Sunday, July 25, 2010


The Greek Gulf

It was a pity that such a modest crowd attended what was a brilliantly entertaining game of football this afternoon. The Sydney Festival of Football, a quadrangular international pre-season tournament, opened with a 5-3 victory for AEK Athens over their hosts Sydney FC.

The match was aptly described by Vitezslav Lavicka as "a big, bitter lesson" for his side. Sydney FC did not play particularly badly according to their lights, although there were one or two sub-par individual performances; they were simply outclassed, in every department. Given that one of the Sydney goals resulted from a bizarre, needless handball in the area and another came courtesy of a farcical goalkeeping error, 5-1 would have been a fairer reflection of the difference between the two sides. It was, in fact, a classic demonstration of the gulf in class between Australian club football and its European equivalent.

Of course, European clubs have financial resources that dwarf those of the A-League clubs, but there were still some lessons that watching A-League managers could take away. The movement of the AEK front three, which included two South Americans, was often scintillating to watch. In the dreaded "transition", AEK were close to impeccable, immediately giving the man on the ball two or more options when Sydney FC handed over possession in the middle third (this was never shown to better effect than on the occasion of AEK's third goal).

Nathan Burns, back from his prolific loan period on Corfu, made an appearance as a second-half substitute and looked a subtly different player from the young Adelaide star of a few years ago. The decision-making was more sure-footed, the movement off the ball more astute. He has learned something from his chastening European adventure, and although I would love to see him taste some real success at AEK, he has some formidable competition in the forward line.

The real star of the afternoon was the 34-year-old Nikos Liberopoulos, who was simply masterly in his three-quarter role. Starting with his sublime lay-off to Leonardo Pereira for AEK's first goal, and finishing with his driving diagonal run into the box in the lead-up to their fifth, he was never out of the action, and always inventive and adroit. It was an instructive pleasure to watch the distinguished former Greek international in action.

"Control, pass, move!" was the mantra of Gordon Jago, the former QPR coach whose excellent book on coaching I've quoted once or twice. AEK could not have demonstrated this simple but pertinent catechism better: once their players had completed a good pass, they didn't stand around admiring it in typical A-League fashion; they trotted off into position to receive the return. For all the A-League's straitened financial circumstances, their coaches could surely instil this basic principle a little better in their charges. The football would be a good deal better if they did.

Hey Mike,

I was at the game. Nathan Burns is the only Aussie in recent times that has shown improvement from his A League days. Surely Arnold and Verbeek are more the fool for not picking them.

Where was Sydney's creativity?
Where were all the Euro snobs?
...Where were all the Euro snobs?...

Waiting to come in for the Rangers v. Blackburn game, I think! ;-)
It certainly turned into a great game for the spectator to watch! I left feeling that the A-league team had given it their all, learnt a few lessons, and not completely humiliated. The gulf was definitely obvious, I agree. But not so much in the first half.
Yeah nice to meet you Mike! See you tonight maybe?
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