Thursday, March 08, 2007


Two Countries, Two Contrasts

On the first night of Asian Champions' League action, we saw two away wins, and two telling contrasts, in the matches involving Australian (and Chinese) clubs.

Firstly, the Chinese perspective. Although their eventual winning goal owed something to luck, Shandong Luneng were good value for their win over Adelaide. They had a perfectly good goal ruled out in the first half (Michael Valkanis playing the last man onside - just how often have we seen this in the last couple of years?), and looked the more organised outfit. Incidentally, they also possess a striker of patent quality in the clever Li Jinyu, whose positioning was excellent throughout.

There was some speculation as to whether the loss of their influential playmaker Zheng Zhi, now playing in the English Premiership with Charlton Athletic, might cramp their style. But young Wang Yongpo proved a useful replacement in the "three-quarter" role, and the adventurous full-back Jiao Zhe proved a real handful for the match-shy Aaron Goulding.

Shandong looked the settled, organised side that they surely are.

Shanghai Shenhua, by comparison, looked a rabble.

The recent merger of the two Shanghai clubs has obviously not aided cohesion, and although Sydney FC deserve plenty of credit for their enterprising play in the first half, they were allowed an extraordinary degree of freedom in midfield at times.

The Uruguayan forward line did not appear on the same wavelength as their Chinese team-mates, and although the influential Mao Jianqing made plenty of inroads down the left in the first half, his delivery never looked like being exploited.

Then there's the Australian angle. Adelaide United are clearly still recovering from the shock of their grand final thrashing, and the departure of John Kosmina (not to mention Greg Owens). Aurelio Vidmar's safety-first 4-5-1 formation handed the initiative to the Chinese visitors, and Adelaide simply didn't look dangerous until very late in the game.

Bruce Djite held the ball up well and managed to bring others into play at times, but still looked pitifully hesitant in shooting positions. Nathan Burns did what he could down the left, but ran into cul-de-sacs all too often. Fernando Rech, playing more or less in the hole, had one of his poorest games in an Adelaide shirt.

The whole team looked short of confidence (even Angelo Costanzo was far less commanding than usual), and Vidmar's subsequent fulsome praise of his team's efforts seems a little, well, deluded.

Sydney FC simply carried on where they left off last week. Although they again suffered from their traditional second-half slump, they played some fluent, pleasing football in the first half, and fully deserved to go into the sheds with a 2-0 lead. The goals, too, were both of the highest quality.

There are clearly still some problems. Specifically, the fact that there is now not a single established full-back at the club; both Robbie Middleby and Nikolai Topor-Stanley are better used elsewhere, and both were shown up repeatedly by Mao Jianqing and Sun Ji respectively. Yet the impression that one gets at the moment is of a team slowly but surely recovering its self-belief.

That was a great first half from Sydney, and if Brosque had've managed to score at the end of it instead of hitting the post at the end of it, I would have been very comfortable for the 2nd half. As it was, I was convinced the team would give away a penalty (they had come close quite a few times, and also did so in the 2nd half) so I thought Shanghai Shenhua needed only one goal (plus the what-I-thought-would-be inevitable penalty) to square the game.

Brosque also should have scored in the 2nd half, but passed hesitantly to the unexpecting other player (I've forgotten now who it was).

Our one-touch passing game was fairly pleasant to watch, but I'm not getting carried away with it like some others because I thought it looked a littly stodgy -- but occasionally there was a nice move that would advance us up the field. But as soon as Sydney lost the ball the Chinese team would string a few passes together themselves, usually quite rapid and penetrating and our whole team would find itself scrambling back to recover.
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