Monday, April 30, 2007


Planet Murray - update

Another curious missive from that affable planet revolving around Bernabeu Minor has seen the light of day recently.

Following some comments about the Asian adventures of Sydney FC and Adelaide United, Murray sees fit to point out, for about the 1,746th time, the immeasurable improvement that Sydney FC has undergone since Branko Culina took the reins. An improvement, incidentally, which I would be the last to deny, considering that Culina was the man I would have preferred in charge from day one.

And then there is the predictable, tawdry grumbling about Sydney's mediocre play last season - due, let's not forget, entirely to their coach and not to their players (let alone their frightening early-season injury list).

Let's take another trip to Planet Murray:

This was a major diversion for the players from Culina’s predecessor, Terry Butcher, who only ever told them to hoof it forward, get rid of it and ensure that the damn thing spent as little time as possible in ‘our back third’.

So Murray saw fit to attend every training session? What an industrious fellow he is.

Attitudes in the Bernabeu constellation are rather outmoded generally, it appears:

Contrary to the popular theory that route one, playing the ball forward relentlessly, with an economy of touches, is some kind of attacking, positive and ‘open’ tactical dogma, it can be the reverse. teams tend to do this all the time...

Let me slip off the comic mask now and speak frankly. The above remarks offend me, as I suspect they would many Australians involved in playing and coaching the game.

Does Murray seriously believe that most Australians are simply route-one addicts, fed on a diet of British tactics of the Stanley Cullis or Graham Taylor variety? That the majority of club players and coaches never even countenance the idea of ball to feet, playing your way out of defence, favouring the short pass? That, on the other hand, they see constant hoof-ball as an "open, positive" play?

It's insulting and, I believe, inaccurate.

My Well-Informed Covite friend, when discussing such bizarre pronouncements, never fails to remind me that he, even playing at a relatively modest level, was taught a passing-style game in his youth. Playing at an even lower level, I was always encouraged to do the same. Later, I played in what would probably be described as a pub team (a typical AA8 Sydney club side), packed with British expats. They played measured, intelligent football on the whole, with a judicious mix of short and long passing. Relentless hoof-ball was the very last way you would describe their style.

In reference to Terry Butcher, incidentally, credit where it's due: on being asked for his comments on Butcher's recent appointment at Brentford on Sunday's World Game show, Craig Foster was perfectly gracious.

On this occasion, Murray might, for once, have done well to take a leaf out of his sidekick's book, and let bygones be bygones.

Friday, April 27, 2007


Donkey No Longer - update

Branko Culina has made some interesting comments in the wake of Sydney FC's victory over Persik Kediri on Wednesday night, partly with reference to his club's quest to secure the signature of Phillip Cocu.

There are many who feel that David Zdrilic, who is playing his way back into form, would benefit from having a genuine strike partner beside him. Alex Brosque joined Zdrilic up front on Wednesday - the second time the two have started together in attack - but the combination didn't quite click initially.

Yet Culina has defended his decision not to make a marquee striker his immediate priority:

"In 1996, I went to Europe looking for a striker because we were struggling to score goals, and came back with a midfielder [Kresimir Marusic]. The next season, David couldn't stop scoring because the mix was right.

"I know everybody thinks our next marquee player should be a striker, but why do you think I like [Dutch midfielder] Phillip Cocu? Because I can see the same thing happening again."

He certainly has a point, although Zdrilic circa 2007 is probably not the same goal-scoring force as Zdrilic circa 1996.

Zdrilic's play is somewhat similar now to that of his contemporary Mark Viduka. He holds the ball up well, lays it off without ado, and always poses an aerial threat (just ask Ben Kennedy).

It was a pity, in a way, that Sydney's first two games with Alex Brosque as the lone striker were wins; Terry Butcher subsequently, and mistakenly, stuck with Brosque in a target-man role for which he had no real aptitude, and the team's form fell away. In the meantime, Zdrilic was restricted to bit parts once again.

He has, in fact, never had a really decent run in the first team since the 2005/06 pre-season, in which he was superb. Under Culina, all the signs are that he will be the first name on the team-sheet.

Wednesday night was perhaps the best we have seen Zdrilic play since that nascent pre-A-League period, when he and Saso Petrovski made such a smooth, potent striking combination. Whether he is partnered up front next season by Alex Brosque, a new marquee player or no-one at all, I feel that Sydney FC fans can expect a great deal more from him than they have seen thus far.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


What We Learned

Sydney FC's 3-0 win over Persik Kediri tonight taught us a few things, or rather confirmed many things we already knew. To wit:

- that, when the climatic factors are taken out of the equation, there is a considerable gulf between the two sides.

- that playing with ten men behind the ball and a profoundly useless centre-forward in front of it is never enough to get you a draw away from home against a better side.

- that, as a full-back, Iain Fyfe makes a good central defender.

- that for all his faults, David Zdrilic has a quality which makes him important to Branko Culina's side - he can operate effectively with back to goal.

- that against less than mobile defenders, Adam Casey poses considerable danger.

- that Terry McFlynn's combative qualities are not complemented by any creative qualities.

- that certain linesmen, when in any doubt, will always flag for offside rather than not.

- that writhing in agony when playing an Australian side will generally garner you a free kick in Asian competition.

- that, in light of certain comments and chants made by the crowd, there is still a nasty undercurrent of racism in Australia's perception of Indonesia and its inhabitants.

- that, despite his age and his relative lack of pace, Steve Corica is still Sydney FC's one true class act.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Branko Locked In

Branko Culina has finally been confirmed as Sydney FC's manager. This, for the record, constitutes one of the club board's few good decisions of the past year.

In retrospect, it is a great pity that Soccer NSW (as it then was) lost their stake in the Sydney franchise, with the result that Pierre Littbarski, rather than Culina, ended up getting the gig for the first A-League season.

Neither Littbarski nor Terry Butcher adapted well to Australian football.

I'm somewhat less enthusiastic about the move for Phillip Cocu as a marquee player; although he is a superb footballer who clearly still has much to offer, central midfield is not the area in which Sydney need strengthening at the moment. A striker would be a more congenial choice if Sydney are to opt for a marquee signing, I feel.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Caught in the Crossfire

There is almost certainly more to the cancellation (sorry, “re-scheduling”) of the Australia v. Argentina friendly on June 6 than meets the eye.

The writing was surely on the wall for the game when Argentina arranged a friendly match with Switzerland in Basel for June 2. Expecting players to play two friendlies within four days, twenty hours’ flight apart, after a gruelling European season, was never going to be realistic.

The statement from the FFA on the matter contained a significant aside to the effect that the Switzerland game had been locked in after the match in Melbourne was organized. The information given here, for what it’s worth, supports that assertion.

What has not been made commonly known is that the Argentine football federation (the AFA) is now planning a further Euro friendly on June 6, in place of the Australia match. For Spanish-speaking readers, this article gives the details (and interestingly, it was penned on April 12 – almost a week before Australian fans were told that the match had been canned).

The truth may be that Australian fans have been caught in a crossfire between the AFA and their new partner, the Russian conglomerate Renova. The latter entered into an agreement with the AFA last year to organize a number of high-profile international friendlies for the albiceleste; the AFA would benefit to the tune of US$18 million, half of it up front, in return for Renova getting the highly lucrative international TV rights. (Again, my apologies to non-Spanish speakers - I've been unable to find a comprehensive report of the deal in English.)

It seemed a classic win-win situation. But there have already been a couple of problems with the whole thing, one of which is detailed here.

Another one is that at least seven of the players on a designated “list” of 30 crowd-pullers must be included in the Argentina side for the friendlies in question. This was apparently one of the factors that caused José Pekerman to quit as Argentina’s coach after the 2006 World Cup, and the current manager, Alfio Basile, is apparently none too happy with the stipulation either. So much so that Argentina played a friendly match against Chile last week, outside the auspices of Renova, and with (naturally) no European-based players taking part.

Could it be that Renova has now decided to play hardball with the AFA, and insist on another money-spinning European friendly in place of the mooted Australia game? Already a proposed match-up with England in late May has fallen through, and the Russians may be pressing for an alternative, pronto. Watch this space.

None of this will be any consolation to the many Australian fans who have forked over the money for the game already, and made their plans for travel to Melbourne. One can only hope that the FFA will seek some sort of compensation from their Argentinean counterparts, since it seems quite clear that the friendly has been cancelled solely at the behest of the latter.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


A Bit More Cheating, Please

Everyone’s talking about Lionel Messi’s goal in Barca’s recent Copa del Rey semi-final against Getafe, and justifiably so. It was a stunning, romantic solo goal, worthy (as just about every football journalist seems to have noted) of Diego Maradona at his peak. And this time, the star of the show got the final touch himself – a close look at Maradona’s magnificent slalom against England in the 1986 World Cup will reveal that it ends up being an own goal by a certain former Sydney FC manager.

I’d like to comment here, however, on a remark made by Getafe’s manager, the former Barca playmaker Bernd Schuster, following the game. Deploring the fact that Messi was able to reach the 18-yard box unimpeded, Schuster castigated his defenders for refusing to flout the rules of football:

“We should have fouled him, he can't be allowed to reach the area like that,” said Schuster.

I’ve made my feelings about such attitudes clear in the past, and they haven’t changed.

What on earth is wrong with saying “we should have put in a tackle at some point”? The implication of Schuster’s comment seems to be that brilliant players can only be stopped by illegal means, and therefore should be.

Let’s not mince words. Fouling a player due to mistiming a tackle is illegal but understandable. Fouling a player deliberately with intent to prevent him continuing the play is cheating, pure and simple.

Now Schuster might encourage that sort of thing in the dressing-room if he feels it will bring his team success, but does he really need to air it in public? It’s undignified, and does discredit to the game.

What made Schuster’s rebuke particularly futile, in my view, was that at least three Getafe players did try their best to foul Messi before he scored!

Yet score he did, and it’s a goal to treasure. Eidur Gudjohnsen’s reaction, from his position on the left wing, was touching; he simply held his hands to his head in a gesture of astonishment and admiration. You don’t often see that from a player, as opposed to a fan…a measure of just how good the goal was.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Platini in Power - another brief update

Call me cynical, but I wonder if the Italian authorities delayed this particular sanction until after the decision in Cardiff over the hosting of Euro 2012?

If so, nice try, but no cigar.


Platini in Power - update

Michel Platini was keen to make his mark on UEFA as soon as possible, and he seems to have succeeded. It was, of course, support from the “smaller” Eastern European nations which saw Platini over the line in his battle with Lennart Johansson for the UEFA presidency.

Redistributing the Champions’ League places, which appeared to be the chief item on Platini’s manifesto, will take a lot of diplomacy and political skill. But the decision to award the 2012 European Nations Cup tournament to Poland and Ukraine was a major surprise. It was not Platini’s decision, of course – the UEFA executive was responsible – but his influence would certainly have been important.

Italy, the only “established” nation in the hunt, had done themselves no favours with the Calciopoli affair of 2006 and, significantly, the actions of their police during the recent Roma v. Manchester United Champions League tie (there's nothing so damaging as recent bad news). Yet the match-fixing scandal in Poland, and the continuing decline of Hungarian football, would have taken the gloss off the other two bids.

So, can the Poles and Ukrainians make a success of it? The tournament will cover a wide area geographically (though nothing like the 1994 World Cup in this respect), infrastructure and stadia will need improvement, and there will be all the usual co-hosting problems. In many respects, it’s the equivalent of FIFA awarding the 2010 World Cup to Africa.

Yet the Euro is a much smaller event (unless the colossally stupid 24-team proposal comes to fruition, which I doubt). Little Portugal was considered hopelessly unprepared for the 2004 tournament, particularly in terms of stadia, yet they managed well.

The biggest problem could be accommodation. Poland and Ukraine are not notable tourist destinations, and hotels are apparently not up to scratch. Both countries suffer from undercurrents of hooliganism in domestic football as well, but then, so do many European countries (including a few who have hosted the tournament in the past).

In any event, best of luck, Poland and Ukraine.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Sydney FC On Trial

Branko Culina’s side continued their series of trial games against state league sides last night, with an unconvincing 2-1 win over Bankstown Lions.

Bankstown are a fit, combative side with plenty of quality players (including a fair few NSL veterans). They held their own in the first half, despite conceding a dismally soft goal, and largely dominated the second, with Nahuel Arrarte running the show in midfield and Shane Webb and Steve Liavas posing a constant threat down the flanks.

It is to Sydney’s credit that they managed to win despite the excellent opposition they faced; in this, they owed a great deal to their outstanding young back-up ’keeper, Dean Bouzanis.

Bouzanis, only 16 years old, was signed by Liverpool earlier this year, but is as yet ineligible to play for them due to his youth and nationality. Sydney FC have acquired him on loan until the end of the year, and he may well see some first-team action if he can maintain his current form.

He made two excellent saves, including a tremendous leap and tip-over from a fierce Robert Mileski shot in the second half. In the first half, his handling from the many set-pieces that Bankstown received was exceptional.

If he has a weakness, it appears to be his distribution; he was also a little hesitant to come for the ball at set-pieces in the second half. Yet these are relatively small criticisms; for his age, he is extraordinarily good.

I call myself the football tragic rather than the football prophet for good reason; the two players whom I tipped to make an impression as replacements both had indifferent evenings. Adam Casey did indeed start on the right wing, but got little change out of Bankstown’s well-marshalled defence; Shane Webb, their speedy left wing-back, was primarily responsible for this.

On the other flank, Nick Tsattalios played at left-back, and although he combined very well with Alex Brosque (who had a fine game) in attack, his inexperience was shown up at times by the wily Steve Liavas, another of Bankstown’s more impressive players. Tsattalios's positioning and decision-making still need a good deal of work (not that, at 17 years of age, he has any shortage of time for that).

Sydney FC, in fact, have a problem on both sides of defence. Robbie Middleby still looks somewhat uncomfortable at right-back, while the lack of cover at left-back is obvious. Two overseas triallists were given a try in the full-back roles in the second half, but neither looked particularly convincing.

In another change to the starting line-up, Culina gave Luka Glavas his first start in a Sydney shirt, in the lone striker role usually occupied by David Zdrilic. It was not a success; Glavas confirmed that he is ineffective playing with his back to goal, and his physical frailty was made starkly apparent by the strong, rugged Bankstown defenders, who muscled him off the ball with regularity in the first half.

Sydney should see off Persik Kediri at home with little trouble next week, but the usual concerns remain.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


The Cup Runneth Overtime

Back to the Cricket World Cup, and its manifold absurdities.

There is a delicious irony in the outrage expressed over Sri Lanka's decision to rest Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga for their largely meaningless match against Australia yesterday. For years Australians (and others) have expressed anger over Muralitharan being included in the Sri Lankan side, given his blatantly illegal bowling action; now, the complaint is that he's being left out of the side!

Of course, Sri Lanka's decision to field a weakened team is perfectly legitimate. But the issue would not even have arisen were the tournament not so ludicrously bloated.

Twenty-four round robin games in the so-called Super 8 stage, to determine the four semi-finalists. No wonder Bob Woolmer's murder seems an eternity ago.

If anything, the tournament is a good example of what happens when a cup competition deviates from a cup format. The beauty of a genuine cup competition is that every game matters; an initial league stage can ensure a reasonable number of games, but genuine tension and competitive edge thereafter can only be ensured if a cup format is adhered to. It also avoids the sort of chicanery employed, for instance, in 1999, when Australia found it in their interests to crawl, rather than canter, to victory over the West Indies. The crowd were bored rigid.

FIFA learned their lesson in 1978. The switch to a second round robin group stage - shades of the Champions' League circa 2000 - resulted in a number of embarrassments, including Argentina's deeply suspicious six-goal victory over Peru, and West Germany's probable tanking of their final game against Austria, when they realised they had no chance of making the final.

Although FIFA adopted a strange format for the following event, the World Cup has been a genuine knockout from the second stage onwards since 1986, and has been all the better for it.

Those in charge of the Rugby World Cup, too, have seen sense. Twenty teams is an awkward number, but five-team groups with the top two progressing to the knockouts is the obvious and correct means of whittling them down.

But this Cricket World Cup fully deserves comments like this, from the always readable Geoff Lawson:

...the longest tournament since Sir Lancelot took on the Black Knight in the best of 51 jousts at the Camelot Grand Prix...

Enough said. If you're calling it a World Cup, at least keep it true to its name.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


The Rush to be Ready

Danny Jordaan, the diligent chief of the South African organising committee for the 2010 World Cup, will probably need about a five year holiday following the tournament. It is becoming ever clearer that making a success out of the event, wrongly allocated to Africa for political reasons, will be a colossal task.

In the latest news, Jordaan has suggested that other countries be involved in a "hosting" capacity. Amidst the platitudes about involving Africa as a whole, and Brazilians perhaps preferring to be based in Portuguese-speaking Mozambique, we come to the real point:

If fans followed their teams to bases in neighbouring countries, it would also ease pressure on accommodation in South Africa, he added.

Jordaan also mentions what is, to my mind, the key problem, more serious even than the delays in stadium construction and infrastructure development. Viz:

Jordaan said measures would be put in place to ensure local fans, especially those from the townships, would not be priced out of the World Cup.

"There will be affordable tickets. There are many people who have supported the game for many years and they must have access to the event. Fifa understands this," he said.

But he said ticketing policies were unlikely to be decided by Fifa before next year and that they would have to take into account the problem of cheap match tickets being resold on the black market for several times their face value.

It is a problem which could have catastrophic consequences if not solved satisfactorily. Football is, of course, the sport of the black majority in South Africa. The Rugby and Cricket World Cups, both held in South Africa in recent times, would not have generated much interest in the townships. But football is another matter, and the potential for social unrest is frightening, if those who feel "ownership" of the sport in South Africa end up being largely excluded.

As for the infrastructure question, this article paints a fairly gloomy picture. Sepp Blatter's recent remarks on the South African preparations have been a diplomatic blend of support and censure; he knows the potential for embarrassment is there. But, as Ms. LaFraniere notes, the South African government is certainly capable of planning on a large scale, and allocating funds quickly.

Let's hope it will be enough.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Suspended Blessings

One could say that Sydney FC’s 2-1 loss to Persik Kediri was made even more painful by the suspensions meted out to David Carney and Ruben Zadkovich for the return leg.

Of course, it’s never advantageous to be deprived of personnel. But the absence of the fair-haired duo could present places in the starting eleven to two youngsters who have looked lively in Sydney’s warm-up games.

Carney has been employed on the right side of midfield by Branko Culina, as he was by Sydney’s previous two managers. Although his status as one of the “players most likely to make something happen” has ensured a continued run in the first team, his infuriating inability to use his right foot adequately has detracted from his overall effectiveness. And this handicap is particularly significant when he is employed on the right.

Adam Casey, a young recruit from the defunct New Zealand Knights, has made an appearance on the right wing for Culina’s side in two of the warm-up games, against Sutherland and Marconi respectively. In both matches, he showed pace, good close control and a pleasing willingness to run at the defence; in the Marconi game, he also scored a stunning solo goal after being cleverly put through by Sydney’s new American signing, Michael Enfield.

Best of all, Casey is a natural right-footer. If he starts at Parramatta Stadium on Anzac Day, with Alex Brosque on the other side of the front three, Sydney’s attack might, for once, have the balance it has lacked for so long.

Ruben Zadkovich has been shown up at right-back quite painfully in recent times (not least in the fateful semi-final second leg in Newcastle), and Iain Fyfe will probably occupy the position in the return match against Persik Kediri. Fyfe’s switch to the opposite flank might induce Culina to give young Nick Tsattalios a run on the left side of defence.

The 17-year-old has shown considerable promise in the trial games (especially the hit-out against Blacktown), although his defensive positioning is not all that it might be, and he does have a tendency to run into cul-de-sacs. But he seems to have sufficient “engine” to play a byline-to-byline role on the left, which would allow Alex Brosque to drift into the more central positions from which he often poses danger.

At any rate, Sydney’s next state league hit-out, against Bankstown at Jensen Park next Wednesday, could well make Culina’s intentions for the crucial game at Parramatta Stadium a little clearer.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Another Notice re: comments

The spammers have been at it again, unfortunately, so in my second attempt to frustrate the efforts of these sociopathic cretins, I'm opting for moderated comments. Apologies for the inconvenience, but if your comment is a genuine one, it will (eventually) appear. On the upside, this gives me the chance to allow non-registered users to comment again.

And so, a further apology to those (forgive me TFO and Shane!) who set up dummy blogs to circumvent my first anti-spammer strategy!

Thursday, April 12, 2007


No Big Deal

Three English clubs in the final four of the Champions' League then - an echo of 2000 (three teams from La Liga in the semis) and 2003 (three from Serie A).

A seismic shift in European football, then?

Hardly, although Tony Palumbo couldn't resist teasing Craig Foster by paying exaggerated tribute to the "achievement" during SBS's quarter-final broadcast this morning.

In 2000, shortly after Real Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia had all qualified for the semi-finals of the competition, there appeared an article in World Soccer entitled "Spain's success is no big deal". It was penned by...the magazine's Spain correspondent, Jeff King.

In it, he essentially argued that it was the quality of the individual teams, rather than of the league as a whole, that had contributed to their success.

It is essentially the same in the present case, in my opinion.

An ebullient Sir Alex Ferguson has now claimed that the presence of three English clubs in the last four is indeed an indication of the supremacy of the Premiership in Europe. But one particular statement of his exposes the fallacy of the whole argument:

"The competitive nature and the quality of the English game has improved over the seasons."

Competitive? If Fergie is referring to the attitude of the players, well, English players have never lacked grit, and the foreign players who thrive in the Premiership tend to possess such qualities as well. But is the league really that competitive?

One glance at the league table tells the story. A whopping twenty-two points between first and fourth, compared, for instance, with six in Spain (where the big two have both had up-and-down seasons).

The top few have pulled well away from the pack in England, just as was the case in Spain some years ago. The bloated nature of the Champions' League and the consequent neverending stream of TV revenue for the top clubs has made its inevitable mark on the top leagues of Europe.

It is the top teams that have really raised their game.

The Italian success of 2003 was as transient as the Spanish dominance of three years earlier. I felt at the time that the Italian clubs in question (Milan, Inter and Juventus), had, for once, had the sense to allow their coaches time to build teams. Only a short time before, the managerial merry-go-round in Italy had reached absurd proportions.

Now, it's the elite English clubs who have managed to combine home-grown qualities with the expertise of successful coaches from the continent, and are reaping the rewards.

In truth, the big three leagues have reached a sort of equilibrium; the Premiership is somewhat richer across the board than the other two, while Spain and Italy are still, for cultural and linguistic reasons, more congenial destinations for the top South American players.

It's Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea this year. It could just as well be Real Madrid, Barca and Sevilla next season.

It's no big deal.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Heartbreak on the Break

How do you explain a result like this morning's 7-1 demolition of Roma at Old Trafford?

The Italian club is regularly touted as one of the best defensive sides in Europe. They have conceded a measly number of goals in their previous Champions' League games this season.

And yet they simply panicked after the initial flurry of goals, and made the most embarrassing exit from the competition since Juventus destroyed the previously untouchable Ajax side of the mid-nineties in the 1997 semi-final.

It was particularly ironic that Roma looked the better side in the opening exchanges, and went close to scoring on a couple of occasions.

What the extraordinary game underlined yet again, in my view, was the crucial importance of being able to play with urgency and precision on the break. The first Manchester United goal was largely the result of poor tracking in midfield and abysmal positioning from the goalkeeper Doni; the second was simply one of the best team goals you will ever see, although Christian Chivu's maladroit attempt at a clearance played its part as well.

From that point on, Roma pushed more men forward than they are accustomed to do...and conceded two classic breakaway goals. In another irony, such goals are generally considered an Italian specialty, although United have proved dab hands at the swift counter in recent times as well.

In both cases, there was the proverbial man out of position - Christian Panucci, shifted to left-back for the first half. United managed to work the ball swiftly out to the right for the third goal, Ryan Giggs taking advantage of Panucci's absence to send in a cross, which Wayne Rooney expertly side-footed home. In the case of the fourth, it was Michael Carrick (who cut a superb figure as the deep-lying playmaker, in a performance worthy of Andrea Pirlo at his best) who played a precise ball through to Cristiano Ronaldo on the right. The outstanding winger cut outside a flailing Chivu and slammed the ball home.

At 4-0, there was obviously no coming back, and Roma just wilted (even with United playing far more casually after the interval). Probably the match was effectively over even at 2-0.

But it was the speed and hunger of the home side on the counter, I feel, which was really responsible for one of the most remarkable scorelines in the recent history of the Champions' League.

Monday, April 09, 2007


The Butcher Bitchfest - brief update

More hand-wringing by Sydney FC's erstwhile manager in an article by a sympathetic (some might say sycophantic) Scottish journalist. No place like one's adopted home, eh, Terry?

This particular bit did give me a laugh, though:

"One sportswriter, and I use the term loosely, said I'd turned Sydney FC into Motherwell."

"Armchair propagandist" was the term you were looking for, Mr. Butcher.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Split Personalities

When Josip Simunic - the player Australian fans love to hate - sidled up to Matthew Spiranovic for a few well-chosen words after the Hertha Berlin v. FC Nürnberg match on the weekend, you could just feel the indignation rising in the hearts of Socceroo aficionados.

Another player poached by the Croatians, to follow the likes of Ante Seric, Joey Didulica, and Simunic himself? Man the barricades!

Mike Cockerill was straight onto it, quoting copiously from a panicky Graham Arnold. Soon afterwards, a soothing piece appeared on SBS's World Game website, which indicated that Spiranovic is not to go the way of the aforementioned trio.

As is so often the case in Australian football, the fuss is largely unwarranted.

Don't get me wrong here. There is certainly a problem when players who are trained at the AIS, at Australian taxpayers' expense, choose to represent another country in international sport. That, however, is an issue for FIFA and the FFA; my beef is with the typical over-reaction that has followed the reports that Spiranovic may become another "Split personality", as a friend of mine once wittily described the Croatian turncoats.

Cap him immediately! Dario Vidosic on their radar as well? For goodness' sake, give him a run!

It is not quite so simple.

For players of European descent, implicitly expressing equivocation over which country you intend to represent has become something of a fashion statement - and a cynical one at that. An international cap should not be earned easily; although many internationals these days are of limited importance, they are still invaluable, from a player's point of view, in terms of putting oneself on show (among other things).

By all means, if a player using the dual nationality bargaining chip is worthy of a call-up, let him be capped. But if the player is merely trading on the fact that he might go elsewhere, why should he deprive a deserving "local", of less dubious loyalty, of the reward of a green and gold shirt?

I haven't yet seen Matthew Spiranovic play, so I can't make any comment on his quality. But at 18 years of age, with only a few games in a top European league behind him, what message would a "cap of convenience" send? It's worth remembering that many, many young Australian players could use the possibility of a "defection" as a convenient threat.

Recent European ancestry should not become even more of a competitive advantage than it already is, in the push for a Socceroo shirt.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Kicking On - brief update

Another case of a ludicrously petty yellow card for playing on after the whistle, in this morning's rather turgid Champions' League quarter-final between AC Milan and Bayern Munich. And once again, it will have a significant impact.

Alberto Gilardino, running onto one of Andrea Pirlo's beautifully-weighted dinks over the top, forced his way into the box and lobbed the Bayern 'keeper adroitly. Yet the goal was disallowed for a (very marginal) offside, and Gilardino was booked. Significantly, he pointed to his ears after the referee had shown the yellow card. In the midst of a crowd whistling all the time, any coach would surely have expected Gilardino to complete the move if he wasn't 100% sure that it was the ref who had blown.

Gilardino is now suspended for the second leg, and with Ronaldo cup-tied and Pippo Inzaghi not at his best without a partner, Milan may find themselves sadly short of striking power in the return leg (in which they must score).

Back to the Gilardino booking. Again, the only conceivable pretext for such a sanction is to discourage time-wasting. Yes, Milan were 1-0 up at the time; but the incident occurred in the 53rd minute. Thirty-seven long minutes, plus stoppage time, from the end of the game.

Punishing a player for time-wasting at such a stage of the game is simply officious.

Monday, April 02, 2007


Altitude Attitudes

This month's edition of World Soccer arrived in the mail today, and, as always, I have sacrificed the evening to it (there's a pile of Year 11 marking on the study table, but, well, that can wait).

Particularly interesting in the current issue is an article by the magazine's excellent Brazil correspondent, Brian Homewood, dealing with the aftermath of a recent Copa Libertadores match.

Rio's famous Flamengo club faced the obscure Bolivian side Real Potosi in the latter's home ground...some 4,000 metres above sea level. Flamengo needed a late rally to draw the game, and officials of the Brazilian club subsequently complained bitterly about the circumstances of the game, claiming that playing at such altitude "degrades the human condition (!) and puts the life of the athletes at risk".

Homewood goes on to outline many of the altitude issues that have cropped up in the past, mentioning in passing that Peru, who have underachieved in South America for some time, are considering shifting their home games from the low-lying capital Lima to the dizzy heights of Cuzco.

In the run-up to the recent World Cup, it surprised me that the FFA did not organise at least one friendly match at altitude, given that Ecuador and Colombia were both shaping as possible opponents in the Oceania-CONMEBOL playoff. Instead, the only South American friendly before the finals was played at tropical, mid-level Caracas, with a weakened team.

In the previous cycle, Australia did indeed sample the heights of Bogotá. But in their typically cack-handed way, the old Soccer Australia gave Frank Farina a scratch squad to accustom to the thin mountain air.

Looking at it from a practical point of view, (a) is the altitude advantage as great as it is generally considered, (b) how are opposing teams to deal with it?

With regard to (a), there were many (myself included, I am ashamed to say) who wrote off Ecuador's chances at the recent World Cup, claiming that they were merely altitude specialists who would be shown up at sea level.

Yet Ecuador played brightly and convincingly in the opening stage of the tournament, and should perhaps have gone further than they did (like many teams, they showed the English side exaggerated respect). They were simply a good side, and the altitude factor in their qualification had probably been over-stressed. Not that it was entirely inconsequential.

As far as (b) goes, Homewood makes an interesting point:

It is generally accepted that 21 days are needed to fully adapt to altitudes of 3,000m and above. As this is not feasible with modern football's calendar, most teams try to arrive just two hours before kickoff so they play the game before the effects of altitude sickness kick in.

Australia does not face the South American roulette match any more, but there are altitude problems in Asia as well (notably in the west). The get-in-quick, get-out-quick method advocated by Homewood seems a good option for our teams, especially given the limited preparation time now available, with club and country commitments often making schedules tight.

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