Thursday, April 09, 2009


The Front Foot - update

Partly with the Socceroos' recent performances in mind, the mantra that a defensive posture is absolutely necessary when facing peer opposition away from home is hardening into a truism for many Australian football followers. Happily, two matches this week demonstrated quite clearly that this dreary philosophy is not universal...nor is it the only path to a successful result.

First case in point: Newcastle's Asian Champions League encounter with Japanese club Nagoya Grampus. Given Newcastle's current internal squabbles and general squad uncertainty, one could have forgiven Gary van Egmond for adopting a cautious approach against the J-League stalwarts. Nothing of the sort; the Jets vibrantly took the game to the Japanese side in the first half, and were rewarded with a deserved goal and a rattled opposition. The decision to push Tarek Elrich further up the park proved an inspired one, as Nagoya simply failed to deal with his trademark acceleration.

In the second half the game lapsed into the pattern that most would no doubt have expected, with Nagoya coming forward in numbers and Newcastle maintaining a tight defence (in which Ljubo Milicevic, whatever his outbursts last week, was superb). But Nagoya had clearly found the fire in their collective belly rather too late, and the final balls were strangely feeble. In the end, it took a foolish challenge from Adam Griffiths and a delightful free kick to salvage a point for the home side.

Next up: the fascinating UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg between Manchester United and Porto.

Perhaps encouraged by United's shaky recent record, Porto came flying out of the blocks away from home, and played some scintillating football in the opening twenty minutes. Even the disastrous error from Bruno Alves which gifted United a goal didn't take the wind out of Porto's sails, and they could well have scored three or four goals in the opening half, but for some alert work from Edwin van der Sar.

Given where Porto's strengths lie, it was excellent strategy from Jesualdo Ferreira...and it appears to have inspired a future opponent of United's as well.

As in Nagoya, the second half followed a more predictable rhythm, with United dominating possession and Porto attacking mainly on the counter. But something interesting happened: whenever the United midfielders were presented with the option of either a release out wide for a cross (usually linking with an overlapping run from John O'Shea) or a weighted ball through the middle, they went for the former...almost certainly, I would think, because it is the low-risk option as far as a breakaway is concerned. Would they have been that circumspect had Porto not thrown the kitchen sink at the hosts in the first period?

Danny Blanchflower summed up the Porto/Newcastle Jets strategy perfectly when he described how his unfancied Northern Ireland side, which amazingly reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 1958, would approach the tournament. "We'll equalise before the other team has scored," he quipped.

Happy Easter to all from TFT.

Mike, I do love teams that go away from home and suprise with an offensive attitude. If often catches out the hosts.I saw a shit load of football throughout the week and was impressed by the away strategy most of the sides...

jets; wonderful agression, pressed high, took the game to nagoya and out-muscled em. as i noted via txt, they couldnt live with elrich's pace and the muscle of griffiths, who toyed with their midfield, esp in the frist half. I like the jets structure and thought jesic's movement was excellent, good player in the making...

kawasaki; simply too good, junior and juninho were awesome, toyed with the feeble mariners defence. Smashin performance, always on the front foot.

porto; jesualdo was magnificent, set up the team to take it to manure, and they kept the ball beautifully. the poignant moment came for me in the 88th minute, down 2-1, the ball at the defenders feet. He looked up and could have gone long, as most would in chasing a game, but instead kept it on the ground, stuck to the plan, and 10 passes later - EQUALISER. Love that shit.

chelsea; as i noted in my most recent post, hiddink, away from home, went with essien, ballack and lampard...bold by modern day standards, and he was rewarded. Chelsea were always in control.

Arsenal meanwhile sat back early, but came out in the 2nd period and played, and got their equaliser, a freakish goal.

A great week of football all round.
btw, happy easter to you too.
Cheers Tony, very happy Easter to you and the family!

Didn't see the Mariners-Kawasaki game, but that sort of scoreline doesn't lie. The Mariners looked a lost cause towards the end of the HAL season (as I wrote at the time) and from the little I've seen of them in the ACL, not much has changed.

Looking forward to watching the Pool-Chelsea game on tape too.
if you havent got the lpool-chel gm, i think its the 4pm sbs gm on sund..

i've no doubt roman has brought hiddink in for one job only...the missing prize...

re the mariners, i was only thinking yday how badly they're travelling, and on this evidence, their defence needs a massive shake-up ahead of v5...wilkinson is very overrated.
Mike, just reading Red Mist the book about Roy Keane and Japan/Korea 2002

Having read your Blanchflower comment, it reminded me of the Authors Irish view of the "boys in green" win and losses.

We win 1-1...they score first and we reply so late it feels like a win.

England, Holland Germany in World Cups, and just last week Italy lost 1-1 to Ireland.

and then of course there is the defeat.

Where Ireland lose 1-1.

This time we score first and then concede.

Worryingly for some (Fozzie and co..those who know the game best); most of Ireland's 1-1 wins come thru the big kick, the flick on and Keane, Quinn, Cascarino getting the last touch.

Us purists we couldn't the time:)

Perhaps Ireland hasn't made it to your studies of World football...yet, Mike..worth a look.

But the 1-1 win worth a though...sort of like the Aussie 2-2 "win" over Croatia.

And watch out Australia; I feel a an Irish win coming on August in Limerick..maybe 1-1.

I still remember the friendly we played against the Oirish in 2003 (I think it was), when they won 2-1 with a couple of late goals after we opened the scoring (Viduka?). That would have counted as a BIG win.

Re Keano/2002: I actually ran into Mick McCarthy at the WC in Germany, at one of the games in Frankfurt - he was there as a TV commentator. My opening line was "bet you're glad to be commenting this time rather than managing," and he snapped straight away "I'd rather be playing, and if not, managing". Don't think he really liked the commentating bit...
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