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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Challenge and excitement as Australia draw Spain, Netherlands and Chile

07 December 2013

Group of death, group of dread or, possibly the most accurate as it initially suggested, group of suicide. Aren’t we forgetting one thing? Australians aren’t supposed to lay down in a fight. Considering yourself in a group of death is self-defeatist. To think, given Australia’s lowly position at the moment, that many suggestions were that any group would be a group of death, it’s even more self-defeatist. While there’s no reason to go with an arrogant and bullying attitude that appears in many areas of the Australian sporting psyche, our true psyche of a confidence in ability and respect of our own opponents, will only serve our nation well next year.

Group B of Spain, Netherlands and Chile will provide Australia both a challenging and an exciting time. When Australia was drawn with Spain, I gave a fist-pump. When it came to the final pot, that of the Europeans, when the Dutch emerged, it drew a wry smile. This is not a daunting moment; it tickled our intrinsic sporting values. The challenge is on. Bring it!

As I wanted new teams, I was pumped that Croatia came out first from that pot to go in Group A. Earlier, I was dreading Australia entering Group G with opponents of 2010, Germany and Ghana. Australia’s group filled nicely. If there’s a switch I could make given the choice, it would into Group D with Uruguay, England and Italy. That’s the quintessential group of rivals. Costa Rica took the spot there.

Coach Ange Postecoglou echoed the mood well, impishly rebuffing the lead question from the media about a tough draw with “No, no, it’s great” (they laughed). He’s excited, and loving the challenge. Who wouldn’t? Probably Holger Osieck and Pim Verbeek. You could imagine, especially from Verbeek, a defeatist shroud of body language coming from him. Osieck, just may not been as effusive as Ange. In fact, Ange must be pinching himself. Only a few weeks ago he’s coaching A-League; now he’s in Brazil at the World Cup Draw and preparing to lead his country into the biggest battle arena in the world on arguably the home of football. The fact he remains so composed and professional, it’s the hallmark of the man.

Being placed in slot 4 of the group, suits Australia well. Chile is the first game and if Ange has any tricks up his sleeve, that’s the match to try them and snare a win. Australia has a decent recent record against Holland, with a win and two draws, even if those were friendlies. A 2-1 in Holland and 0-0 in Australia under Verbeek, a draw under Guus Hiddinck just before the 2006 World Cup. Not to forget qualifying for the 1992 Olympics ahead of Holland. Holland are not the team of superstars like Spain or Brazil are. There are ways to exploit such teams, and a draw is certainly not beyond Australia. The final game, it may not matter for Spain, or even for Australia. Who knows?

If Australia can make the knockout phase, the cross-over group is Group A… of Brazil. Wow. Survive that and the quarter final is an opponent from Group C or D.

Schedule

Saturday 14 June – 0800 AET | Chile v Australia | Arena da Baixada – Curitiba

Thursday 19 June – 0200 AET | Australia v Netherlands | Estadio Beira-Rio – Porto Alegre

Tuesday 24 June – 0200 AET | Australia v Spain | Arena Pantanal – Cuiaba

Groups

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon

Group B: Spain, Netherlands, Chile, Australia

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea

It would be remiss not to slam FIFA for their unwieldy and unnecessarily complicated draw. The pot of 9 that facilitated an “X” pot for the extra European team, the pot system itself that arbitrarily segregates cross-regional teams from playing each other (for instance Asia mixed with CONCACAF means those two regions can’t play each other), plus the absurd use of FIFA’s flawed rankings system to decide seeds. Spain and Netherlands were the 2010 World Cup finalists and now face each other in a group stage? Fine if that’s the result of a true random draw. Bad if it’s a result of fiddling and coercion as it proved. FIFA obviously want some unpredictability in the group stage, whether that be some big name clashes, or even the chance of moderate teams progressing as more likely to happen in a group with a weak seed. Be transparent about it instead of making even bigger fools of yourselves and a mockery of the process. The solution is a single pot system, as detailed in the preview.

From the other groups, Brazil faces an interesting opposition in Group A. Croatia could conceivably hold them, while Mexico can’t be as bad as their fourth-placed qualifying suggests, and Cameroon are unpredictable. Then there’s the pressure of being home nation. No win against Croatia and it could be interesting.

Group C, with Greece and the enigmatic Colombians, would have been nice for Australia. Japan are good enough to progress from there. It’s one of the more even groups thanks to a weak top seed.

Group D is the truly luscious group for Australia, and they definitely would have a chance for progression. Just playing England would be enough for most Australians. To beat them, especially to deny them progression, would make the nation delirious and stoke the rivalry for eons. Remember, Uruguay qualified as fifth best South American, essentially making them sixth best with Brazil automatically qualified as hosts. It’s not difficult to hold Italy to a 0-0. It’s in their DNA. Ask New Zealand in 2010.

The chance of a weak Group E didn’t quite happen as France – one of the stronger Europeans – slotted in. Ecuador are flighty while Honduras – as have all teams outside Mexico and USA from CONCACAF – have done little on the world stage.

Iran has it interesting in Group F. That’s definitely a group in which Australia could have challenged. With Argentina likely to dominate, a team could qualify in second with one win – the team that loses least heavily to Argentina.

Group G is probably the most predictable, with Germany and Portugal the likely top two.

The dogdy seeding produced the most even group, with Group H. If Belgium’s high ranking is validated, they should sail through. They are an intriguing team and will be interesting to watch after 12 years out of the tournament. For Korea, all the opponents seem manageable.

Quotes – coach Ange Postecoglou

“No, no, it’s great. It’s a World Cup, and we’re playing against the best nations in the world, and our group will be really exciting. It’s a massive challenge, and I look forward to it. It’s going to be great.

“We’re going to see some good football in our group, that’s for sure. There’s some great footballing nations and our job is to play our part. It’s an enormous challenge for us but for a nation like ours that’s exactly what we want. We’ve got a chance to make some headlines when the World Cup comes around.

“We know what Spain are like and the Dutch have always played good football and in this qualifying campaign Chile have been outstanding. So there’s going to be some real footballing challenges ahead of us. We want to keep growing and keep getting better and that’s our measures.

“There wouldn’t be one of our players who wouldn’t be looking forward to this immensely. To play the world’s best teams that’s why you go to a World Cup. Everyone will be writing us off in this group, which is I think is logical. From our perspective we’ve some great opportunities to show the world we can play some good football against the best nations in the world. Our group looks the most difficult group but I hope it’s the group that plays the best football and we’ll play our part in that.”

Quotes – Players

Tim Cahill: SPAIN, HOLLAND AND CHILE. What an amazing group to be in. This is the beauty of WORLD CUPS

Mile Jedinak: It’s one of the toughest groups you could think of and we have been dealt a pretty tough hand. These sorts of challenges are really another level and it’s something as a player you relish and embrace.

Matthew Ryan: Spain chile and holland. Excited that we’ll get to test ourselves against some of the best players in the world!

Tom Oar: Spain Netherlands and Chile! What a group!

Jason Davidson: As a footballer you want to challenge yourself against the worlds best

Quotes – Netherland’s coach Louis van Gaal

“We have to play the world champion, we have to play Australia who we have never beaten and Chile was 3-0 up recently against Colombia before it ended 3-3, so that is not a weak team. The opponents are tough, but for the playing conditions it is not too bad.” But Van Gaal noted that if the Netherlands progress from the group stage they will have to play one of the teams from the group headed by host nation Brazil. That is a tough group and you travel north and the playing conditions get worse.”

Quotes – Chile’s coach Jorge Sampaoli

“It’s such a difficult group. We’ll try to be as competitive as possible to give us a chance to reach the knockout stages. In the career of a coach, you know this is the path that you may have to take. So we have to prepare well. After getting out of the war of the group stage, you don’t move on to an easier fate with having to face winners of Group A.”

More: socceroorealm.com