Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Yes, stadium deals are tricky things. Sydney FC, for one, suffered from an onerous deal with the SFS (Aussie Stadium, as it then was) in the first A-League season, one which was largely responsible for the loss the club made in 2005/06. Brisbane Roar, too, have had problems aplenty with Suncorp.
But if the Skilled Park deal is forcing Clive Palmer to take such absurd, counter-productive steps in order to stop the cash haemorrhage, then one has to wonder what on earth Palmer and his cohorts were doing getting into such a deal in the first place.
The ticket prices at the club are obscene by Australian standards, and given that one of the promised benefits of membership (see here) was free public transport to the ground, members who will be deprived of this (to the best of my knowledge) under the 5,000 cap have the right to be mightily peeved.
It is another salutary lesson for the A-League as a whole: lone, messiah-style investors, particularly those with only tenuous links to the game, are a mixed blessing at best. Plenty of pundits were frankly fawning over Palmer only a few short months ago, but the demeanour of the man throughout has been that of someone savouring a new toy...one which might be dispensed with in short order.
As for the supposed ructions in the dressing-room, it is no secret that Miron Bleiberg is a handful to work with, and Paul Okon - a prickly character himself, if his recent history is any guide - could well jump ship before long. There may be concerns, too, over Jason Culina's faltering form; his fluent performance in the season opener against Brisbane seems a long time ago now.
All is not lost. The team is still riding high in the league, and there is plenty of residual goodwill towards one of the new franchises which most neutrals are desperate to see succeed, for the sake of the competition. But a compromise agreement on the Skilled Park deal needs to be made pronto, and Archie Fraser should take to heart the lessons of dealing with a pugnacious new owner with little prior interest in football.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Ange v. the Lads - update
And yet they acquitted themselves not too badly, on the whole. Although they were plainly outclassed in midfield for much of the game, and had every reason to let their heads drop after the injury to Reinaldo, they made a real fight of the game in the final twenty minutes, and perhaps deserved to equalise. They may well have done so, in fact, had Matt McKay not donned a cloak of invisibility in the second half, after a moderately influential first.
But there were others who stepped up for the Roar in the second period, not least Tommy Oar, and their last-ditch surge perhaps suggested that "the lads" are not wholly indispensable.
As for Sydney FC, it was far from their best performance, but teams that can play badly and still win command respect. Full marks to Vitezslav Lavicka for sticking resolutely with the system and the players that accounted for Melbourne, despite the setback in Adelaide. Although the Brosque-Corica-Bridge combination didn't quite function as it should in the first half, Sydney's first goal underlined just how effective the trio can be in concert, when the cogs are turning properly.
And the fact that Sydney bounced back from a dispiriting loss with a win makes this damning-with-faint-praise from Mike Cockerill particularly distasteful. Cockerill has done his best to subtly run down the affable, diligent Lavicka in the interests of promoting local aspirants (a favourite theme of his), but linking yesterday's pitiful attendance to a nascent "blandness" at the club is disingenuous. The A-League crowds are down across the board, and a wet Sunday afternoon game against a club lacking many of its recognisable faces is hardly going to produce a bumper turnout in 2009/10.
On the matter of Sydney's "injury breaks" in the final minutes, he has more of a point. That was indeed cynical, and the sort of thing that the A-League could do without.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Hanging by a Cable - update
The A-League on free-to-air TV? A worthwhile aim, but wishful thinking at the moment. It is hard to see any of the commercial networks being willing to fit even a single game into their crowded weekend schedules, and coverage on the ABC or SBS would not bring in anything like sufficient revenue. It's possible that one of the new digital channels might give the local competition a go, but it still seems like slim pickings.
I've commented on the history of football's encounters with free-to-air TV in the past, so I won't cover old ground. But now, more than ever, with interest in the domestic league plainly waning, it looks like being an uphill struggle to convince the FTA broadcasters to take an interest.
The other issues that Lowy has touched on are closely related to the central one of crowds and TV coverage. Promotion and relegation has been barely mentioned by the FFA since the introduction of the A-League, but now, with crowds down, it suddenly seems an attractive concept. Whatever its impracticability in the short term, I've always been of the belief that eventually it will need to play a part in the A-League.
The familiar counter-argument - that promotion/relegation systems are alien to the Australian sporting landscape - ignores the fact that many fans of the domestic competition follow the European game closely as well, where relegation scraps are not only a fact of life, but a source of considerable excitement towards the end of the season. A more reasonable point is that the A-League clubs would not survive demotion to a second league, and this in particular makes a two-tier system problematic (to say the least) for a few years yet.
And then there's the question of when to begin the A-League season. Although the cross-over with the AFL and NRL finals had its inevitable effect, I tend to think that this has been overstated somewhat. More significant, surely, was the lack of marketing prior to the start of the season; the anticipated post-AFL/NRL promotional blitz has not eventuated.
It's hard to suggest a panacea for the A-League's many current problems. I still feel that the greatest immediate benefit would come from concentrating on the essential "product" - the football. There has been some improvement this season, but more is required to make it a genuinely crowd-pleasing competition. A more adventurous approach, greater focus on attack rather than defence, less frantic pressuring of the opposition so as to save some energy for when possession is recovered.
The A-League will never challenge the top leagues of Europe in terms of quality, but it can be made into a better spectacle. But this requires a significant shift in mentality among both coaches and players.
There are plenty of issues elsewhere, but a more attractive on-field product will make these a little easier to resolve.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
We Could Be Heroes - yet another update
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Life's a Beach
And, of course, by any standards of common sense it shouldn't have been a goal at all. (I just tested this on my wife, incidentally, who is conversant with the rules of the game and considered the awarding of the goal an outrage. But this might be because her best friend's partner supports Liverpool.)
Under the laws, however, the referee's decision was correct. Amazing but true.
The section on "additional balls" (p.58 of the pdf file linked above) is clearly intended to refer to footballs. And the "outside agents" mentioned two pages later are human only. No reference to beachballs, mobile phones, flying saucers or any other extraneous objects.
The interesting thing is that, as we also saw in the Holland v. Italy game from Euro 2008, there are still significant loopholes in the laws of football. Loopholes which allow utterly nonsensical outcomes, such as the one that befell Liverpool. IFAB, were you watching?
As a coda, I can't resist including a little fantasy team graphic that an e-acquaintance pointed me to.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Ange v. the Lads
Even before Frank Farina's encounter with the booze-bus, things had not been going swimmingly for the club in 2009/10, to put it mildly. Ticket prices up, crowds down, a dreadful recent disciplinary record (with things coming to a head in the Round 9 game in Melbourne), and rumours of a Rangers-style drinking culture emerging, with Farina turning a blind eye.
Farina's post-dismissal whinging deserves little sympathy. The nit-picking about whether he was under contract at the time of his earlier DUI charge (or whether he has actually breached the terms of his contract this time) may carry some legal weight, but when the head coach at a club plagued by ill-discipline is picked up over the limit on the way to training, the reputation of the sport surely demands action.
Nevertheless, he can be reasonably satisfied with his record at the Roar. Although they failed to make the finals in his first season (nudged out by a somewhat fortunate Sydney FC), the Brisbane side improved steadily in the two subsequent seasons, and looked set for another good campaign this time around. And their season is not beyond salvation by any means, but with other sides looking far more cohesive at present, it will be a test of Postecoglou's acumen.
So, what of the new boss? His last club gig was ten years ago, but it was a highly successful one. Some have argued that he was handed a stellar cast at South Melbourne to start with, thanks to the prior work of Frank Arok, but getting some prickly personalities to find common purpose is never easy, and Postecoglou proved an able operator in that department. Messrs. Trimboli, Boutsianis, Coveny et al. were a fine team to watch.
His period as national youth coach was dotted with occasional success, but he seemed to be running out of steam (or resting on his laurels) towards the close; his 2005 and 2007 sides cut a pretty poor figure. Then, of course, there was this.
Of course, it's no fun having a shrill ideologue spitting factual errors at you while calling for your head, but Postecoglou betrayed a thin skin in the course of that exquisitely painful piece of television. It was not the sort of thing you would expect from an experienced coach.
And there will be no lack of pressure on him in his new job, with the club feeling the weight of the interventionist hand of the FFA, and "the lads" apparently ruling the dressing-room. Brisbane have plenty of talent at their disposal, but getting it to work as a group, while keeping the management happy, will be a tough ask. Good luck, Ange - you will need it.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The World Cup would be much the poorer for the absence of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano et al., and most neutrals (not to mention the South African organisers) no doubt breathed a sigh of relief at the news. And it would have been pretty ridiculous, in truth, had the winner of Bahrain v. New Zealand made it to South Africa while Argentina missed out.
I watched some of the game this morning, and it was, well, ugly. Time and space on the ball was at an absolute premium, and dangerous tackling was rife. Derbies are rarely easy on the eye, and the desperate circumstances of the game rendered this particular battle of the Rio de la Plata a true slugfest.
But qualification is one thing, the World Cup proper quite another. And Maradona can perhaps take some heart from recent history, in which a shaky qualifying campaign can be the harbinger of an eventual triumph...especially where South American teams are concerned.
Take the World Cup that Maradona himself dominated, in 1986. After a smooth start in the prelimiaries, Argentina slumped to a 1-0 loss in Peru and had to come from behind to draw with the same opponents in their final home game. Had they lost, they would have been forced into a playoff.
Then there's Brazil. The Seleçao's two recent World Cup triumphs, in 1994 and 2002, were both achieved despite very patchy form in the qualifying tournament. In the former campaign, under Carlos Alberto Parreira, they started with only one win in four games, before coming home strongly. Still, had they lost their final qualifier against Uruguay, they were out, and it was only the return of Romario, absent in previous games, that did the damage that day.
In the midst of the 2002 qualifiers, I vividly remember various Australian fans toying with the idea of a playoff with Brazil, which looked more than likely at one time. As it happened, Australia had an indirect influence on events in any case, since it was the Socceroos' victory over an under-strength Brazil at the 2001 Confederations Cup that precipitated the removal of Emerson Leao as Brazil coach...and the appointment of Luiz Felipe Scolari. The rest is history (or, in Scolari's case, self-promotion).
By way of comparison, Argentina have qualified for the past three World Cups with contemptuous ease, yet failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals. This despite the magnificently-credentialled sides they have possessed, particularly in 2006, when it seemed that all of Jose Pekerman's diligent youth development work was about to bear rich fruit. It may yet do so in 2010, whether Maradona is in charge or not.
And spare a thought for Uruguay's opponents in the CONMEBOL/CONCACAF playoff, Costa Rica. The Ticos were headed for South Africa after taking a 2-0 lead over their hosts the USA; after pulling one back eighteen minutes from the close, the Americans equalised in the fifth minute of injury time to send Costa Rica into fourth place in the section, and a date with the Uruguayans.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The Socceroo performance wasn't quite as bad as their last outing against Oman, but there were long periods of the game where Australia were dreadfully uninspired. And, let us remember, Oman were denied what looked like a plain penalty a few minutes from the close.
Plenty of work still to do, in other words. But at least we are now on the move in what should be a straightforward Asian Cup qualifying group.
Talking of mobility, one of the more interesting aspects of the game was the way the Australian midfield improved after the first substitution, when Carl Valeri made way for Dario Vidosic, allowing Luke Wilkshire to move into the middle.
I've long felt that central midfield is Wilkshire's natural position, however capably he has been performing at right-back. He looked surprisingly assured up against Simone Perrotta at the World Cup, and in the recent friendly against Ireland he put in another good shift, alongside Mile Jedinak.
It is not for nothing that Valeri has earned the nickname "mini-Vinnie"; like Vince Grella, he rarely gets forward, and can be clumsy in the tackle (as can Wilkshire, at times). As Kevin Muscat noted at the half-time interval, what Australia really needed was more drive from the central midfield area; Valeri and Jason Culina, as usual, were reluctant to make forward runs or provide any real penetration with their forward passing.
When the far more mobile Wilkshire joined Culina in the middle, that area suddenly began to click. Vidosic, too, made a good impression on the right, playing somewhat better than he did against the Netherlands on Saturday. Disgracefully, by the way, he was forced to wear the number 101 on his shirt. Whoever was responsible for that deserves some time in Room 101.
Pim Verbeek appears irrevocably committed to his double midfield screen, however much support this tends to take away from the long-suffering Josh Kennedy. At the moment, his first choices are invariably Grella and Culina, but we have often seen (in the recent friendly against South Korea, for instance) how insipid this combination can be. Should Wilkshire be considered there instead, despite his continuing improvement at right-back?
Monday, October 12, 2009
Paul Williams: A Tribute
He smiled warmly and expressed genuine thanks, going out of his way to make this tongue-tied and probably irritating fan feel at ease.
The man was Paul Williams, whose untimely death is a very sad loss for Australian football.
For anyone in the country who began following the game in the nineties, Paul Williams' was the voice of football. Not only did he "call" that fateful game against Iran in Melbourne in 1997, but he lent his always informative commentary to the domestic game as well...not to mention plenty of international football, including the World Cup.
One of my abiding memories of his economical, intelligent style was his handling of one of the most poignant moments of the 1998 World Cup. SBS entrusted the more high-profile games of that event to internationally-renowned callers such as Martin Tyler and Gary Bloom, but Williams was at the microphone for plenty of the matches as well, and never suffered by comparison with his celebrated colleagues.
And he found himself in the hot seat during the Italy v. Chile game from the first round. Picture to yourself the scene: the Italians, trailing 2-1 after a brilliant headed goal from Marcelo Salas, are awarded a late, controversial penalty. Who is to take it? Up steps Roberto Baggio, whose missed penalty was the last kick of the previous tournament, and a source of torment to him ever since then.
Baggio approaches the ball, all grim determination, and strokes it deftly wide of Nelson Tapia in the Chilean goal. "That," says Williams in measured tones, keeping his cool in the fierce emotion of the moment, "is a measure of the man." The same words could have been applied to the commentator.
Prior to his health crisis in 2002, Williams was always a welcome presence on SBS's On the Ball programme. His lively, engaging commentary on the international game made a perfect foil for the laconic wit of Tony Palumbo, and this pair largely made up for the comparative lifelessness of Kyle Patterson in the host's chair.
It was a great shame that he was unable to cover the 2002 World Cup, but it is comforting to note that some of his successors at SBS, notably David Basheer, have emulated both his impeccable research and his unpretentious approach.
He concentrated on radio work from 2002 onwards, and was a familiar figure in the press box at the Sydney Football Stadium throughout the A-League's early years. All who knew him there (and elsewhere) could attest to his kindly, gentle nature and his continuing passion for the game.
Paul Williams was a superb football commentator, and a wonderful human being.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Plenty of shuffling the ball across the back four. A largely immobile central midfield pair, whose main ambition consists of shuttling the ball neatly back to one of the defenders. A reliance on the fading brilliance of Harry Kewell for drawing fouls in the middle third, thus increasing the chance of snatching a goal at a set-piece. Last but not least, great faith shown in the continuing excellence of Mark Schwarzer in goal.
I am simplifying things, of course, but little is likely to change in the months leading up to the event. Verbeek has clearly shown which players have earned his trust, and which have not. Amongst the former is Brett Holman, whose first touches and finishing again left plenty of Socceroo fans with strands of hair stuck in their fingers last night. Nick Carle? Not even introduced, to no-one's particular surprise.
On the plus side, another player whom Verbeek praised fulsomely in the post-match press conference was Luke Wilkshire, and the approbation was well-deserved. He nullified the dangerous Eljero Elia, his tight marking and committed tackling leaving little opportunity for genuine penetration. It was surprising, in fact, that the Hamburg winger stuck so resolutely to the left, given that his one brief excursion to the other flank ended in embarrassment for David Carney...who may well yield his spot to Scott Chipperfield against Oman.
It was good to see Brett Emerton back in the national colours as well, and his excellent cross for Kewell just before the hour mark was one reminder of what he contributes to the Socceroos. The Emerton-Wilkshire combination on the right will certainly be invaluable in South Africa.
To more immediate matters: Wednesday's game. The full-strength 'roos should have little trouble seeing off Oman, even if their last game against the men from the Gulf (the opener at the 2007 Asian Cup) evokes painful memories. For all his caution against opposition of note, Verbeek was not afraid to go straight onto the offensive against Qatar during the World Cup qualifiers, and he will presumably take the same approach against Oman. Of course, with his Euro contingent now available, there's absolutely no reason not to.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
The midfield functioned superbly well, passing neatly and crisply, and providing plenty of support to both the attack and the defence. Stuart Musialik is definitely back to his best, pace that little blunder on the ball towards the end of the first half.
The movement of Mark Bridge and Alex Brosque up front was a joy to behold. As we saw towards the beginning of last season (notably in the 3-2 away win over the Central Coast), a Brosque-Bridge partnership up front, with Steve Corica in behind, is the most effective attacking combination that Sydney has ever possessed.
And what can one say about Simon Colosimo? Outstanding, dominant, masterful, and plenty of other adjectives. Another reminder of what a shame it was that such a fine player had his career derailed at a critical stage in 1999. As has been noted by many commentators, he should definitely be in the mix for a Socceroo call-up in central defence, given our lack of good options in that area.
Even the absence of Stephan Keller proved no hindrance to Vitezslav Lavicka's side, as Seb Ryall fitted snugly into the centre of defence (perhaps his best position in any event), while Shannon Cole had one of his best games at right-back.
The slow-down in the second half was predictable, given the quick turnaround that the team had endured (two games in five days). And yes, Melbourne should really have scored a couple of times in that second period, but it would be tough to argue that Sydney did not fully deserve their win.
It gave the impression of being Sydney FC's best eleven, and it probably was. Karol Kisel tucked in and tracked back more often than Kofi Danning is ever likely to do, and while Rhyan Grant's enthusiasm and drive in midfield have their uses, the experience of Musialik and Terry McFlynn make them better options in the engine-room for the moment. But those two youngsters are pleasant alternatives for Lavicka to have.
Most importantly of all: John Aloisi. Marquee man he may be, but all will remember how quickly Sydney went downhill last season once Aloisi was plonked up front, while Bridge and Brosque were shifted wide and deeper respectively. Will there be pressure for Lavicka (who has done a fine job so far, by anyone's estimation) to restore Aloisi to the first eleven? He did, admittedly, have a good start to the season, scoring in Sydney's opener and looking more lively than he did under John Kosmina. But Sydney hardly looked as smooth or effective then as they do now.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
2009/10: First Cycle
After a few games of the campaign, Tony Tannous and I had a chat about the football we'd seen so far; Tony was of the opinion that there had been an upturn in the on-field standard, while I thought that it was a case of same old, same old. Over the last few weeks, I've come around to Tony's point of view somewhat.
Although the new boys from the Gold Coast have lost their sheen, there has been improvement elsewhere. Sydney FC put in one of their best-ever performances in the first half against the Central Coast last weekend; the Mariners, too, have not looked quite as blunt as many feared, largely thanks to the contributions of Michael McGlinchey and (in patches) Nicky Travis.
Newcastle and North Queensland have both been playing much better football than their results suggest. If not for a few defensive issues, including the regular blunders of their former Northern Spirit keeper, it's reasonable to think that Ian Ferguson's team might be in touch with the leaders at this stage. Branko Culina's men have offered entertainment aplenty; Song Jin-Hyung, Fabio Vignaroli, Kaz Patafta and Ali Abbas have all raised a cheer, while Adam D'Apuzzo is maturing nicely. With Michael Bridges now in the mix, hopefully the men from the Hunter can start to find the net a little more often.
Melbourne have done very well to make light of the departure of Danny Allsopp; a few spectacular goals from Carlos Hernandez have helped the cause, and the team as a whole looks to have recovered some of the determination of last season. Adelaide are still searching in vain for an effective striker, but at least the A-League's traditional "promising kid" club has unearthed another exciting prospect in Matthew Leckie.
Perth? Much more effective than in previous years, partly due to the addition of a genuine penalty-box predator to their ranks. I'm yet to be convinced by the contributions of their returning Socceroo brigade; Mile Sterjovski is yet to really shine, and Jacob Burns, last seen on these shores as a briskly effective young midfielder for Parramatta Power, has returned as a typical engine-room bully. Some of his tackles this season have been, well, blood-curdling.
Wellington have struggled to replace Shane Smeltz, as expected, but Paul Ifill and Leo Bertos have provided some bright moments. The Kiwis are not to be discounted, but the lack of real quality elsewhere, particularly in midfield, may tell against them in the end. Brisbane have been affected, though not too badly, by the absence of the Mass-Matt combination in midfield: it will be interesting to see whether Matt McKay can spark a revival against the Gold Coast this weekend.
The competition is, of course, much closer at the top this season. Although one could argue that the lack of any outstanding sides is the chief cause of this, it makes for a more interesting struggle...even though the six-team finals series renders any sense of struggle at the top, or just below the top, a tad meaningless at this point.
As for the refereeing, it still hasn't improved. Supposed diving (Ufuk Talay) punished to its fullest extent, horrific tackling (Robbie Kruse) treated leniently. Not to mention the usual cuckoo-clock yellow cards for shirts-off (Henrique) and playing on after the whistle (Victor Sikora). The priorities of A-League referees are, as usual, dead wrong.
And now to the tricky matter of the crowds. Many pundits, including Les Murray, feel that the overlap with the NRL and AFL seasons has hurt the competition badly. They have a point, certainly, and the return to five-figure crowds last weekend was surely significant. But a 27-game season, with a few international breaks (though not this coming weekend) means cutting into the egg-ball codes' turf at some point, and presumably the aim of the early start was to avoid compromising the A-League's own finals series. Questionable policy, perhaps, but Archie Fraser et al. were in an unenviable position here.
Looking on the bright side, if the teams can continue the improvement which many of them seem to be undergoing, the crowds will probably come. The A-League certainly needs a quick rise in the crowd figures, with investors still hard to come by and the second Melbourne and Sydney franchises looking far from the finished product.
Monday, October 05, 2009
The diminutive Scotsman (ahem...more on that later) has been one of the best additions to the A-League this season, offering much-needed creativity and penetration in the middle of the park for Lawrie McKinna's side. Even in his first game, the surprising away win over the defending champions, he showed signs that he was a class above the rest of the Mariners' workmanlike squad. In recent weeks, that gap in quality has become more apparent.
No surprise, then, that he has been snapped up by Ricki Herbert for the All Whites based on his Kiwi childhood. New Zealand has never had a more inviting route to the World Cup, but the Confederations Cup showed quite plainly how short of quality they are in midfield; with McGlinchey added to the mix, their chances against Bahrain suddenly look much brighter.
It is perhaps surprising that McGlinchey failed to find a club back in Britain. After all, an apprenticeship at Celtic, regular appearances at youth international level, and an apparently impressive loan spell at Dunfermline, would normally be enough to garner a place in the Scottish Premier League. But it seems that like so many youngsters, the "injury-prone" label was slapped onto McGlinchey at an early stage...and perhaps prematurely.
On being asked at this afternoon's presser how the A-League compares to the SPL, McGlinchey stressed that the antipodean game was "a bit less frantic", and that he enjoyed the extra time on the ball he was allowed in the A-League. He certainly made the most of it against Sydney, finding openings throughout despite being given little support by the misfiring Central Coast frontline.
His brilliant looping volley, which would have been one of the goals of the season had it not been saved, was not just a hopeful whack; it was interesting to compare the shot to Karol Kisel's from a similar position in the first half, which flew harmlessly wide. McGlinchey's overall technique is far better than most of the British imports who have, erm, graced the A-League.
Sydney FC, for their part, deserve to be on top of the pile after a fine all-round performance. The midfield looked as effective as it had in years, with Stuart Musialik finally finding some form, and Steve Corica showing that he can still make things happen (well, for about an hour or so). And hearty congratulations to new dad Terry McFlynn, whose goal capped a superbly influential return to the team. The Ulsterman simply gets better with every season, and he is definitely one of Sydney's key men by now.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
Yet there were a few consolations to take away from the tournament, and the way the team started against Brazil showed that this was far from a bunch of no-hopers. Jan Versleijen finally seemed to hit on a cohesive eleven, with Rhyan Grant and the untried Sam Gallagher proving far more appropriate choices in the fullback roles. Perhaps Ante Milicic pressed the claims of his Sydney United protégé Sam Munro, who put in a typically terrier-like effort against the Brazilians.
The question remains, however: after such extensive preparation, shouldn't the Dutchman have discovered his best eleven a little sooner?
Aaron Mooy was probably Australia's best player at the tournament. In those first twenty minutes against Brazil, he directed traffic in midfield very confidently, showing a fine range of passing and good close control at times. If he can add some more mobility to his play, he could well make the step up to the senior side in future years.
Ben Kantarovski is another who returns from North Africa with his reputation enhanced; forced to operate in central defence after the opening game, he adapted well, and showed the calmness under pressure which marked him out as one to watch at Newcastle last season. His partner in defence against Brazil, Ryan McGowan, can hold his head fairly high as well.
James Holland? A disappointment in some ways, but in truth the AZ Alkmaar midfielder has always been somewhat over-rated by Australian pundits. He offers a good first touch, the occasional brilliant pass and a fair work-rate, but he never looks likely to really take control of a game on his own initiative. It will be interesting to see how his European sojourn develops: he has jumped onto the ladder at a fairly high rung, and it would be a shame if a lack of first-team action were to stall his career at a crucial stage, as has happened to Nathan Burns.
The usual suspect has continued to paint the tournament as a stunning novelty for Australian youth teams, which should raise only a laugh for fans with long enough memories. Incidentally, there was a fascinating moment in the SBS studio immediately following the game, from which one could tell a great deal about the current state of Australian football. Les Murray - who does remember that we once produced some outstanding youth teams - asked Paul Okon, a member of that memorable 1991 side, whether Foster's strictures about Australians basically being complete football ignoramuses in the past had any merit.
It was a visibly difficult moment for Okon, who has quite blatantly been earmarked for fast-tracking into the upper echelons of the FFA's coaching structure. To state the obvious truth that he and his 1991 colleagues played far better football than Versleijen's charges would be a solecism in the eyes of the current Dutch overlords, but he could hardly dump on his former team-mates either.
So...he hedged. Mouthing meaningless platitudes about different times, he went on to essentially state the party line, joining in the implicit, undeserved denigration of all those who have done such fine youth development work in the past.
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Egypt Calling - update
Many have showered praise on them for how they took the game to both the Czechs and Costa Rica, but it's surely significant that Versleijen's charges only really did so when they were already chasing the game. And this is something that Australian sides have never failed to do, especially at youth level; think of Graham Arnold's otherwise awful Olyroos in their final game against the Ivory Coast, or even Ange Postecoglou's Under 20s in Holland in 2005, putting in a last desperate effort against Japan when elimination stared them in the face.
It is indeed to the credit of the current cohort that they bossed the game against Costa Rica even with ten men; the Central Americans underwent a freeze quite typical in 11 v. 10 situations, rushing their breakaways by looking for the immediate killer ball to secure the "safety" goal, and thereby handing over possession readily. (For a perfect demonstration of this phenomenon, see the final stages of the Paraguay v. Slovenia game from the 2002 World Cup - one of the most instructive games I've ever watched.)
But in the wash-up, the Young Socceroos only forced one save from the Costa Rican keeper in the final half-hour, from James Holland's header. Meanwhile, they could have conceded a good three or four at the other end.
It is strange that Versleijen couldn't find a better candidate for the left-back slot than the one-paced, hit-and-miss Matthew Jurman. Neither he nor Daniel Mullen gave nearly enough support to the attack in either game, and although one can question Versleijen's selection in this regard (he virtually admitted his misjudgement when substituting Rhyan Grant for Mullen against Costa Rica), it is indicative of the fact that Australia seems to be producing few good fullbacks these days. My vote for the best genuine fullback in the local game would go unhesitatingly to Michael Katz - a state league player already nearing 30.
We also saw the familiar sight of young A-League players, built up as stars by a compliant media back home, growing feet of clay at international level. Kofi Danning was a cipher in both games, and Mitch Nichols' failures in the attacking third in Egypt suggest that his temperament needs plenty of work. It's worth noting that Australia's best player against Costa Rica was probably Aaron Mooy, who has been spared the instant-soup adulation of the A-League.
But there are positives. Ben Kantarovski and Luke DeVere have shown some good signs, and Ryan McGowan had his moments too, before being dismissed against the Czechs. Let's hope for an improved performance from the outset against Brazil.
And yes, a word on the extraordinary ramble from Craig Foster in the wake of the match, replete with talk of parades and facile, nonsensical finger-pointing. If the Young Socceroos do, in fact, exit at the first hurdle, the plain fact will be that the FFA will have pumped silly amounts of money into preparations for a youth tournament, for little return. Money that would have been far better spent improving the lot of coaches at elite junior level...exactly the target of Foster's ill-considered rant.
And now that he seems to feel that the problem lies with the grass roots, will he offer a full, public, unilateral apology to Ange Postecoglou?