Monday, 30 July 2007

Reflections on an Asian Cup final

The 2007 Asian Cup concluded last night with the final between Iraq and Saudi Arabia and the fairytale was completed with the Iraqis deservedly 1-0 winners. They dominated vast periods of the match and only their poor finishing let them down. The Saudis never looked like threatening the Iraqi goal and the closest they came was in the dying minutes of the match when their opponents were thinking more about the full time whistle than the game at hand. The only goal of the game came from a powerful header by Younis Mahmoud, the Iraqi captain, from a well taken corner in the 72nd minute. Mahmoud was subsequently given the title of player of the tournament at the conclusion of the match, probably not only for his goal scoring tally but also for his leadership abilities in leading a team that is made up of Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds, with little preparation to the title of champions of Asia. As the final whistle blew and I stumbled off to bed I tried to imagine what would be happening in Iraq. These people who are suffering so much would be delirious with pleasure and for a short while would forget their troubles as they celebrate as one nation their first Asian Cup title. But the harsh reality would soon set back in as a car bomb killed six people and injured twelve in central Baghdad on Monday, with football having for a brief moment given them some hope, that was sadly and most brutally taken away. It was sad to note that this team will not be able to share this win that brought so much joy to their fellow countrymen because they fear for their lives if they return to their homeland. These 2007 Asian Cup champions are now also on the lookout for a new coach, as Jorvan Vieira stood down after the final saying that he could now continue with the role under such pressure.

Well down Iraq, champions of Asia, we look forward to meeting you again in four years time in Qatar, hopefully under much better circumstances.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Will football unite a divided country?

One of the fairytale stories to come out of the 2007 Asian Cup is that of Iraq (even if it came at the expense of Australia). They have just reached the final after defeating South Korea in a penalty shootout and will play Saudi Arabia in an all Gulf State final. This is an amazing story considering the turmoil that is currently engulfing their country and the fact that they haven't played a home game for over twenty years and rely on the generosity of neighbouring countries for "home" games. It would be nice to think that maybe that on one occasion that Shi'ite Muslims and the minority Sunni Arabs will unite as one behind their national team as they play probably the most important match during this troubled time. After their amazing win this was the case as both Shi'ites and Sunnis took to the streets to celebrate their win over South Korea, both united in the joy of seeing their national team do well. Even in the autonomous northern region of Kurdistan even waved Iraqi flags were waved in a rare display of national unity. Kurds normally view the Iraqi flag as an Arab symbol. However, it was sad this joy was exploited as two suicide bomb attacks killed 50 Iraqis whilst they were out in the streets celebrating the semi-final win.

I am looking forward to the final between these two neighbouring countries and regardless of the outcome (although I do hope Iraq wins) I hope that for 90 or even 120 minutes the Shi'ites and Sunnis put aside their differences to urge on their national team. Maybe it will be first step in a reconciliation between these peoples, that may ultimately bring about peace in this country in turmoil. But maybe, this is too much to ask of twenty three men who play with such passion for their national team as we must remember that they are just playing a game.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Love is in the air . . . and on his way to Melbourne (corrected)

The Melbourne Victory have just announced their latest signing for the upcoming season. They have signed Leandro Rodrigues da Silva, nicknamed Leandro Love, on a one year loan deal from J-League club Vissel Kobe. Not much is known about him apart from the fact that he is a 21 year old forward, who has recently played in the Paulista State Championship for Rio Branco. I'm guessing his role will be mainly coming off the bench as an understudy to both Allsopp and Thompson. Apparently he is due in the country in a couple of weeks. Once we know more about him I'll be sure to let you know. Here is a video of him in action scoring against Palmeiras for Rio Branco (the team in white).

Monday, 23 July 2007

Jets gun down Victory in Sleepy Hollow

The second round of the pre-season cup saw the Melbourne Victory go down to Newcastle in their only home game of their pre-season campaign 1-0 at Skilled Stadium in Geelong in front of approximately 8,500 fans. Unfortunately I didn't attend the game as I was otherwise occupied. For a full match report, click here. The match saw the debut of Carlos Hernandez for the Victory as he came on for the last twenty minutes of play. Victory's pre-season campaign continues next week in Darwin against Perth Glory and should see the return of Archie Thompson from Australia's failed Asian Cup campaign. Also there is news that Melbourne is about to sign a Brazilian striker as backup to Allsopp and Thompson. Stay tuned for further developments.

Post penalty depression

It has been a few days since the disappointment of losing to Japan in the quarter finals and I have finally got around to writing something about it - mainly because I have been at the snow at Mt Hotham without any access to a computer let alone the internet. The game was watched at the only bar on the mountain that had Fox Sports 2 and the management required some persuasion to put it on the big screen. At one stage they wanted to turn the area into a dance floor just after half time but common sense prevailed as they may have had a small riot on their hands.

Now to the game. A much better performance was put in by the team, their best of the tournament. The defence looked solid for the most part with Neill, Milligan and Beachamp gelling well as a unit. The midfield was matching it with the Japanese with Bresciano and Grella both playing a solid, attacking game. However, our final touch in attack was left lacking at times. Our only goal came from a well worked set piece with Aloisi adding to his already impressive scoring record for the national team, but it was extremely disappointing to concede almost straight away from an error from Milligan (ironically his only one in the two games he played). The refereeing for this game was not up to the standard of the game being played by the two teams. Its impact was felt with both the extraordinary amount of fouls awarded against Australia and then the unbelievable sending off of Vince Grella (who was playing his best game of the tournament) for what appeared to be the stray contact of his hand to the neck of Naohiro Takahara, who played the incident up to its full effect, rolling around on the ground clutching his face. The impact looked fairly minor as both were locked in an aerial battle for the ball and without the appearance of any blood the sending off looked unjustified - it was a yellow card at worse. Even with the numerical advantage the Japanese could not break the 1-1 deadlock. Tactically I think Arnold made a mistake in removing Aloisi from the field when we went a man down, it left us without an out and out striker and it has been shown in the past that even when a man down a team needs to be able to attack to put the pressure on the opposition. A skill the Italians used to good effect against the Socceroos in last years World Cup. It was good to see Nicky Carle get a run but without that target up front his skills were often wasted.

I don't particularly like penalties but I don't think there is any other way of deciding sudden death matches like these and it ends up being a bit of a lottery. It ended up not being our night with both Kewell and Neill having their shots saved. They can't be held responsible for the loss. It is just way the cookie crumbles as they say. It is such a bad and depressing way to lose, not only for the players but for the fans as well.

The team now has to pick up the pieces and regroup for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, where ironically their first qualifying match is against Iraq (who made it through to the semi-finals with a win over Vietnam) in Qatar. Lessons have been learnt from this campaign but action needs to be taken otherwise they will be lessons wasted. I am looking forward to the remainder of the tournament and will be interested to see who takes out the mantle of Asian champion.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Same old chestnuts

In the lead up to their quarter final clash with Australia it is interesting to see that the Japanese papers are again rolling out the line that the Socceroos are a physical and 'dirty' team, statements that were made by the team and coach at the last World Cup. Maybe the country is having flashbacks to events in Kaiserslautern just over twelve months ago and are worrying about a repeat. However I believe those events won't have an effect the Japanese who look like a much stronger and more coherent squad than the team that last faced the Socceroos. A danger man for the Socceroos is Shunsuke Nakamura who controls the Japanese midfield and has been in great form for both his club and country and is extremely dangerous at set pieces. So the Australians will have to be careful about giving away free kicks around the penalty area and control his influence in the midfield. Nakamura is not the only danger as the Japanese team is playing well as a unit under the management of Bosnian, Ivica Osim.
Now to the team I believe should take the field for the Socceroos. Excellent performances from Carney, Milligan and Beauchamp means that they should retain their positions in the starting XI. For me, Wilkshire who has been suspended due to his yellow card count will make way for the return of Neill, although he has been in poor form this tournament. A more suitable position for Neill would be at right back, a position that he occupies at club level rather than the central position he has been playing for the national team. I would keep both Kewell and Cahill on the bench and bring them on as impact players in the second half or earlier if needed. Hopefully the team can build on the improvement shown in the game against Thailand and provide a good contest for the Japanese and maybe they can pull off the same sort of result as the last time the two teams met.

Go Socceroos!

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Finally something to smile about

As they say in the classics, what a difference a few days make. Arnold finally bit the bullet and made some serious changes to the starting XI with Milligan, Beauchamp, Aloisi and Carney coming in for Kisnorbo, Neill (enforced), Holman and Kewell for the game against Thailand and it paid off with the Socceroos coming away with a 4-0 win and allowing the team to progress to the quarter finals of the Asian Cup. This result flattered the Australians as it didn't reflect the effort put in by the Thais early in the second half where they completely dominated the game but for no result. Milligan, Beauchamp and Carney all played excellent games with the defence looking much more solid and able to deal with their Thai opponents better than the defence that played in the previous two matches. Although there was some moments where they looked a bit shaky but with more time on the field they will gel more as a unit. Milligan showed his experience playing in Asia (both with the Olyroos and Sydney FC) and will be hard to shift from the team for the next game against Japan. Beauchamp looked solid and chipped in for the first goal and Carney playing on the left look dangerous and floated in same dangerous crosses although his defensive efforts needs some work. Both Bresciano and Grella played much better, although at times Grella looked a little slow. Kewell and Cahill both had an impact when they came off the bench but at that time the Thais were starting to tire and Kewell showed his class and skill with the fourth game where you knew he was going to score as soon as he received the ball. Viduka looked dangerous with the addition of Aloisi in the line-up and showed his class in the end with two well taken goals.

Looking forward to the upcoming match against Japan, there is still a lot of improvements to be made as there will be a step up in class of opponent. Japan has looked all class so far in the tournament and has recently demolished Vietnam 4-1 and the UAE 5-1. But group stage form counts for nothing as has been proved in the recent Copa America and it is a new whole ball game as Australia now heads to Hanoi. Things look much rosier than they did a couple of days ago but to progress to the semi-finals the Socceroos need to keep up the intensity that was evident throughout most of the game against Thailand and revive in the Japanese minds that game in Kaiserslautern twelve months ago, although the Japanese team looks a different unit to that one.

It was also good to see a good turnout at the Rajamangala stadium
, with plenty of atmosphere and noise, something that has been missing from Australia's previous two matches.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Double dutch duo set to take us to 2010 World Cup

According to Melbourne's The Age, Dutchman Dick Advocaat is set to become the next coach of Australia after he finishes his current deal with Russian club, Zenit St Petersburg in November. It is believed he is to take charge of the team for the 2010 World Cup campaign. I think this is a good thing for the national team as not only does Advocaat have experience along the lines of Guus Hiddink, but he also has significant experience within Asian, having coached South Korea and the UAE. We are going to need this type of experience if we are going to be succesful in this region. Advocaat will team up with Rob Baan, our current technical director to giving us a distinctly Dutch style to our national setup. After these current days of turmoil its good to see the FFA has finally played their hand.

Image "borrowed" from the BBC.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

All square in Launceston

Melbourne started off its pre-season campaign against Adelaide in Launceston today with 1-all draw in front of a crowd of over 8,000. Travis Dodd kicked off the scoring for Adelaide with a 9th minute strike after he was put through one on one with Theoklitos. The Victory equalised with 15 minutes to go through Daniel Allsop. Full a full match report, click here. The Victory team for the the clash was as follows:

Michael Theoklitos, Kevin Muscat, Adrian Leijer, Ljubo Milicevic, Steve Pantelidis, Daniel Piorkowski, Matthew Kemp, Daniel Allsopp, Joseph Keenan, Rodrigo Vargas, Kaz Patafta, Leigh Broxham, Adrian Caceres, Eugene Galekovic.

Melbourne's next match is against Newcastle down at Skilled Stadium in Geelong on Sunday 22nd July. Hopefully the Victory supporters turn out in full force for this game after great crowds at their practice matches.

My starting XI for the crunch game against Thailand

Its been a few days since the Socceroos disastrous performance against Iraq and the dust is slowly drifting back to earth but no where near settling. It took me a while to calm down and I consoled myself by reading through the 2006/07 Melbourne Victory Yearbook, that recently arrived in my mailbox. Now its time to look towards the match against Thailand. It is my understanding that if Australia beats Thailand we should be able to make it through to the next round of the competition. So with this in mind it is time for me to express my opinion on who I think should be playing in this all important match - probably one of the most important of recent times.
With the enforced change of losing Neill for receiving a second yellow card late in the match against Iraq, Kisnorbo probably gets his final chance in the centre of defense. I have brought both Milligan and Beauchamp into the team to provide us with a solid but mobile back four and moving Emerton onto the wing and moving Holman back to the bench. Emerton's attacking efforts have been good, but his defense has left us in a spot of bother, so to relieve of some of those duties may benefit the team. Otherwise the team remains the same. Today I again saw the footage of the goal that Australia did score against Iraq, with a great set of passes and touches (15 in all) and all of them along the ground except for the final cross. For us to beat Thailand we need to play in this style. I am looking forward to the game and hope the Australians can put in a good performance and we make it out of the group stage. If this happens who know what will happen.

Go Socceroos!

Friday, 13 July 2007

Is it too harsh to call them the Suckeroos?

What can I say. I am a little lost for words after seeing the Socceroos go down 3-1 to Iraq in their second group game of the Asian Cup. I headed down to the Royal Melbourne Hotel with some friends to hopefully see them pull off a win against Iraq, but unfortunately I sadly left left the premises not only a little worse for wear but also extremely disappointed by the performance of our national team. There was one change to the team that played Oman on Sunday night with the inclusion of Brett Holman for Mile Sterjovski. A well taken free kick and some poor defense by Australia saw the Iraqis go ahead midway through the first half. The Socceroos hit back early in the second half with Viduka getting on the end of a well weighted Emerton cross (the first decent cross I've ever seen him make) to score his ninth international goal. The Socceroos then dominated play after this goal and created a number of chances to take the lead. However this dominance was all for nothing as the Iraqis scored on the hour mark through Hawar Mulla Mohammed who was put clean through on goal and made no mistake. This really seemed to suck the wind out of the Socceroos even with the arrival of Cahill (who came on at half time for Holman), Thompson (a big cheer from the Victory fans in the RMH when this happened) and Aloisi. The final nail was put in the coffin when Karrar Jassim Mohammed scored the third goal for the Iraqis in the 86th minute (there was a hint of offside but it didn't really matter).

I don't think there was any player that could hold their head high after the match as it was a pretty poor performance overall but I must single out Lucas Neill for criticism for not only somehow getting a second yellow card and thus missing the all important match against Thailand on Monday night, but also for his poor play throughout the game. Someone must tell him that chipping balls from halfway into the box is not going to help the team score goals. The second two Iraqi goals were the result of our midfield not dropping back to support our defense and leaving too much work for the defenders. We didn't seem to keep the ball on the ground for long enough and it seemed like we were doing little chips all the time and no one could probably keep the ball under control and thus ruining any attacking moves that the team was making. But some credit must be given to the Iraqis who apart from a brief spell in the second half, outplayed the Socceroos for most of the game,

Our future in the tournament is now out of our hands even if we do beat Thailand in the next game as we have to rely on results going our way in the match between Iraq and Oman. Unfortunately, I believe we don't really deserve to progress any further in the tournament.

El Zorro set to ride into town

It may not be getting the publicity that a certain other arrival* may be receiving, but our very own big recruit will be arriving in Melbourne today. That being Carlos Hernandez, who after some visa problems will finally touch down in Australia to join our very own A-League champions, Melbourne Victory. After all the talk it will be great to see him finally on our shores and we hope that he will be able to fulfill our high expectations. Apparently it is unlikely that he will play a role in the pre season tournament as he will be given some time to settle into life here in Melbourne and get up to full fitness. Here's hoping that he gets a warm welcome from Victory fans at the airport that gives him some idea of the support that this team has in this town.

*If you hadn't worked it out - that other arrival is David Beckham arriving in Los Angeles to join the LA Galaxy, but I'm sure you would have known that already.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

If I was coach when Australia plays Iraq

After all the discussion after Australia's first match versus Oman about the team selection I have decided to come up with my own team selection for their next match on Friday against Iraq as shown above. Changes that I have made to the team are the introduction of both Aloisi and Milligan to the starting eleven at the expense of the ineffective Wilkshire and Sterjovski. Bringing Aloisi into the starting squad takes some of the pressure off Viduka and gives the opposition defense someone else to think about. The introduction of Milligan brings some solidity to the defense and it provides the team with someone who is more comfortable on the ball than Kisnorbo. He also some experience at international level playing against teams in Asia and its time he got a run in the senior team. Kewell has always been more effective playing on the left where he can run at the opposition so I have moved him into that position. Since Arnold has become coach, Emerton has been relatively ineffective as right back and thus I have moved him back into the midfield where he appears more comfortable.

Let me know you think of my selections,

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

There is another Cup going on

Its not getting much coverage here in Australia, because we are not involved but the U20 World Cup is currently underway in Canada. Apparently the tournament has been a huge success so far with stadiums almost full for all the matches. The group stage has just finished and the line up for the round of 16 is as follows:

Austria v Gambia
USA v Uruguay
Spain v Brazil
Japan v Czech Republic
Chile v Portugal
Zambia v Nigeria
Argentina v Poland
Mexico v Congo

Our friends across the Tasman, New Zealand were knocked out at the group stage after being in a group with powerhouses Mexico and Portugal. Mexico look the team to beat with their team being the core of the team that won the last U17 World Cup. They will face a tough challenge if they make it to the quarter finals in the form of Argentina, who after a slow start are also playing well. Its also good to see the African teams playing well with four making it past the group stage. Of the round of 16 matches, the Spain v Brazil match looks a cracker and it will be interesting to see if the US continues its great form of the group stage against Uruguay, with Freddy Adu starting to live up to some of the hype.

Image "borrowed" from

Monday, 9 July 2007

Another trophy for the cabinet

Amongst all the news about the Asian Cup, the news that the Victory won the Lord Mayors’ Cup on Saturday night slipped under the radar. They were successful with a 6-5 win on penalties against sister-city rivals Tianjin Teda in Beijing on Saturday tonight, after the full-time scores were locked at a goal apiece. The Lord Mayor's Cup now joins the Premiership Plate and Championship Trophy in our rapidly expanding trophy case. Heroes for the Victory were the ever reliable Danny Allsop who scored in the 32nd minute, and Eugene Galekovic who was instrumental in the penalty shootout by pulling off two saves. For a full report click here. In a Grand Final rematch, the Victory take on Adelaide United next Sunday in Launceston to start their preseason cup campaign.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Cahill comes to the rescue of Australia again

Australia have two men to thank for not having a first up loss to Oman at the 2007 Asian Cup, those two being Tim Cahill and Mark Schwarzer after the game finished 1-1. Cahill (whose name I have on the back of my Australian shirt) will get all the accolades for scoring another goal late on for his country but a lot of credit should go to Schwarzer who pulled off three fine saves in the second half to save his team's blushes. Oman hit the lead through a 32nd minute goal to Oman midfielder Badar Mubarak after well worked move down the left which left Australia's defense scrambling. Oman played out of its skin for most of the match and had the Australians stretching on a number occasions and were very solid at the back. Australia barely threatened a chance on shot on goal in the first half and failed to put any pressure on the Omanis in their own half. Overall, Australia didn't play that well, with Viduka well held. Questions about the defense still exist, with the Omanis having plenty of shots on goal, although the attack also looked uninspiring at times and very unimaginative. Again Australia has Cahill to thank again as he slammed home a rebound that came off the Omani keeper after he failed to hold a cracking Bresciano shot on goal. Australia will need to improve immensely to progress to the latter stages of the tournament as they are expected to do. This result leaves all teams in this group on 1 point after a 1-1 draw between hosts Thailand and Iraq last night.

Image "borrowed" from the AFC

Friday, 6 July 2007

Another Victory team

It has come to my attention that there is another Victory team out there. You would think it would be a pretty rare name for a football club, but there is another out there and they are called the California Victory, based naturally of course in the US. They play in the USL (the league below the MLS in the USA) and were formed in 2006, so that makes us slightly older than them. Unfortunately, in their first ever season this year they are currently sitting on the bottom of the table with 11 points from 14 matches with two wins, seven losses and five draws. According to their website the name Victory is derived from Alavés’ home city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital city of both the province of Alava and the Basque Country of Spain. The reason for this name is that their chairman is Dmitry Piterman, a Ukrainian-American who is also the chairman of Spanish football club Deportivo Alavés. The California Victory is the first European owned team to compete in any level of the United Soccer League. The club plays its home games at the Kezar Stadium near Golden Gate Park and seats 10,000 people.

Image borrowed from Matt Cohen.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Chinese take away 1-0 win over Victory

In a practice match last night Melbourne Victory played against the Chinese national team with the AFC Asian Cup participants recording a 1-0 win over the Hyundai A-League Champions at the Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground in Hong Kong overnight. There was absolutely no coverage of this match at all and according to some reports was lucky to go ahead at all, after second thoughts about the game from the Chinese national team. The match was played over three thirty minute thirds with temperatures reaching 30 deg and 90% humidity. It was a good result for the team considering they were missing a number of key players including Grant Brebner through injury, Archie Thompson on national duty and new signing Carlos Hernañdez due to visa problems. It was also the first hitout for new signing Kaz Patafta, who recently joined the team in Melbourne shortly before leaving for Hong Kong. Coach Ernie Merrick had also taken a number of VIS players including Steve Hatzikostas, Daniel Visevic and Matthew Theodore.

For a full match report, click here.

The team is now off to Beijing to play Tianjin Teda, in a one off match for the Lord Mayor's Cup.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Welcome Back Harry

It was good last night to again see Harry Kewell in the gold and green again as the Socceroos played their last warm up match against Singapore before the Asian Cup that begins next week. He came on with about half an hour to go and had an immediate impact on the performance of the team. On the game itself, the Australians produced a lacklustre first half, where the Singaporeans were unlucky not to take the lead. The Australians were looking like they were feeling the effects of a hard week of training, with only the two Marks, Bresciano and Viduka being standouts. Brett Holman put in a few good efforts but his finishing left a lot to be desired. I also thought that throughout the whole game, the defense left a lot to be desired, allowing the Singaporeans some great opportunities on goal. This part of the team's game needs to be looked at if the team is to be seriously challenging for the Asian Cup title. With an early goal to Viduka in the second half and the introduction of Kewell the team lifted and they finished their foe off with a 3-0 win, with a further goal to Viduka and one to Kewell.

Welcome back Harry!