was shuffled back four pairs than preferred, and never recovered. That’s always the fear with mares. 17th

20) Wall Of Fire $12

With unsuccessful attempts at both of his 3200 races, only a doubt at the distance here. An international that finished second in his preparation run in the Herbert Power, and drops 5kg for the Melbourne Cup. It’s the pattern Protectionist’s year in 2014, except he was German and Wall Of Fire is English. If it’s a slower pace, I can imagine Wall Of Fire sprinting clear, otherwise his run will end 200 metres out, or sooner.

Result: Even though he clearly didn’t run the trip, a bit better was expected. 16th

21) Thomas Hobson $20

An international without a preparation run and seems a plodder with recent runs up 4355 metres. These types typically get out-sprinted.

Result: From the same stable as Max Dynamite and Wicklow Brave, so the trainer definitely knows his stuff, and collectively the three horses won over $700,000 in prize money. Otherwise, he was always a plodder and got left behind in the sprint. Another 800 metres and he might just catch them. 6th

22) Rekindling $14

Another international without a preparation run, and he’s a 3yo too. They often struggle with the big field and hustle and bustle of a Melbourne Cup. In fact, many internationals do, which is why a preparation run is so important.

Rekindling (pink cap) wins the 2017 Melbourne Cup ahead of stablemate Johannes Vermeer.

Rekindling (pink cap) wins the 2017 Melbourne Cup ahead of stablemate Johannes Vermeer.

Result: Obviously coped with the big field and the weight difference to the older horses told in the end. In retrospect, with his good form in Europe and the lower weight, was obviously up there as one of the leading internationals. The problem is you don’t know. No preparation run and a 3yo, historically it means failure. 1st

23) Amelie’s Star $21

A mare that ran poorly in the Caulfied Cup. Yes, despite the heroics of Makybe Diva between 2003 and 2005, mares have a poor record in the Cup.

Result: Failed at distance and out-classed. 14th

24) Cismontane $51

Or “kiss my arse” as always hearing the name evokes. Yes, kiss my arse for its chances too. A Gai Waterhouse horse, and she’ll tell you it will win in a canter. Will most likely lead until being swamped heading into the straight.

Result: Despite being out-classsed, stuck on well enough. 13th

Summary

I’m locked into Marmelo. Although, if it fails, I’ll swear off the Caulfield Cup as any sort of a guide. Then it’s a toss up between Red Cardinal and Wall Of Fire. The former arguably has the best credentials and is an international without a preparation run, while the latter is only just behind on credentials and has a distance doubt. Red Cardinal will be at juicier odds so that most likely will sway me. In fourth I’ll stick with Johannes Vermeer. For an outsider, I’ll go Libran.

Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!


Result

So an international horse without a preparation run in Australia wins the Melbourne Cup. It’s only the second time since the first time in 1993. Overall, it was a sterile, bland Cup. Rekindling wasn’t heavily favoured even by those “in the know”, while conspicuously quiet post race. If the second and third placed horses, Johannes Vermeer or Max Dynamite, had won, things might have been different. Without trainer Joseph O’Brien beating his father Aidan O’Brien to winning the Cup, there wasn’t even an interesting story from this year’s race. The only Cup more underwhelming than this one was 2012 with Green Moon.

Melbourne Cup 2017 Race Results

Melbourne Cup 2017 Race Results. Image: news.com.au

Despite a first-up international winning, the lesson still is to largely ignore such horses. While Max Dynamite followed his second from 2 years ago, the rest mostly failed, with the next best Nakeeta in fifth. Favoured horses such as Red Cardinal and Wall Of Fire finished 11th and 16th respectively. Each year, while one or two will race well, it’s a lottery to know the exact one. The second lesson is distance. At least half the field failed to run it out. Third lesson is class. Other than Big Duke in fourth, the outsiders ran as expected. Then there’s the Caulfield Cup. While Johannes Vermeer finished third in it, again it failed to produce the winner… nor the third placed horse, nor fourth, nor fifth… all the way up to eighth. Marmelo was the next best in ninth.

Johannes Vermeer will be one to watch next year. Near winners do have a good record the following year as they are often a bit stronger and tougher and haven’t suffered a weight penalty. Unlike the winner, in this case Almandin, which is typically penalised around 4 kgs for the following year The question for Johannes Vermeer is whether a precocious lightweight will emerge. That’s why he was beaten this year.

mc17-03a

Often the more interesting fillies are the two-legged variety. Image: news.com.au

Personally it was a wipeout. Johannes Vermeer needed to win for me as I never bet place. With the likes of Marmelo, Red Cardinal, Tiberian and Wall Of Fire all failing, all my multiples went up in flames. Oh well, there’s always next year… and the year after… and the year after!

 

Australia vs Iraq & UAE – Back on Course

2 April 2017

Credit where it’s due. Australia procured four precious points, as was the minimum requirement, away to Iraq and at home the United Arab Emirates this week. While the 1-1 draw in neutral Tehran against Iraq could have gone either way, the Socceroos ground UAE into submission for the win 2-0 in Sydney. It was a good response after the stunningly exciting 2-2 draw in Thailand to end 2016, where the Thais ran Australia ragged, playing inspired football in tribute to the recent death of their king, and arguably they should have won. Curiously, Australia remains the only unbeaten in the group, yet still sits in third.

The results have provided some sort of relief to a side struggling for wins, not to mention adding much more excitement to the qualifying process itself. For an ambitious team and coach, it’s been a timely boost, especially after switching to a 3-4-3 system. Remember, coach Ange Postecoglou doesn’t only want to qualify for Russia 2018, he wants to perform well there. While the 3-4-3 worked well against the UAE, often it operated as 1-2-4-3 formation. Calling it 3-4-3 is probably more a statement on the team’s psychology – to reinvigorate and inspire a more attacking and confident mentality, rather that coast as usual like the previous two coaches, Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek, would do.

The only quibble with the results is all three goals came from corners. Several of the few well worked opportunities Australia managed to create were let down by poor final balls and finishing. Aaron Mooy missed the easiest against Iraq, while the Iraqis should have received a penalty for an Australian handball. They scored anyway a few minutes later to cancel the damage from the referee’s error. Then it was a matter of holding the Iraqis out with some desperate defense and goal-keeping.

It shows how pivotal these moments become where one moment you could be 2-0 up and it’s a cruise to victory and then suddenly it’s all equal and you’re trying to protect that crucial one point. That extends to the group process itself. After two wins from the first two games, commentators like Mark Bosnich were talking about wrapping it up quickly. Four draws later finds itself desperate for the win to simply stay in touch. Australia in third place has 13 points, behind Saudi Arabia and Japan on 16. In fact, with Saudi Arabia and Japan both winning their matches, Australia only managed to hold their position after these two games.

The real crucial game is the one against Saudi Arabia in June. A win by two goals there and Australia jumps to second. A one goal win keeps them third. Their final game is home to Thailand, so they would expect to bank 3 points there to go to 19 points. The other game is away to Japan, so no a guarantee of any points. The good news is after Australia, the Saudis are away to the UAE and home to Japan. If Australia draws with the Saudis, they will need 4 points from their final two matches and hope the Saudis lose both. A loss means Australia would need two wins and the Saudis two losses. So that game in June against Saudi Arabia is the closest thing to a high pressure, crucial World Cup qualifier we’ve had since the intercontinental playoffs during the Oceania era.

Results

2016-11-15 Thailand 2 (Dangda 20′, 57′ PK) – Australia 2 (Jedinak 9′ PK, 65′ PK)
2017-03-23 Iraq 1 (Ahmed Yaseen 76′) – Australia 1 (Leckie 39′)
2017-03-28 Australia 2 (Irvine 7′, Leckie 78′) – UAE 0

Match Report – Thailand
Match Report – Iraq
Match Report – UAE

The Scenario

Current Points and Goal Difference

JPN 16 9+
KSA 16 8+
AUS 13 5+

13 Jun 2017: AUS beat KSA 2-0, IRQ lose to JPN 0-2

JPN 19 11+
AUS 16 7+
KSA 16 6+

31 Aug 2017: JPN beat AUS 1-0; UAE draw with KSA

JPN 20 12+
KSA 17 6+
AUS 16 6+

05 Sep 2017: AUS beat THA 3-0; KSA lose to JPN 0-1

JPN 23 13+
AUS 19 9+
KSA 17 5+

Two losses and a draw are assigned to KSA for their final 3 games. Given their form, it’s quite possible they win somewhere. If it’s at the UAE, that bumps them to 19 points with goal difference probably keeping them third. If they win or draw at home to Japan, then they overtake Australia. Note, Japan will most likely be qualified by the final so could send an experimental team to Saudi Arabia.

If Australia finishes third, all is not lost. The beauty of being in a large confederation like Asia is you do get second chances, and sometimes even a third chance. This would involve a playoff with the third team from Group A (likely Uzbekistan) and then a playoff with a CONCACAF team. Wouldn’t that be exciting!

Melbourne Cup 2016 – The Verdict

31 October 2016

Preview (scroll down for the Review)

For anyone that’s read my Melbourne Cup preview for the past few years, they’d probably think “this guy is clueless”. In a sense that’s true, because for the few years this blog has been running the predictions have been poor. While last year can be forgiven considering a 100/1 shot won, which would have been missed by anyone using rational thought, and Admire Rakti was beset by a heart problem during the 2014 race that Protectionist won, Sea Moon was a poor pick in 2013 when comparing its form against the eventual winner Fiorente, and 2012 (Green Moon) was wipeout. Before that it was hit with Dunaden (2011) and Americain (2010).

About last year’s Cup, it was a slowly run race, which not only helped Prince Of Penzance win, it hurt the chances so many others, including Fame Game from Japan, the favourite. For some trainers and even one horse, 2016 is a year of redemption.

To repeat my usual guidelines:
1) Look for horses with form at, or near, the distance of 3200m
2) Look for horses in recent form
3) Look for horses with enough class
4) Look for horses that have, or are likely to, run well  in Australia
5) Ignore horses that have failed in the Cup before

Eight horses are back from the 2015 Cup, which is an unusually high number. Theoretically, if you follow rule 5, a third of the field is disqualified.

There’s also another rule, or trend, developing: The Caulfield Cup is a rubbish form reference. No Melbourne Cup winner has come through it since Delta Blue’s third in 2006, and the last Caulfield Cup winner to win the Melbourne Cup was Ethereal in 2001. Before that was Let’s Elope in 1991. Incidentally, both were mares with a light weight. It’s become so poor because many horses either skip the race, leaving it for lower grade horses or those using it as a hit out. Only four from this year’s race will even contest the Melbourne Cup.

Melbourne Cup field of 2016

Melbourne Cup field of 2016

I’ll award each horse Yes, Maybe or No for their chance to win. (I) denotes an international visitor, (R) denotes a return runner.

01 Big Orange $14 (IR)

The best credentialled international visitor, and  fifth last year. The connections rued the slow pace last year, which is ironic considering Big Orange made the pace. They admit the error of going too slow, which saw them out-sprinted at the end. There won’t be the same mistake this year. Big Orange is a grinder so he needs a fast pace and keep sticking on. I imagine the race pattern could be similar to 2006 when Delta Blues ran ahead off a strong pace and was unable to be caught. Yes

02 Our Ivanhowe $51 (R)

Form not good enough. No.

03 Curren Mirotic $34 (I)

The only Japanese horse this year. No 9yo has ever won it (9yo by Australian measure, 8.5 in actuality) and so inconsistent with his form. At his best can win. Came a narrow second in super fast over the 3200m of Tenno Sho three starts back. Then returned an 11th and 9th in his next two starts. Will most likely lead as the unofficial pacemaker for Big Orange. (Reluctantly) Maybe.

04 Bondi Beach $9 (IR)

Ran poorly last year, so that should disqualify him. He’s been set specifically, and is a year more mature after racing last year as a 3yo. Would not be so short if not for the trainer, jockey and owner, Aiden O’Brian, Ryan Moore and Lloyd Williams, respectively. Also add a few points for the iconic Australian name itself. He’s been specifically set for the race and while many experts rate him a good chance, for me it’s a reluctant Maybe.

05 Exospheric $20 (I)

In the hands of the Freedman’s now, he’s only a recent arrival so I still class as an international in terms of analysing for this race. While he was OK in the Caulfield Cup, that race’s form history is now poor and, of course, the winner was far more impressive. No.

06 Hartnell $5 (R)

The favourite, and the best horse in terms of class and form in the race. His issue is the distance, especially that he flopped in last year’s Cup. While, like stated prior, that was an odd race being run so slowly, he’s improved vastly since then anyway. Has the look of the 2013 winner, Fiorente, who also came through the WFA races and finished second in the Cox Plate. In the 2000m Turnbull Stakes prior to that, Hartnell destroyed the eventual Caulfied Cup winner. Yes.

07 Who Shot Thebarman $34 (R)

Third two years ago was his shot at it. Class never there, and form not as good either. No.

08 Wicklow Brave $15 (I)

Trainer Willie Mullins has a knack of travelling horses here and getting them to perform. Also has Frankie Dettori on board. Arguably the pair should have won last year with Max Dynamite. Won the Irish St Leger at his last start over Order Of St George. One of the top hopes. Yes.

09 Almoonqith $21 (R)

Ran 18th last year and doubt he’s ever had the last class, and this year form not as good. No.

10 Gallante $51

Sydney Cup winner so will run the distance. Class is the issue, and recent form average. No.

11 Grand Marshal $41 (R)

Another Sydney stayer. Winning the Moonee Valley Cup last start shows his form is solid. Class the problem. No.

12 Jameka $8.50

Devastating winner of the Caulfield Cup. Like the last two horses that did the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double, is a mare with a light weight. It’s these reasons that I rate her among the top chances. Note she’s the only Australian bred horse in the field too. Named after Serena Jameka Williams, apparently because they share similarly big bums. Yes.

13 Heartbreak City $17 (I)

Last start won the Ebor Handicap, the closest Britain has to our Melbourne Cup. It’s a race not of the same standard, it hasn’t been a great form reference, and horse was well weighted. Won its previous two starts too, albeit hurdle races. Has it acclimatised too? You won’t know until the day. No.

14 Sir John Hawkwood $81

Won the Metropolitan in Sydney, which has as much relevance to the Melbourne Cup as the Bathurst 1000. Last start 10th in the Caulfield Cup. No.

15 Excess Knowledge $71 (R)

Ran OK last year to finish 7th. Form poor this year. No.

16 Beautiful Romance $81 (I)

Always skeptical of international mares (none have performed well that I can recall), and form barely average. No.

17 Almandin $11

Last two runs have been wins in local staying races. Question the class of those fields, and therefore the horse. The lightweight is responsible for his shortish odds. (Reluctant) No.

18 Assign $61

Similar form around Almandin, except was beaten convincingly by Almandin, hence the far juicier odds. No.

19 Grey Lion $51 (I)

Second in the Geelong Cup. It depends whether that’s a form reference this year. Other than the occasional hits – 2002 (Media Puzzle), 2010 (Americain) and 2011 (Dunaden) – it’s a hindrance more than a help. If you like the Geelong Cup, there’s two other horses drawing a bigger spotlight anyway. An international that will remain in Australia. (Only because it’s a grey) Maybe.

20 Oceanographer $8 (I)

Superb winner on Saturday to qualify for the Melbourne Cup after a close third in the Geelong Cup. That wasn’t the plan for this international visitor, so the big issue is whether he can run three big races in 13 days. Maybe.

21 Secret Number $31 (I)

The form looks superb with the last 5 starts being 1, 2, 1, 2 and 1. The problem is that it’s over 3 years! He’s only run one other race this year, with the previous race being the second place on the Queens Cup at last year’s Spring Carnival in Melbourne. Very tricky to place. Need to go on trust the stable can produce him on the day and, if so, especially down in the weights, a strong chance. Yes.

22 Pentathlon $126

Class and form queries. The price says it all. No

23 Qewy $26 (I)

The Geelong Cup winner, so if you fancy Oceanographer, you must fancy this. Maybe.

24 Rose Of Virgina $101

Never heard of it until I saw the Melbourne Cup field. It’s really a $201 chance. There must be sympathy money on it. No.

Summary

Five horses marked Yes: Big Orange, Hartnell, Wicklow Brave, Jameka and Secret Number.

Five horses marked Maybe: Curren Mirotic, Bondi Beach, Grey Lion, Oceanographer and Qewy.

Hartnell is the clear favourite with the public at $5, with Oceanographer ($8) and Jameka ($8.50) next. Oceanographer is exaggerated because of that big win on Saturday. For value (and that possible distance doubt), I’ll prefer Jameka over Hartnell, and hope it’s a return to form for the Caulfield Cup as a form reference. Otherwise, I’m writing it off forever! Again for value and also Big Orange already had a go last year, I’ll prefer Wicklow Brave over Big Orange for my second bet. I’ll also take small pot shots at Secret Number and Grey Lion.

The five “Yes” horses will go into my 5-horse boxed trifecta, while I’ll exclude Secret Number for my boxed First 4.

Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!

 

Review

Final Results

01 Almandin
02 Heartbreak City
03 Hartnell
04 Qewy
05 Who Shot Thebarman
06 Almoonqith
07 Beautiful Romance
08 Exopheric
09 Pentathlon
10 Big Orange
11 Grand Marshal
12 Oceanographer
13 Bondi Beach
14 Grey Lion
15 Jameka
16 Excess Knowledge
17 Our Ivanhowe
18 Sir John Hawkwood
19 Assign
20 Gallante
21 Wicklow Brave
22 Curren Mirotic
23 Secret Number
24 Rose Of Virginia

I ended up changing from Jameka to Hartnell. The odds improved and the doubts about Jameka grew larger. It didn’t matter ultimately, as Hartnell finished a well defeated third. It was a good race for him, with the 4kg difference in weights proving the decisive factor between him and the winner, Almandin. The race was exciting itself with Almandin and Heartbreak City duelling to the finish line.

To continue my poor run of predictions, I had both Almandin and Heartbreak City a “No”. The class was always the issue, which means it’s the second year in a row a low weight overcame a class deficiency. In some ways, it’s a return to the Melbourne Cup of old, where horses would try and beat the handicapper to get into the Cup with a light weight and peak on the day. Does that mean we should begin to revise our guidelines for picking winners? Maybe. If a horse has won decisively at its last start, then that’s form you can trust.

Some rules were reinforced, particularly previous runners. All ran to their past performance, if not worse. While Hartnell in third, Almoonqith in fourth and Who Shot Thebarman in fifth were good, Big Orange was poor in 10th and let’s not mention Bondi Beach, Grand Marshal, Excess Knowledge and Our Ivanhowe. Hartnell is probably the exception anyway in that he clearly improved in form since the last Cup. He was a super horse in comparison and was unlucky that two sneaks produced on the day.

Horses that haven’t run in Australia before, again, it’s wise to ignore them. While they’ve come close like Heartbreak City today and Red Cadeaux in 2011, they mostly fail: Bondi Beach, Beautiful Romance, Secret Number, Wicklow Brave and Curren Mirotic. Even if one wins one day, that will be a rare exception you cop. After all, these rules are more guidelines, and horses aren’t machines.

The Geelong Cup, again, was a poor reference. While Qewy was good in fourth, Grey Lion and Oceanographer failed. The latter also only had 3 days to recover from Saturday’s win, which is alien to European horses. Much like the situation with Almandin’s and Heartbreak City’s recent wins, winners in Geelong need to dominate it, or be highly credentialled horses.

Distance: Most of them don’t run it out. Arguably even Hartnell you could say didn’t quite stay. The likes of Jameka, especially, if you have doubts, leave them out.

Class: Reinforced again with the likes of Who Shot Thebarman, Pentathlon and Grand Marshal. While they can run 3200, they can’t run it fast enough. Also be wary of plodders, or horses without a sprint. For all Big Orange’s ability to run a solid 3200, it’s pointless if several horses sprint past him in the straight. Curiously, Big Orange’s jockey blamed the pace. Last year it was blamed for being too slow when finishing fifth. This year it seemed fast enough and they only managed tenth. Excuses. Maybe he’s not good enough.

The Caulfield Cup: Yep, time to write it off as any sort of form reference.

The Japanese: It might be time to write them off too. Since the 1-2 in 2006, they’ve been a disaster.

Other than Hartnell in third, my picks were a wipeout. Wicklow Brave ran wide all the way, with Frankie Dettori saying the horse felt “flat”. More likely Frankie “flattened” him. To think he and Heartbreak City were in the widest barriers together, yet the latter ended up beautifully just off the fence midfield, while the latter was running 10 wide out of the straight the first time. A debacle of a ride. My outsider of Secret Number proved that: a secret, and just a number. Took the lead around the home bend and folded. It really is the last time I get seduced by an international horse without a run in Australia first.

I’m not the only stooge either. Only one of Channel 7’s “experts” on the day picked Almandin to win. Bruce McAvaney picked Almandin on the Sunday preview show. Several of the panel on ABC’s Offsiders had Almandin second or third, with the combined tally being Hartnell, Jameka and Almandin. On Sky Racing only Glenn Munsie from TAB had Almandin to win, while Ron Dufficy had it third. The other three panelists ignored it. Racing.com was similar with only one of the six experts selecting it to win, with one for third. Across those four media outlets, only a handful slotted Heartbreak City for a place, while Hartnell was the overwhelming top pick for most. It means the horses are far more reliable than the experts.

A good Melbourne Cup overall. You like to see a good race, a relatively popular winner and a nice story. We got a bit of all of that. Almandin was around fifth most popular in the betting and paying $11.80, the race was close to the end, and who can knock Lloyd Williams winning his fifth Cup? He has put so much money into the industry for approximately 40 years, that he deserves it. Nice to see he was trackside too for a change. He must have known something, the wily old bugger.