One out two ain't half bad
Before last night's game I was hoping it was going to be a good night. Three points for the Victory and a Labor win in the federal election. As it turned out I only one out of two with the Victory taking only a point in 1-1 draw with Wellington Phoenix. But as a bonus there was the distinct possibility that Little Johnny would also lose his seat. I guess it made up for a rather disappointing night at the football.
Three weeks ago when we went a man down against the Mariners we played some out of our best football of the season. But last night's performance was terrible, some might say abysmal. The contrast between the two games was immense. Whereas against the Mariners we played all our football through Hernandez and Vasilevski, last night at home we decided that our best possibility would be to lob the long ball forward from defence and hope Allsopp and Thompson would be able to run onto it and hit the Phoenix on the counter. This tactic completely bypassed our midfield and took them out of the game. Quite frankly it was the wrong tactic and it gave the advantage to the Phoenix who put us under constant pressure for most of the second half.
Discipline again was the problem last night, with Muscat receiving a straight red for an ordinary two footed challenge on Brown. It was one of the minutes of madness that we were accustomed to seeing in Season 1 and with Muscat's record it wouldn't surprise me if he sat out more than one game. It was the fourth straight red card received by a Victory player this season and it is costing us games. Merrick needs to lay down the law as if this trend continues we will be definitely missing out of finals football.
Onto Merrick, I wish he would stop staying that he is happy with the way the team is playing because after last night's performance it just comes across as total crap. Twenty thousand supporters saw that we played ordinary football, why can't one man on his plastic seat admit that this is the case. At the moment he is not kidding anyone. And please Ernie please play Patafta, you have one of the most technically brilliant young players in this country and you don't even have him on your bench. I'm sitting there with my fellow Prawn Sandwich Crew members with my Patafta Victory shirt on and most times I'm there he isn't even on the bench and I feel a little stupid. He could quite easily fit into the attacking midfielder role in between Hernandez and the front two and quite frankly he is a better option than Love who tends to lose the ball out of bounds more often than not at crucial times. While am at it, with this little rant, where is Ryall? We flew him back business class last week so we could play him against the Roar but hasn't been spotted since. He is a good quality player and we need him in the back half. Take a risk Ernie!
Finally, a word must go to the supporters who under some duress got behind their team although it was odd to hear the north end, south end call going from the third level to the first level and not from north to south. As I said in my previous post, it is a massive overreaction from the Telstra Dome authorities and its time for the Victory admin to pull its head out of the sand.
Late Thursday afternoon the Victory administration issued a press release titled "Telstra Dome implements supporter changes" to inform all viewers of the website and possible those that receive the weekly newsletter (for some reason I haven't received an email newsletter for some time) of the proposed seating changes for the remainder of the season. Its opening paragraph states that:
"Telstra Dome management with the support of Football Federation Australia and Melbourne Victory have agreed to implement some seating and entrance adjustments at future Hyundai A-League matches due to recent issues relating to crowd behaviour."
Basically changes involve moving the visiting supporters area to behind the goals with these supporters who purchase tickets from the ‘visiting team’ allocation being required to enter and exit Telstra Dome through Gate 7. This Gate will not be available to other ticket holders. There will be also areas where there no seating adjacent to the visiting supporters and entrance tunnels.
This is a massive overreaction from the Telstra Dome authorities after incidents after the last Victory home game against SydneyFC and its associated media coverage. I am not disputing the media facts but more the method of reporting any incidents that occur at A-League matches. Any incident appears to get front and back page coverage in the AFL backed newspapers. All I am asking for is a little parity in the coverage of such incidents. I am aware of two all-in-brawls involving 20-30 people and police in the MCC section of the MCG at two AFL games last season and these barely rated a mention in the local newspapers with only the second brawl receiving a few paragraphs of newspaper column.
It seems that the Telstra Dome authorities have decided that they can't handle a small amount of bad publicity and are now dictating terms to the Melbourne Victory administration, who unfortunately are not making their own stand against the Telstra Dome and unruly fans. The people at the Telstra Dome need to be reminded that without the Melbourne Victory their stadium would sit empty for most of summer. Personally, I can't wait until the new stadium is open and we don't have to kow tow to the wishes of the Telstra Dome authorities.
The former system where the away supporters were seated for all regular home and away matches between aisles 41 and 44 has worked (which is basically opposite the corner flag at the north-western side of the ground) for all of last season and for most of the home games for this season. This position also puts them in close proximity to their team's bench. This was seen as the ideal location for away supporters as for the most part most clubs do not have a large travelling contingent. Although it has been brought to my attention that it was also located in a dry area, which is a bit harsh on the away supporters.
I could understand setting aside a section behind the northern goals for away supporters if the teams were geographically closer and large amounts of travelling fans were attending games. For example in Argentina they set aside 4,000 (much larger stadiums) seats for away fans basically because large amounts of travelling fans attend games and teams are often geographically close, particularly in Buenos Aires itself. However this is not the case in the A-League, where only SydneyFC and Adelaide United supporters providing substantial away support. Therefore for tonight's match against Wellington the northern terrace is basically going to be empty as it my understanding that not many Phoenix will be attending this game as they are more likely to attend the January fixture with more numbers. This will have a significant impact on the atmosphere at the game, with all the noise coming from the one end and not both as it currently stands.
The move also displaces a key Victory supporter group at that end of the stadium and forces them to "stand" at the other end. What is distinctive about the support for the Victory is that there is a number of supporter groups who choose to support the team in different ways. It is my understanding, and I could be wrong that the "northern" end takes its inspiration from the more European style of support whereas the supporters at the "southern"* end tend to take their inspiration from a more English/Scottish style of support. These two distinct types of supporters blend to provide an atmosphere that is unlike any other in the Australian game. Their location also allows for some usually good natured banter between them and the away supporters.
Its time to pull your head in Telstra Dome and its about time the Melbourne Victory administration to stood up for its supporters, which in my very humble and biased opinion are the best in the A-League. It will be interesting to see how the supporter groups react to these changes and what form of protest they take against this unjust decision.
* - I put these terms in brackets because the northern end is actually at the southern end of the Telstra Dome and vice versa for the northern end. These terms refer to previous locations at our former home, Olympic Park. It is also the main reason why the "we are northern over here" tends not to work as well because the fans on the wings tend to argue amongst themselves about which side of the ground they are actually on. I know, I sit amongst these people as part of the Prawn Sandwich Crew.
Two favourites combine
Two of my favourite players at the moment are Lionel Messi and Juan Roman Riquelme. Today they combined for a goal in Argentina's World Cup qualifying match against Colombia. Unfortunately it was to no avail as the previously undefeated Argentinians went down 2-1 in Bogota. Messi does most of the work but Riquelme sets him on his way. Also enjoy the commentary of the obviously Argentinian commentator as he constantly repeats "me gusta" or " I like" as Messi weaves his magic yet again.
Off to Beijing
Congratulations to the Olyroos for making it through to the 2008 Beijing Olympics after securing the necessary point to progress with a 1-1 draw against North Korea in Pyongyang. I can't make much comment on the game as I only saw the last half of the match after rushing to regular football watching haunt, The Charles Dickens Tavern, after I had finished work. Up until then I had been relying on updates from the Melbourne Victory forum and the FourFourTwo website to keep me informed. And in those early stages it didn't look to good as the Olyroos conceded an early goal and there was a number of close calls.
From what I saw of the second it again looked fairly scrappy from the Olyroos as the North Koreans looked to do everything to kill the game off and waste time. Even the equaliser was scrappy with a hint of hand ball from Leijer as it crossed the goal line. Ultimately the goal was credited to Milligan, who headed the ball towards goal from a well taken Sarkies free kick, although the AFC website does there was a touch of controversy to the goal. From then on in the six or seven of us that were actually watching the game, chewed on our fingernails constantly, especially when the Koreans looked to be creating a scoring opportunity. There was a sense of relief when the final whistle sounded.
Even though they have now made the Olympics I am not sure that I will watch them play. Up until now I had vowed that I would not watch any part of the 2008 Beijing Olympics as my own form of protest at the very fact that China is hosting these games. It is my belief that a country that regularly abuses human and democratic rights is illegally occupying Tibet should not be able to host such an event. The Olyroos qualification now makes it slightly more difficult as I would be very interested to see how they perform against countries outside of the Asian region. Anyway, I wish them all the best and look forward to some favourable results.
One point away from an Olympic berth
Watched the Olyroos for the second time in their bid for an Olympic berth. Had watched them once before but it was good to see them on a normal sized screen and with English speaking commentators (not that I have anything against the Saudi commentators I am sure they are very good job I just couldn't understand a word they were saying. Kudos must also be given to the SBS for showing this match although would have liked it better without the delay. This brings me to the point that if they could show this game why couldn't show the other home games. Everyone's favourite football analyst, Craig Foster made some comment at the end of the game that we should be packing the stadiums for Olympic qualifiers. Maybe a bit more media exposure would help and sharing the games around the country a bit more. The only people to see the campaign this time around have been the people of Adelaide, Newcastle and Gosford. I am sure the people of Queensland, Victoria, ACT and Western Australia would have all liked a glimpse of these future Socceroos in action.
With that off my chest, its now onto the game. Standout performers for the Olyroos for me were in no particular order Troisi, Leijer, Milligan, Sarkies and Topor-Stanley. Not everything was perfect and periods of the game were quite scrappy. There was also some worries when the Iraqis took complete control of the midfield (I already knew the result before watching the game so I wasn' t that concerned) after conceding the first goal and it wasn't until we scored the second goal that they became disheartened. We could have been a tad lucky not to finish the match with only ten men after an incident between Milligan and the Iraqi 'keeper only minutes before he scored the sealer.
Its now off to the Pyongyang for the final match and we only now need a point to make it through to the Olympics. There was heaps of talk last night about the fact that we will be playing the game on an artificial pitch. It had all the connotations of that we were looking for an excuse just in case we don't get the result we need. Artificial pitches are a fact of life in the football world now and will be played on more and more, so just get over the fact.
After last night's performance I, a well known football optimist, am starting to think this season will not be ending in the last weeks of February as it did last season, but sometime in late January. After the last two weeks where from my point of view the team looked to be turning it around, they put in one of the most ordinary performances of the season so far in what was rightly billed as a crunch game for the boys in navy blue. I am starting to have flashbacks to the first season where we had four games in a row at home and failed to score a single goal. Thoroughly depressing stuff that was, and I am loathed to return to those memories.
I went down to the Charles Dickens Tavern to watch the game and enjoyed the atmosphere along with the extra space that wasn't available last time I was there. Along with the game being on the big screen I was also getting constant updates via my phone from a Queensland Roar fan who was at the game.
Positives, there weren't too many apart from the keeping of Theoklitos, whose heroics kept the deficit to only one. Thompson should also get a mention, worked hard all night and wasn't get much support and put in that great ball that Allsopp somehow managed to put over the cross bar from a couple of metres. We really missed the presence of Muscat in the midfield and were completely dominated in this department. Muscat's replacement, Pantelidis simply doesn't have the passing range of Muscat. The defensive third wasn't that bad but were under constant pressure as the midfield failed to control the ball for long periods of time. Negatives, too many to mention but all should come under the heading of the way we play the game which has been gone into more detail here.
Is it time for Mr Merrick to depart the scene. He seems to be starved of any new ideas at the moment and seems to relying on the same old formula that is no longer working. But is it wise to remove a coach with only eight games remaining in the season. If we want to see some action in February we may very well have to, but I doubt our board has the guts to make this decision. And who would make a good replacement? Maybe we could go Argentinian, both Daniel Passarella and Ricardo La Volpe are now looking for work after resigning from their current positions.
I am now off to sit down and watch the Olyroos take on Iraq and enjoy some of our young Australian football players in action. I already know the score as I couldn't help myself so I will enjoy it even more. I may even write a report on it.
Finally, thanks also to fellow blogger and Queensland Roar fan Hamish, for his lovely and insightful text message after the game.
Birthday wish granted . . . almost
Last night it was off to the Telstra Dome to see the Victory play arch rivals Sydney FC. It also happened to be my birthday as well so I managed to drag a few more bodies along to the game, many of whom had never watched a football match live. Most left suitably impressed but would have liked to seen some goals, although weren't too phased by this fact. It was bit disappointing that there was only just 32,000 people there to see the game. The timing of the game probably didn't help as the game came at the end of the spring racing carnival. Maybe the form of the Victory hasn't helped either.
Almost was probably the word of the game, with both teams almost scoring as the both managing to hit the upright in reasonably close succession. In terms, of the keepers, Bolton had the more outstanding night making a number of crucial saves as the Victory were pushing for a winner.
Positives for the night were the performance of our makeshift backline which kept the Sydney attacking third in check for most of the game until basically Juninho came on and started to have an impact. Another impressive performance was given by Steven Pace who was ably supported by Muscat. The Victory are starting to look like the team of last year with the midfield starting to really impress although I am yet to fathom why Merrick continues to persist with Caceres on the bench and starting with Love. I think these roles have to be reversed as Caceres is wasted in thirty minute bursts. The crowd also really lifts when he is on the field. We also need to start taking our chances in front of goal as teams will start to punish us for our misses as the Mariners did last week. Vasilevski has also been a revelation the last two weeks and along with the fact that we are only playing with two defensive midfielders is the reason for the improvement. Hear that Ernie, two defensive midfielders only - that means Broxham or Brebner on the bench when Muscat is playing in midfield. Please Ernie, please listen to the fans.
Speaking of the crowd, the supporters on level three continued their silent protest of the past two weeks. As with the last home game they came to life for the last thirty minutes of the match (maybe that's why Ernie hasn't been starting Caceres as he is just waiting for the level three guys to start their chanting) and probably continued chanting well past the completion of the game although I wasn't there to hear or see it as I was off to continue my birthday celebrations. It made for quite an eerie atmosphere at times with the Sydney fans often making more noise than the home supporters. Eamonn also makes comment on the crowd involvement in his post on the game.
Looking forward to next week, a tough task looms against the Roar as they are looking in good form and sitting clear in second place. Hamish, finally thinks that Frank Farina is starting to weave some magic up there in Queensland so it will be a good test of a somewhat resurgent Victory team. On a plus, we do have a rather good record up north as we are yet to lose a game at Suncorp Stadium. We need to win to keep in touch with the top four.
FFA judiciary is still a joke
Further to my post regarding the FFA Match Review Panel last week it seems now I have further issue to complain with extra suspensions again being handed out to Melbourne Victory players after receiving a red card. This time Vargas gets an extra week for his troubles and Keenan an extra two.
I am loathed to use the "c" word as I tend to make fun of most of them, but is the FFA out to get the Melbourne Victory? That aside, the Match Review Panel needs again to take a long hard look at itself when it comes to additional suspensions. Do they actually review the incident through a video replay or just go on the match report of all the officials involved? Maybe their DVD player is broken at the moment because there is no way that these two incidents deserved additional suspensions. Additional should only be warranted if all the officials miss something serious and/or the offence is grossly malicious and pre-mediated.*
The Keenan red card incident was clearly a mistimed tackle with the studs up and surely sitting seventy minutes on the bench and missing the next game is punishment enough. There appeared to be little malice in the action, both players put in a fairly agricultural challenges for the ball its just that Clark got their first and then copped the boots of Keenan. Definitely not worth an extra two weeks suspension.
Even more ridiculous is the additional suspension handed out to Vargas for his clash with Petrovski. Anyone apart from Mark Shield, the Match Review Panel and about 10,000 Mariners supporters could see that the contact was minimal, and Petrovski milked what contact there was for all its worth. Why else do you think Petrovski was walking off with a smirk on his face? Again the Match Review Panel fails to view the whole incident within its context. Maybe the FFA is taking a stance on retaliation, but the retaliation wouldn't have occurred if the man in charge on the day had blown his whistle earlier in the piece.
Again I hope the Victory appeals these two decisions (no word on the result of the Pantelidis appeal yet) but I will not be holding my breath for a successful outcome.
*Apologies to the Melbourne Victory forumite from who I borrowed this last sentence but it made perfect sense when I read it on the forum that I just had to add it to my post.
The Cruel Game
Last night's game against the Mariners was surely a case for the argument that football is often a cruel and unjust mistress. For me, last night was one of the best performances of the season by the Victory and they came with a totally undeserved zero points after going down 2-1 to the Mariners. To add to this misery, our already depleted backline will be further depleted by the absences of both Keenan and Vargas next week as they both received straight red cards in last nights game.
I had intended to go watch the game at the Charles Dickens Tavern because I enjoyed the atmosphere last time I was there but ended up at the Grandview Hotel in Fairfield as I was at a barbecue nearby. Its not a bad venue, to watch the football, although a bit of an old mans pub, and they have a big screen and advertise that they show every A-League game. So if there is anyone out there who lives in Fairfield and doesn't have ready access to Foxtel, the Grandview is well worth checking out and as a bonus they have Cascade Pale Ale on tap. There wasn't that many poeple in the establishment and of those that were that were over half were more interested in watching "Highway Patrol" on the TV above the bar. I also managed to drag a few friends for what was the most part a pretty exciting game.
As I said in my opening the boys put in a stellar performance last night and played some exciting football, but in the end all for nothing. The Mariners didn't seem to know how to play against the ten men of Victory and only they seemed to click into gear once the Victory had gone a goal to the good. By that time you could see the Victory was running low on energy having played the best part of an hour with ten men and the Mariners exploited it cruelly. The absence of Brebner provided a blessing as it allowed Hernandez the freedom to run the show. He is getting better and better with each game and last night was probably his best performance of the season. Some of passing was sublime, picking out Thompson and Allsopp at will and I am sure fellow blogger, Cecilia will be happy that a lot of his passes were going to space and less to feet. Let's hope Merrick finally catches onto the fact that we only need two defensive midfielders.
Surprise of the night from a Victory perspective came from the peformance of Daniel Vasilevski, who was brought onto to shore up the midfield after the sending off of Keenan. He has only had limited opportunities so far this season and has failed to impress but against the Mariners he was a standout in the defensive half and then putting in some excellent passes to the boys up front. Allsopp and Thompson ran hard all game and performed brilliantly as they kept the Mariner's defence on the back foot for most of the game. It was also an excellent debut from Steven Pace, who after a few early nervy moments looked at home in the centre of defence. We will certainly need him in the coming weeks.
Much talk and debate will and has surrounded the two red cards that were handed out to Vargas and Keenan. Keenan's send off was probably warranted as it was a poor and mistimed tackle with the studs up. The incident involving Vargas and Petrovski was slightly more contentious and had throwbacks to the Pantelidis incident the week before. Shield should probably have pulled the play up earlier and Petrovski did milk it for it all it was worth (not that it did him much good) but a player such as Vargas should have shown more discipline in the situation. To be honest the Vargas red card had little bearing on the final outcome of the match but will have an impact on the team in the coming weeks.
This could be a season defining match for the Victory. If they build on the positives then the finals are a certainty but if they let the shattering nature of the loss play on their minds then the finals will not be a realistic proposition. I am looking forward to next week and the biggest clash of the regular season against Sydney. Not only is this a must win game for the Victory but it also happens to be my birthday so hopefully I will be celebrating in style with a win. Also don't forget to check out this blog at OleOle.com and vote for me in the Ole Ole FIFA Club World Championship Competition. However to vote you have to join OleOle.com.
The Beautiful Game
During a holiday to South America last year I managed to fit in three matches of football and a visit to La Bombonera much to the chagrin of my football-suffering girlfriend. Since then I have had an obsession for the South American game, closely following the fortunes of my two favourite Latin American teams, Union Espanola and Boca Juniors. So when I was reading through Hamish's library and saw The Beautiful Game: A Journey Through Latin American Football by Chris Taylor, I had to do my best to get myself a copy as it looked like a must read. Anyone looking to read this book must have the understanding that this book is almost ten years old, being published in 1998 around the time of that year's World Cup. Therefore some of the information is a little dated but it still a decent read. For me, I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a chapter dedicated to Chilean football, who at the time of writing of the book would have been qualifying for their first World Cup in twenty four years and whose National Stadium is a subject of much controversy. They are also home to Colo Colo, one of the giants of the South American club game. This disappointment aside, I particularly enjoyed the chapters on football in Uruguay, Nicaragua and Mexico and was astounded at the extent of corruption that existed in the Colombian game. For me, the chapters on Brazilian and Argentinian football although providing a good history of the beginnings of the game left me a little disappointed.
Overall a well-written book and is a good starting point for those who have little knowledge of the Latin American game but for anyone who is looking for a more up to date history may have to look elsewhere. For those looking for more book reviews, check out Gramsci's Kingdom which also has some great writing. I myself will be taking a short break from reading books about football as I need to read some fiction, although I will be passing my eye over the National Football Development Plan that came out earlier this week and for a review of this document, have a look out at The Football Tragic.