Monday, December 28, 2009


Pim and the Parochials - another update

Clive Palmer's over-the-top outburst at Pim Verbeek's latest comments has generated plenty of discussion over the last few days. Partly because Palmer is always good copy, and partly because any comments from Verbeek that can be interpreted as anti-A-League push plenty of pundits' buttons.

The comments about Gold Coast's pre-season friendly with Fulham demonstrate, once more, that Palmer's grasp of the realities of football is tenuous indeed. And this view:

'The main criterion for any national coach should be to foster the game here in Australia...'

...only seems to have become common currency since the inception of the A-League.

A point that many have ignored is that Verbeek's remarks about playing regularly up to May essentially apply to all leagues, not just the A-League. Australia would surely have fared better in their 2001 World Cup playoff had Paul Okon, Frank Farina's key man, not been suffering from bench splinters at Middlesbrough at the time. A Verbeek might not have picked him. (If his name was Brett Holman, maybe.)

SBS's Jesse Fink has, not for the first time, come to the defence of his Dutch friend, but his Hiddink comparison is misplaced. Unlike his erstwhile assistant, Hiddink was a consummate PR expert, and knew how to be tactful without appearing deferential. Verbeek's strictures have often been thoughtless and ill-timed, and that is the real issue. On the quality of the A-League, he has a point. But it is not a point that needs to be made so publicly.

As for the question of Asian sojourns, there appears no sign of Josh Kennedy (or even Jade North) disappearing from Verbeek's plans. On the matter of the scheduling of the A-League season, however, Fink is on firmer ground. Fox have been the piper calling the tune in this area thus far, but the FFA need to think seriously about negotiating a re-alignment of the A-League season, given the drop-off in attendances in 2009/10. An October start would avoid the white noise of the NRL and AFL finals, although the overlap with the state leagues would create other problems. But that's a different issue...

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Yet Another Tragic Christmas

The Yuletide is here again, and it's time to dole out some presents to deserving recipients.

To Aurelio Vidmar: a striker.

To Frank Lowy: a few more suitable stadia.

To Lawrie McKinna: a point (three would be even better, but you can't have everything...).

To Thierry Henry: a Dr. Strangelove-style restraint for the left hand.

To Nick Carle: a club actually interested in playing him as a No.10.

To Wellington football fans: an enforcer to deal with certain AFC bureaucrats.

Of course, yours truly received his Xmas present a little early this year. Here he is with the gift still partially wrapped:

Merry Christmas to all from TFT.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


AFC v. the Kiwis

A curious but pertinent fact, which has been commented on elsewhere: the 2010 World Cup will be the first since 1974 not to feature a single team from the western half of Asia.

And it is that grim statistic for the Gulf nations which is surely behind the latest piece of blackmail from the AFC regarding Wellington Phoenix's participation in the A-League. It was New Zealand, of course, who knocked off the final West Asian hopeful, Bahrain, in a cross-conferedation playoff.

Whichever way you look at the AFC position, it comes across as petty and illogical. A club acting as a de facto national team? Aside from the fact that this is simply not true in the case of the Phoenix, it would hardly be a novelty. Think of the Soviet Union team at the 1986 World Cup, which was basically the Dinamo Kiev side of the great Valeri Lobanovski with "CCCP" on their shirts.

Professional experience in an "Asian league" for Kiwi players? The vast majority of the Phoenix squad were engaged in pro football before the club even existed. In any case, shorn of the legalities, the nub of this complaint would appear to be "how dare teams from Oceania be anything other than easybeat part-timers"?

And that, of course, brings us to the real point. Anyone with half a grain of sense can surely see that the best solution to the impasse is for the ridiculous Oceania confederation to be merged with the AFC; the barriers to this happening are political only.

Some sort of compromise will need to be reached, because the A-League can ill afford to lose the Phoenix at present.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


We Could Be Heroes - update #4

You just can't keep the Half-Time Heroes down, and we're back for one more crack before Christmas. Highlights of this issue are Shane Davis's analysis of Australia's World Cup opponents, and two tales of Australian teenagers aiming for European stardom, with contrasting fortunes. Browse away.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Who's Afraid? - update #20

The code wars surrounding the 2018/2022 bid seem to be gently simmering down, now that Andrew Demetriou's politicking over the use of Etihad stadium has been revealed as an ambit claim of sorts. But the Murdoch football refusers, true to form, have fanned the flames with dire predictions about the effects of hosting the event on Sydney (and Melbourne).

The whole litany of doom-laden dot points is hilarious, but a special prize goes to the following:

* Give special treatment to preferred commercial partners, potentially cutting locals out of work...

Because, of course, a World Cup in Australia would provide no employment opportunities whatever.

Sydneysiders who remember the (relatively minor) disruptions caused during the Olympics in 2000 should recognise that none of FIFA's supposed stipulations would be anything out of the ordinary. Somehow, at that time, such "onerous conditions" were perfectly acceptable.

The ramping up of the scaremongering from the Murdoch press and others is probably due to the fact that Australia's bid is starting to look a serious chance. The nominal "favourites" for 2018/2022, England, have stumbled from one embarrassment to another, and Australia's candidature has received a significant blessing from a very influential fellow, whose comments appear to go beyond basic tokenism.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Panny in the Picture

It's great to see that Panny Nikas, the undoubted star of Sutherland's run to the NSWPL title this year, has earned a senior contract with the Central Coast Mariners after a prolific period with the youth side.

I've rarely been as impressed by a state league prospect as I was by Nikas in 2009. Capable of both making and scoring goals, and possessing a sharp football brain for one so (relatively) young, he looked very much ready for the professional arena. Strangely, he put in a subdued performance in Sutherland's grand final victory over Marconi, which suggested that in the "big match temperament" department, he had not quite reached full maturity.

And David D'Apuzzo has probably done the right thing. Although a willing and diligent player, he has never really seemed a class act, either at APIA or the Mariners. Returning to his studies is probably a wise move, and one that plenty of other could-have-beens undoubtedly wish they had made.

Saturday, December 05, 2009


The Draw

The Socceroos have landed in a tough group.

Although the Germans have unearthed few new stars since the 2006 tournament, they always seem to lift when the World Cup comes around. Serbia have looked a very convincing unit throughout the European qualifiers, with Dejan Stankovic enjoying an Indian summer at club and international level. As the Olyroos know, the Serbs have some quality younger players as well, Zoran Tosic in particular.

As for Ghana, Australia may have defeated them with an under-strength team last year, but on that occasion Ghana were missing their key trio of Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah and Sulley Muntari. I would rate the two sides as roughly equal but for Essien, who can take charge of a game like no-one in the current Australian squad.

If Pim Verbeek can get his team out of that group, he deserves enormous credit. It is perhaps for the best that the Germans are to be negotiated first.

The other groups are relatively even. Group G, with Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast, has attracted the inevitable "Group of Death" tag, but it is not disproporionately stronger than the rest. The hosts will have a tough time qualifying from Group A, which looks strong. For a more in-depth analysis of the different groups, be sure to check out Shane Davis's overview.

Bring on June - I can't wait!

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Before the Draw

The pots for the World Cup draw on Friday are now official, and it is likely that the groups will be fairly even in terms of playing strength.

The only real anomalies are South Africa's elevation to a seeding as hosts, France lurking as a non-seeded team in Pot 4, and, dare I say, the presence of New Zealand in Pot 2. There's little doubt, with all respect to Ricki Herbert's side, that they will be the team everyone is hoping to meet.

One of the striking things about the complement of teams for this World Cup is that most of the African "giants" made it through...unlike in 2006. No Togo or Angola for European or South American teams to hope for in their section. Algeria are perhaps not as daunting as the other four in Pot 3, but any team that can knock off the twice African champions is worthy of respect.

I mention France because, despite their decline under the tragicomic tutelage of Raymond Domenech, they still possess quality players in abundance, and they are surely the team that all the seeds are hoping to avoid. It is strange, in fact, that a side which came within a penalty kick of the title last time around finds itself in with the European miscellany.

From Pot 2, the USA are probably the dangermen. Their Confederations Cup performances, and the relative ease with which they qualified from CONCACAF, have marked them out as a much improved unit, and a repeat of their 2002 exploits is quite a strong possibility. Along with New Zealand, North Korea will probably be the preferred companion in Pot 2, shall we say.

So what of Australia's chances?

A group comprising the Socceroos plus South Africa, Uruguay and Slovenia would be nice, but part of me hopes that we can test ourselves against one of the big boys. Spain are going into the tournament as favourites for once, but Brazil and Argentina will be a threat as always, and one can never discount the eternal European achievers, Italy and Germany. England have improved under Fabio Capello, but I don't think they really have the quality to be a serious threat.

A clash with one of the real contenders, plus a manageable other two, would suit me fine.

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