Sunday 18 May 2008

A 21st Century Portrait

More often than not football and film do not make a good mix but with Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait the combination is almost perfect. The film is the creation of Turner winning artist and filmmaker Douglas Gordon and French artist Philippe Parreno and is a study of one man, Zinedine Zidane.

This film is brilliantly executed as seventeen cameras follow the every movement that Zidane makes during the course of a La Liga match between Real Madrid and Villareal in the Santiago Bernabeau Stadium.

What makes this film so good is that Zidane is captured from a range of viewpoints, from extreme close-ups to aerial views and every view in between. This not only allows the viewer to see Zizou as he moves around the field and gets involved in the play but also allows a glimpse of the various mannerisms of this intriguing player. It gives us a glimpse of how vulnerable, tiring, calculated and almost lonesome a footballer can be whilst out on the pitch doing their thing.

A soundtrack that encompasses crowd noise, ambient sounds, Zidane’s breathing and the music of Scottish group, Mogwai, compliments the footage. On occasions this soundtrack is interrupted by the voice of Zidane himself as he talks about what he does and doesn’t remember from the matches that he is involved in.

My only disappointment is that I didn’t get around to seeing this film on the big screen and only watched it at home. The reason being that this film is probably better suited to the big screen and its ability to make things larger than life. Hopefully, it gets a rerun somewhere and I do get that opportunity.

A film well worth checking out for both football fans and lovers of fine cinema. I'm not sure what David and Margaret gave this film, but I give it five stars.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Two stories, one common denominator

Two books that I have read recently are worthy of a joint review as they both deal with the same subject matter, being a spectator at the FIFA World Cup. The two books being Dancing In The Streets: Tales from World Cup City by Don Watson and Australia United by Tony Wilson.

Dancing In The Streets is the story of Don Watson, a Scotsman, who follows Celtic and Leeds and his journey to the USA to follow the fortunes of Ireland at the 1994 World Cup. Twelve years later, Wilson does a similar thing and follows the fortunes of Australia at the 2006 World Cup and tells us his story in Australia United. It is probably stating the obvious that both books are by their very subject matter, similar in nature and style.

Where the two books do differ is in their location and how the locals react to the event. For Wilson he is in football mad Germany where everyone is absorbed by all the events of the tournament and wants to talk about it. In contrast, Watson is in a country that on a whole, is largely disinterested in the event and often he struggles to find bars that will show the games on TV as in New York particularly, they are more interested in the fortunes of their basketball team, the New York Knicks in the NBA playoffs than they are in their national football team.

For most of us, we will probably never get the chance to go to a World Cup and these two authors capture perfectly what it is like to be at the event that we will have been watching on television. Both Watson and Wilson manage to get to their respective World Cup Finals and the events leading up to and at the final are well worth the read especially Wilson's mad rush through the streets of Berlin makes for hilarious reading. Just as entertaining is Watson's "inter-racial" warfare with the Tongs, who object to him standing up at the final.

Both books are well worth the read and it was nice to reminisce and remember the events of the two tournaments, especially the 1994 event, whose memories were a little less clear than those of two years ago. Myself along with a friend with all things going to plan hope to attend the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, hopefully our experiences are just as enriching as those in these books.

Thursday 24 April 2008

No excuses, Gamba simply better

Mike Tuckerman, whom I asked to help out with some Gamba Osaka scouting, wrote an interesting article titled "Gamba Osaka vs Melbourne Victory: excuses at the ready?" asking who would be coming up with the excuses after last night's clash between the two teams as many were offered after their first clash. Last time around, I offered no excuses for our dramatic loss to Gamba Osaka and this time around it will be the same. Of course this time the loss wasn't dramatic, but you could see it coming.

It was good to see, Ernie Merrick bite the bullet and start Patafta much to the delight of many fans. Unfortunately, in only his second start at the Victory he was unable to deliver. He probably wasn't helped that
after a busy first ten to fifteen minutes where the Victory actually played it through the midfield, the team resorted to old tactics and bypassed this area of the pitch for the remainder of the match. In contrast, as with the game two weeks ago, Gamba totally dominated the midfield and thus the game.

It is quite clear that to be competitive with teams with Japan and in fact Aisa as a whole, your midfield needs to be pretty strong technically, something which our team lacks without the influence of Hernandez.
Too often our passes in midfield went astray and plays were broken up quickly. Its an area where I think all Australian teams need to strengthen and teams from the J-League would be a good starting point of where to start.

There was no real standouts from the Victory side of things, although an honourable mention probably should go to Billy Celeski, whom I thought put in a decent effort. Its a pity that he didn't have many supporters. A positive, although we did concede from a free kick, was that our defending at set pieces was a lot better overall. Standouts for Osaka was of course, Yasuhito Endo and goalscorer Masato Yamazaki, who combined for both goals. In reality you could add the rest of their midfield to that list. Also, my girlfriend liked the look of Michihiro Yasuda, put that may have been for more aesthetic reasons.

Anyway, our ACL campaign is officially over, even though we have two games remaining in the campaign. Wouldn't mind seeing a player such as Nathan Elasi getting a run in the remaining matches, to give him a taste of ACL action and some match time. It also looks like Gamba Osaka will qualify from our group after Chonburi FC drew with Chunnam Dragons in Thailand. It will be interesting to see how they progress through the rest of the tournament.

On a final and slightly silly note, my girlfriend reckoned that Leigh Broxham looked a little like "Marky Mark" Mark Wahlberg last night. I'll let you be the judge.

Thursday 10 April 2008

In praise of the ACL

Northern terrace in action

While it was disappointing to go down to Gamba Osaka in the dying minutes of what had been a pulsating match, the reality is that on the night the better team probably won. Although Gamba Osaka is making a habit of scoring in the penultimate minutes of matches having done so in all of their ACL games so far this campaign. But what grabbed my attention, and it may be stating the obvious, was that ACL football is so much better than A-League football. It was my first ACL game in the flesh as I had missed the opening game against Chunnam Dragons due to work commitments. The style of play is better, the technical ability of teams comes to the fore, and of course the support is better.

Starting with the style of play. It was of much slower pace and thus more controlled than A-League, where teams try run the opposition of the park. The technical ability of our opposition was far superior and it showed. Gamba's ability to put in decent crosses time after time eventually took its toll in the end, with three of their four goals coming from the head. Mike Tuckerman, in my previous post stated that one of Gamba's most obvious strengths is their set pieces. Yasuhito Endo is probably one of the best set piece takers in Asia, and he's a constant menace over any kind of dead ball. How true were those words. Its also worth noting that they have seven current full internationals, and their last substitute Under 20 national team representative.

Our propensity to rely on the long ball was grating at times. We really missed the influence of Hernandez in the midfield, who I believe would have flourished in this style of play. When we have players such as Pace and Pantelidis in our midfield it does not bode well. Having to push players such as Ward and to a lesser extent, Caceres forward, really limits the creativity of our midfield. Standout players for the night were Celeski, Caceres, Allsopp and Muscat.

And finally to the support. The support was awesome. Everyone was talking about it after the Chunnam game but of course I didn't experience it. This time I was sitting directly opposite the North Terrace and directly above the South Terrace. The sound generated by those opposite me was fantastic and with all the oversized flags it was truly an inspiring site. Lets hope it continues in the upcoming season. Kudos also to the visiting supporters from Osaka as well, who although small in number and maybe stature, generated plenty of their own noise as well.

So obviously our chances of moving past the group stage range from pretty slim to nil after last night's result but there is much to be learnt from our first journey into Asia, not only for Melbourne Victory but for Australian clubs in general. The teams we have encountered from the J-League so far can serve as prime example of the direction in which we should be heading, especially in developing local talent.

Gamba Osaka fans in full voice

Monday 7 April 2008

Gamba Osaka exposed

With the upcoming crucial games against Gamba Osaka for Melbourne Victory in the Asian Champions League I decided to find out more about our opposition. So thanks to Mike Tuckerman, an Australian who lives in Japan and a mad Shimizu S-Pulse fan, who has provided some insight into Gamba Osaka. His blog is also worth checking out if you are a fan of the J-League as well.

1. How would you describe Gamba Osaka's style of play? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

For the past few years Gamba have been renowned as one of the most attacking sides in Japanese football. Certainly Akira Nishino is a coach who prefers free-flowing, attractive football and he has fielded a 4-3-3 formation for Gamba's last couple of league games. The problem for the Osakans is confidence. That attacking style hasn't yielded the expected results, particularly over the past two seasons. Now they seem to be at the crossroads of how they want to play, and I think they'll be very wary of the pace of Melbourne Victory.

One of Gamba's most obvious strengths is their set pieces. Yasuhito Endo is probably one of the best set piece takers in Asia, and he's a constant menace over any kind of dead ball. He's also an incisive passer of the ball, and while he is prone to go missing in games, I think the way he plays will have an important bearing on the outcome of the two matches.

As for weaknesses, Gamba have plenty at the moment. In particular their defence looks weak, and the question of where to play teenager Michihiro Yasuda is a thorny one. He's often exposed in a back four, but doesn't quite seem to have the nous to operate effectively in midfield. Confidence is always a key factor for Japanese clubs at the moment, and while Gamba have won their past three league matches in a row, they've all been scrappy wins against sides struggling with their own problems at the moment.

2. Who are the key players that Melbourne Victory should be wary of?

The key players are Yasuhito Endo and Bare.

Everything goes through Endo, and closing him down in midfield will prove key to Melbourne's chances of winning.

As for Bare, he's a predatory goal-poacher. He's not an especially skillful player, but he has the brilliant knack of always seeming to be in the right place at the right time to score crucial goals.

I'd have also suggested that former Japan international Ryuji Bando has a point to prove - both to Gamba coach Nishino and to Japan coach Takashi Okada, but Bando is injured and looks like he'll play no part in Melbourne.

3. Will there be a significant travelling contigent from Osaka?

Since there is rarely a significant travelling contingent from Osaka for J. League games, I doubt it. Osaka is a baseball town, and unlike the Kanto plain (the region surrounding Tokyo where most of the J. League teams are based) and Shizuoka (the hotbed of Japanese football), the citizens of Kansai (where Osaka is the main city) haven't quite taken to football as they have elsewhere in the country. Gamba's compact Expo '70 Stadium is generally packed for J. League fixtures, but that's just because they've been relatively successful over the past few seasons. I suspect that if cross-town rivals Cerezo Osaka had been just as successful, then most football fans in Osaka would identify themselves as Cerezo fans.
4. How are Gamba Osaka faring in the J-League in the early stages of the season?

They've flattered to deceive. As I said, they've just won three fixtures in a row, but they were arguably out-played by Shimizu S-Pulse last weekend. The early rounds of the J. League are generally fairly deceptive, and it's not until the season breaks for the summer that one has a general idea of who might challenge for title honours (although at the break last season Kashima Antlers were in fourth, some eleven points behind league leaders Gamba). I think Gamba will be particularly concerned by this trip to Melbourne, especially as it's being talked up in the Japanese press a little bit.

5. There are reports that Gamba Osaka must play three J-League games in six days before flying to Melbourne. Do you think this will have any significant impact?

It's true that Gamba have just played three fixtures in six days. The AFC Champions League is unlikely to come into consideration when the J. League draws up the fixture list, particularly with the twin concerns of World Cup qualification and the Beijing Olympics taking precedence. The bad news for Melbourne fans is that Gamba won all three of those matches! However I certainly think it will have a significant impact, particularly as the toughest of those games was the last one against Shimizu S-Pulse. With the exception of the injured Ryuji Bando, they fielded a full strength starting eleven in that game, and I think several of the Gamba players will be fatigued by the time they hit the tarmac in Melbourne.

6. What do you think the result will be?

I have no idea! Both sides are nervous about each other's capabilities, and I think it will be a cagey affair in Melbourne. I think an individual error will settle it.